Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rethinking the Seattle traffic site...

Ever have one of those days where you look at something and say, "why did I do it that way?" I had one of those moments the other day and it made me take a closer look at the Seattle traffic Web site.

Here is what we know about the Seattle Traffic homepage:
  • It averages 20 percent of site usage every day. We guess a lot of that is due to those of you who open it up and maybe forget about it and leave it open to constantly refresh in the background all day. (For comparison, the WSDOT homepage http://wsdot.wa.gov, is less than 5 percent of daily site usage.)
  • We have up-to-the-minute information about incidents, which usually affect traffic the most, but you have to go to a separate page to find it.
  • Most of you aren't interested in the Yesler Way camera. (That’s the default camera you see when you click on the homepage.) Since it refreshes every time the page does, it takes up bandwidth that it doesn't need to
  • We have some great information in the blue box at the bottom of the page, but very few of you click on those links, and you didn't click on the fancy rounded button we had at the top of the page either.
  • We have Spokane and Wenatchee links on this page. None of you click on them.
  • Many of you didn't know there was a mobile version of this site.
Based on these factoids, (and knowing that we have to design the page around the existing traffic map) we decided to take another look at how we present the information that’s most important to you. This is what we came up with:

http://wsdot.wa.gov/beta/seattle.htm, here is a page with a camera and here is the current page for comparison. You will notice that none of the camera icon links work on the beta page, we are looking for feedback on design right now and will patch that up later.

Here are the changes we made:
  • Simplified the left navigation to make it easy for you to find what you need
  • Added incident information to the Seattle homepage
  • Removed the camera image from the homepage
  • Removed the cities that weren't relevant to you
  • Added a direct link to Snoqualmie and Stevens pass. These are our most used sites in the winter, but also great to check for traffic in the summer.
Let us know what you think!

17 comments:

AlanH said...

Hi Jeremy,

I voted "It's ok". It almost earned "I love it" except for the placement of the camera image - it's too low on the page and I had to scroll down to see it.

I love the incident info on the homepage.

I can go either way on the replacement of the rounded button. It does seem like the button takes up less real estate than the message text, which is nice.

I like the direct links to the Stevens and Snoqualmie on the homepage.

A change you may want to consider adding - the Seattle map is pretty long: How about cutting it off at Marysville instead of going all the way up to SR531?

AlanH

DJStroky said...

Here is some feedback:

LeftNav:

- Needs something to fill down at the bottom.
- Might look cooler w/ background image

SeattleMap:

- Might be useful to fit all ferry terminals within map
- Have css tooltips while hovering over items (ferry wait time, average speed at highway location, picture, etc)
- Modify css to have traffic cameras standout while hovering
- Remove boxes with local area names, replace with box that highlights as hovered over?
- Provide link to Seatac Airport to departures/arrivals
- In general, map style looks old. Could use redesign.

RightColumn:

- Incidents could be displayed with icons instead of asterisks (use Mariners logo icon for Mariners game!)
- Show highway logo with incident or maybe even organize incidents into highway categories
- Incidents could take up all of RightColumn. On good days it is empty :)
- Include wsdot_traffic twitter feed or better yet, integrate into incidents
- Default camera = worst traffic or best view or most epic weather incident?

Other:

- Provide links to local DOTs
- Provide links to transit agencies

Ben said...

I like the new design too. It looks like the size of the map has grown significantly, and now requires scrolling to see downtown Seattle. Vertical screen space seems to be scarcer than horizontal on many monitors. It would be nice if we could see the Lynwood-SeaTac area without any scrolling. Perhaps one solution to this would be splitting the map into Everett/Seattle/Tacoma areas, rather than the current Stanwood/Seattle/Tacoma split.

Jeremy Bertrand said...

AlanH - The camera image is a tricky experience for this long map. If you scroll down to the lower portion of the map then click on a camera image and the image shows up at the top of the page it can be a jolting experience. We tried to keep the cameras close to their respective locations on the map. Thanks for the feedback about cutting the map up it is something we are considering for the future.

Jeremy Bertrand said...

DJStrocky - Thanks for the detailed feedback. Hope these answers help.

We could fill the space on the lower left, but by not doing so we lessen the weight of the page which will allows for a quicker download time. We have found that a lot of mobile users have been viewing the full version of this page and we want to keep it as light as possible for them. We try to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator when designing this site which is why we don't have fancy javascript or css which may hinder users viewing the map on their specific device.

Sea/Tac airport is an interesting request, I will look into where to put that.

Icons would certainly look cool inside the incident box but would mean another several million requests to the server per day that aren't necessary.

The incident information is what feeds the wsdot_traffic twitter feed, we thought about including it but it is duplicative.

I am not sure what value you would you get by linking to local DOT's? We figured their traffic information is what everyone wants :).

Thanks again for the detailed feedback!

Jeremy Bertrand said...

Ben - Thanks for the feedback. Interesting feedback about the map size. We didnt' change the size of the map, we just lessened the amount of info around it.

Thanks for the feedback about splitting the map up. Would it be annoying to have extra clicks to get to the camera you want?

