Alush Benitez

Alush Benitez, recently graduated from Niles West High School, is a freshman from Skokie, Illinois interested in combining his interest in sustainable urban planning with a major in computer science.

Alush discovered his passion for sustainable transportation during his first ride on the CTA ’L’ train. His enthusiasm for app development developed during a summer course taught at Northwestern University. Alush noticed that public transportation and cycling had a greater barrier to entry when compared to automotive transportation. Concerns over timeliness, convenience, and recently COVID-19 push people towards cars, despite knowing their negative impact on the urban environment. Alush recognized that with greater access to resources, especially for first-time users, sustainable transportation could achieve widespread utilization. He committed to using app development to create those resources.

Alush's first app tackled the anxiety felt around cycling on busy city streets. Chicago has built a wide assortment of cycling infrastructure ideal for beginner cyclists. In an effort to expand the knowledge and use of bike lanes around the city, Alush took Chicago's publicly available JSON data on the cities' bike lanes and transformed it into an interactive map of Chicago with color-coded overlays on streets representing different classifications of bike lanes.

The idea for Train Track, Alush's third and most recent app, was formed after Alush studied the CTA's new Train Tracker API and Alerts API. These tools allowed for applications to access train arrival times and delays, which answer many commuters' main gripe about mass transit: unpredictability. Alush integrated both JSON data sets into an intuitive, colorful, and quick user interface, and Train Track now has 1,500 downloads and counting.

Alush's goal throughout his app development career has been to transform hard data into fluid user experiences to bridge the accessibility gap between pollution-generating cars and sustainable trains and bikes. At Columbia, Alush is excited by the opportunity to engage in his first formal research opportunity and thoroughly explore urban planning and user design in the world-class city of New York.