Two critical questions are asked every Mardi Gras: Where is the end of the parade, and where the heck is the nearest bathroom?
New Orleans officials have launched a website, Routewise, you can use on your smartphone this Carnival season that has answers to both questions.
The project grew out of City Hall’s NOLA Ready department, which has been finding ways to harness city data and gather it in a single place. After the August 2017 floods, for example, NOLA Ready created Streetwise, a website that tracks real-time flooding and road closures.
Routewise taps into the information the city is already gathering in order to service portable bathrooms and clean streets after parades conclude.
Before the website existed, NOLA Ready public engagement manager Laura Mellem said residents who had signed up for Mardi Gras alerts via text message were getting weather, traffic and parade updates that way. The city wanted to expand on that, knowing it could use police escorts to reliably track parade location.
“We have had a lot of folks who want to know what streets are going to be closed” for Mardi Gras and other special events, such as marathons and races, Mellem said. “We knew it internally because we track it for (the Department of) Sanitation,” which cleans up after parades.
Information on second-line routes will also be available on Routewise, although officials haven’t committed yet to live tracking the walking parades.
Routewise is not a smartphone app, but it is mobile-optimized. One of its feature allows users to download it as a bookmarked link to their smartphone’s home screen (see the instructions above).
There’s also safety information built into Routewise, including the location of first aid stations and where parents and guardians can find lost children.
Mellem cautioned that most children are found relatively quickly in the same area where they got lost, so leaving a location to go to a lost child station isn’t recommended unless a local search proves fruitless. In addition, Routewise also tracks the user’s location and can add to a map web address, allowing the user to share the location with friends.
On Thursday, Mellem said the city has added an additional layer that pulls in information from food vendors, allowing residents to track where they can purchase food, snacks, candy and non-alcoholic drinks. Icons will show vendor locations but not provide more specific information, such as the vendor name or what they sell.
Mellem said the city is looking into producing a full-fledged app next year. The mobile-optimized website was chosen so it could be rolled out in time for this Carnival season. The city is also looking into to make the data publicly available so that it can be incorporated into other apps, she said.
“We’re working through how do we get this public through the app and maybe post to Google or Waze or public data there,” Mellem said.
Local TV news stations have been the chief source of parade tracking information through smartphone apps, but a lack of manpower prevents them from covering the start and end of parades. Juan Sanchez, WDSU-TV’s digital media manager, said anchors, reporters and producers, who volunteer to do the work, usually update the parade’s location manually rather than through GPS because cell service can be unreliable on routes.
Sanchez said he’s curious to see how well Routewise performs relying on GPS data from NOPD units. If it works and the data becomes publicly available, he said WDSU could reevaluate its app.
This weekend, Sanchez said, will “be the big test for them," with much larger crowds along the Uptown route than those that gather for the smaller parades in the French Quarter and the Marigny.
Departments involved in developing Routewise include the Department of Information Technology and Innovation, the Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, New Orleans Police Department, and One Stop Shop for permits & licenses. Additional data is provided by the New Orleans Health Department and the Department of Property Management.