Anonymous said...

I think it's an improvement. I would add to the discussion that I think a lot of mobile web users load the main traffic page, rather than the mobile traffic page. The mobile traffic page is a great idea, but doesn't load or view particularly well on an iPhone and it takes many clicks to get to the right map.

Thanks for all your work to constantly improve this very valuable service!!

sonja jo k-b said...

I really like having the incident info on the main page and the direct links to Snoqualmie/Stevens Pass.

I MUCH prefer it without the picture. If we want to view the scene at a particular area, we can click on that camera.

Steve Cole said...

I pretty much agree with AlanH's comments. I also voted "OK" since I couldn't quite vote "love it."

- I love the left sidebar.
- I love the incident box
- I'd prefer to have a camera on the page.
- I don't like the camera's position way down the right column
- As for what camera to display, how about a random camera from the area upon page load? Or one based on current web stats, nearest cam to high impact incident, etc..

katbird_27 said...

its ok, instead of extending the map north you should have extended it south.

Anonymous said...

I liked it, not loved it.

I would make the map smaller, so you wouldn't have to scroll down to see Seattle.

I also think links to other transporation sites in the area like King County or Seattle would be helpful.

My two cents

Phil said...

Really, it's nice that someone is thinking about improving this page, but has anyone taken a critical look at it? I mean, come on.

Miscellaneous constructive criticism resulting from a very brief review of the page follows:

Thank you for *not* using a bunch of Javascript on the page with drop-down menus and things that look like links but are really onclick actions. Taking the camera view out of the main page was a wise decision.

The page is still filled with distracting material; it's a huge mess. You have *four* navigation menus -- two in bars at the top, one at the bottom, and one on the left. The organization of the left menu is not particularly coherent (how do items under "local traffic" differ from thoes under "local traffic maps"?). Please don't waste space on the page with something to change the text size; I can do that myself in my browser, thanks. There's about two inches of junk at the top of the page that does nothing but push the rest of the page's content -- that which I'm there to read -- down. How are travel alerts, incidents, and whatever is shown in the new blue box on the right side different? Why waste space in the menu with a "questions" link when you already have a "contact" link on the page (two of them, actually)? Don't put a contact link in the left nav menu when there's already one in the page footer where everyone famliar with the Web expects to find it. Similarly, don't waste space in the nav menu for a disclaimer; you know darned well no one wants to see that, so if you must have it on here for CYA reasons, then make a /terms link and put it in the footer. Why is "more local info" under "additional info" and not under one of the local categories? You have both a "travel times" and a "reliable travel times" link in the first section of the left nav menu. Please remove the link to inaccurate travel times; we only want the accurate information. I'm all for removing cutesy badges, but the 511 logo was actually effective at pounding in the idea that people can use it to get information from their phones; a "call 511" link is much less so.

Neil said...

Good points from Phil. I'll add that I think you can combine the blue box and incidents box together. Both cover the same kind of information, although one is immediate and one is long term.

It would also be nice if you could bring the formatting of the incident reports into the 21st century. The all caps thing is a quaint reminder of a back-end that I'm sure is rather old. There's gotta be a way you could write some quick code to turn it into mixed case again.

Jeremy Bertrand said...

Phil - thanks for the detailed feedback, you bring up some good points. The difference between the travel times and the reliable travel times link is that the travel times is current information. The reliable travel times is an application that you can use to select when you need to be somewhere and based on historic data we will tell you when you need to leave. Regardless, the point is well taken that the names are too close to be seen as something different.

Neil - Yes the all caps is something we are looking to take care of very soon. Thanks for your feedback also.

Manuel W. said...

I would love to see an iPhone-optimized site. There is a mobile app called iPhone Traffic which somehow pulls maps for N, S, and Bridges. It's slow and clunky though.

There are also other sites which scrape the images off your site and present them naked.
http://www.hivegot.com/traffic/iphone/

It would be great to see WSDOT from WSDOT, optimized for the iPhone screen resolution, with separate maps for N, S, central seattle, and wicked fast, of course. :) The nice thing about the separate maps is, you're zoomed in a bit more and it's easier to see the individual "cells" on the freeways.

Finally, thanks for the service and for updating it! I use it very frequently.

Mark said...

I just built a better iPhone app for viewing Seattle traffic conditions that doesn't involve downloading the large graphic of the flow map. Instead, it just downloads a small file with the sensor data and draw the traffic map on the phone.

http://traffic.svends.com/iphone

Joe Kerchen said...

We rely on the website for our daily return commute from Renton to N. Seattle. The critical area we look at is the Albro
backup area in order to see if we should take the express lanes or the main line North, or bail and take Rainer ave.
The beta site is cleaner and faster - good work!

But because there are some congestion areas that are always "black" during rush hour. It would be helpful if the chronic "black" areas had either a web-cam or a clickable expanded view to help make route decisions. Montlake is a good example to be able to drill down to see how backed up 23rd ave or the Arboretum feeds are.

Great improvement for now.
Thanks,
Joe Kerchen