I’m a huge movie buff. I love all kinds of movies but sports films are at the top of my list. Field of Dreams is one of my favorites not only because it’s a great story but also because, in my opinion, it has one of the best movie lines.
Spoiler alert! Just kidding, you’ve had 24 years to see the movie and it’s one of the most famous film quotes of all time.
“If you build it, he will come.” And so begins Ray Kinsella’s journey of plowing his corn to build a baseball field so that, ultimately, he can have an otherworldly reunion with his long-deceased father, a former baseball player.
One of the other reasons I like that line so much is that it relates to my work with transportation analytics. That saying holds true in the transportation world, with one small change, “If you build it, theywill come.” In droves. This fact stirs concerns in the court of public opinion before and during any major development project. It is particularly relevant to me as the county where I live plans to down a forest to build a baseball park.
The quote has been getting quite a bit of play on my local news. As the developer moves forward with plans for mixed use housing, a movie theater, the baseball field and an outdoor mall, nearby residents of the area surrounding the new minor league ballpark believe that, while the development will surely bring economic development and other benefits, it will also bring an increase in traffic that the current infrastructure simply can’t support. Residents are worried that the capacity just isn’t there and once the development opens, people living in and around the development will be stuck in traffic morning, noon, and night. (You might say they’re concerned too many people will “go the distance” to visit. Yeah, that’s another Field of Dreams reference.)
That’s a real fear in Northern Virginia where traffic is already bad. Planners and developers believe they have done their due diligence, but residents in this area have heard those promises before. And while no one has a crystal ball, they do have data about the area including demographics, road sensors, employment and taxes. By using transportation analytics and models, developers and planners could make forecasts and decisions with the best possible information, removing much of the guess work.
Analytics can be a powerful tool whether you’re trying to decide if you should spend millions of dollars to build a new large scale development, or you’re considering whether or not to plow under your corn to have a catch with your father’s ghost…or members of the 1919 Black Sox.