Publishing the wrong measurement as a PDF isn’t transparency.

The Chicago Department of Transportation released the first progress report to its Chicago Forward Action Agenda in October, two and a half years after the plan – the first of its kind – was published. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading it and putting off a review. Why? It’s been a difficult to compare the original and update documents. The update is extremely light on specifics and details for the many goals in the Action Agenda, which should have organizational (like record keeping and efficiency improvements) and public impacts (like figuring out which intersections have the most crashes). I’ll publish my in-depth review this week.

Aside from missing specifics and details, the update presents information differently and is missing status updates for the three to five “performance measures” in each chapter. It was difficult to understand CDOT’s reporter progress without holding the original and update side-by-side. I think listing the original action item, the progress symbol, and then a status update would have been an easier way to read the document.

The update measures some action items differently than originally called for, and the way pothole repair was presented, a problem for people bicycling and driving, caught my analytical eye.

CDOT states a pothole-filling performance measure of the percentage, which it desires to be increased, “patched or fixed within 72 hours of being reported” but the average, according to the website Chicago Potholes, which tracks the city’s open data, is 101 days*. The update doesn’t necessarily explain why, writing “the 72 hour goal for filling potholes is not always feasible due to asphalt plant schedules” and nothing related to the performance measure.

As originally written, the only way to note the performance would be to list the percentage of potholes filled within the goal time, at the beginning and in the update. This performance measure has a complementary action item – an online dashboard – which could have provided the answer, but didn’t.

CDOT published that dashboard this summer as a series of six PDF files that update daily and you can hardly call it useful.

Publishing PDF files in the day and age of open government data – popular with President Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel – is unacceptable. Even if they are accessible – meaning you can copy/paste the text – they are poor outlets for data given the nationally-renowned civic innovation changes that Emanuel has succeeded in establishing.

There’s another problem: the dashboard file for pothole tracking doesn’t track the time it takes to close a pothole request, nor the number of pothole requests that are patched within 72 hours. It simply tells the number completed yesterday, the year to date, and the number of unpatched requests. (I’ve posted the pothole-tracking file to Scribd because the dashboard [PDF] doesn’t work in Safari; I also notified city staff to this problem which they acknowledged over three weeks ago.)

The “Chicago Works For You” website reports a different metric, that of the number of requests made each day, distributed by ward.

I discussed the proposed dashboard with former commissioner Gabe Klein over two years ago. He said he wanted to create a dashboard of projects “we’re working on that’s updated once a week.” Given Klein’s high professional accessibility to myself, John Greenfield and other reporters, I’ll give him and CDOT a pass for not doing this. But Klein also said, “I’m really big on transparency and good communication. When I left [Washington,] D.C. our [Freedom of Information Act Requests] were dramatically lowered.”

I’ll consider the pothole performance measure and action item “in need of major progress.”

* For stats geeks, the median is 86 and standard deviation is ±84.