CategoryPresidency

Reminder about open data and Obama’s Open Government Directive

Quickly after taking office, President Obama issued a memorandum about open government and opening government data. Then came the Open Government Directive* which said:

To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information.

Essentially, the executive government (er, Obama Administration) adopts the presumption of openness, that distributing public data is the default position and action to take.

Don’t squat on the data. Don’t fret over how people will view or manipulate the data – this is not your concern. Don’t delay its release. If you do this, you are a frigid dataist and I will remember this.

Photo of visual note taking at an open data seminar by Karen Quinn.

*The Directive has a little more backbone than the original memorandum: “This memorandum requires executive departments and agencies to take the following steps toward the goal of creating a more open government.”

Thank you to Tech President.

Rep. Mica of Florida is confused about how best to support high-speed rail

From Associated Press writer Joan Lowy’s article, “White House doles out $8 billion for fast trains,”

Rep. John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the House transportation committee, complained that the Midwest lines awarded grants will achieve top speeds of only 110 mph and were “selected more for political reasons than for high-speed service.”

No, John, the Midwest was selected because it had a comprehensive plan with a regional approach, and with all Midwest states on board a collaborative effort to make Chicago the hub of an expansive network of fast trains that go to many, desirable destinations.

The Midwest was also selected because many of the Amtrak routes showed increased ridership over the past three years (2006-2009), and the ones that received a higher state subsidy or targeted improvements (with funding from the states) that reduced travel time and increased reliability showed an especially high increase in ridership.

And excuse me, Florida received a lot of money for a high-speed train between Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.

View more of my articles on this expanding topic.

High-speed rail stimulus awards coverage and summary

President Barack Obama was in Tampa, Florida, Thursday morning to announce the winners of the high-speed intercity passenger rail funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). The best coverage of this topic is on The Transport Politic.

View a spreadsheet summarizing all of the high-speed rail corridors, their award amount, and investment projects. I prepared this document based on the press releases from the White House Press Office. With these press releases, I also created the construction summary below.

The Acela, a train traveling from Washington, D.C., to Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, is the country’s only high-speed rail, achieving a top speed of 150 miles per hour for only a few minutes. Photo by Jonathan Rissmeyer.

Construction Summary

Construction will occur in the following corridors*:

  • Northeast
    • New track and signals on the New York – Albany – Buffalo corridor.
    • New track on the New York – Montreal corridor.
    • Track will be restored/repaired on the Boston – Portland – Brunswick corridor.
    • A station will be built in Greenfield, MA, a station restored in Northampton, MA, and 11 new miles of track in CT, on the New Haven – Springfield – Burlington – St. Albans corridor.
  • Midwest
    • Two stations will be renovated in Troy and Battle Creek, MI, and a new station built in downtown Dearborn, MI, on the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor.
    • Also on the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor, a flyover, approach bridges, embankment and retaining walls will be built in Indiana.
    • Construction in Illinois on the Pontiac – Detroit – Chicago corridor includes the relocation, reconfiguration, and addition of high-speed crossovers and related signal system improvements, rail line additions at two locations, and the creation of a new passing tracks.
    • In Iowa, find four, new, remotely controlled powered crossovers on the BNSF Ottumwa subdivision.
    • Cities in Ohio will see various construction projects on the Cleveland – Columbus – Dayton – Cincinnati corridor, including new stations and upgraded track.
    • Illinois becomes the center of attention again on the Chicago – Milwaukee corridor, with various track and station improvements.
    • New stations will be built along the Milwaukee – Madison corridor, which will also see various track upgrades.
    • Illinois is the center of the Midwest rail network. The third largest award in this grant program goes to the Chicago – St. Louis corridor, for upgraded track, signals, and stations, installation of positive train control, and some CREATE projects to reduce congestion in and outside of Chicago.**
    • The St. Louis – Kansas City corridor will see upgraded bridges, crossovers, and improved grade crossings.
  • Pacific Northwest
    • On the Seattle – Portland corridor, expect construction of a bypass track, grade separations, the addition of Positive Train Control, and seismic retrofits to King Station in Seattle, WA.
    • The Portland Union Station will be upgraded.
  • South and Southeast
    • Between Fort Worth and Austin, new signals at grade crossings will be installed.
    • The Charlotte – Raleigh corridor will receive track upgrades.
    • Four new crossovers will be constructed in the Raleigh – Richmond corridor.
    • Between Richmond – Washington, D.C., trains will travel over 11 new miles of high-speed track
  • California
    • The California High Speed Rail Authority receives the largest chunk to construct track, signals, and stations.
    • On the Pacific Surfliner Corridor (San Luis Obispo – Los Angeles – San Diego), new track and crossovers will be constructed.

View on Google Docs or download an Excel file.

*This construction summary is about as complete as the press releases from the White House. I reviewed each press release and copied the information that indicated where construction or upgrades of new or existing project components would actually occur. I excluded planning, environmental impact statements, engineering, and design components of the above projects. I compiled the most important information from the White House press releases into a spreadsheet.

**UPDATED: For more CREATE and Englewood Flyover information, which was funded at $133 million, see page 2 of the Federal Railroad Administration’s summary handout (PDF) and this discussion on Railroad.net.

Thursday is a big day for high-speed rail in America

UPDATE 2: The Transport Politic has the most detailed and comprehensive information on high-speed rail project/corridor funding, a better looking map than Ray LaHood’s map on LaHood’s blog. The White House Press Office posted separate press releases for each project here.

UPDATE: Chicago Business (Crain’s) says Illinois to get $1.2 billion for high-speed rail projects, including money to build the Englewood Flyover connection (Project P1, see map), a major CREATE component (read more: PDF). CREATE is a multi-agency program to reduce the bottlenecks caused by mixing passenger and freight trains and at-grade road crossings.

Tomorrow, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Tampa, Florida, to announce the thirteen corridors winning a portion of $8 billion in funding for high-speed passenger rail projects.

Infrastructurist predicts four winners.

An Amtrak train heads south from Chicago Union Station. If Illinois receives stimulus funding for high-speed rail, we may see some faster locomotives and some new track emerging from the Chicago South Loop train yards.

Vice President Biden, President Obama, and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (from Peoria, Illinois), announced the high-speed passenger rail plan for the United States in Washington, D.C., in April 2009. Photo by Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, Illinois.

One of the winners Infrastructurist predicts is the State of Illinois on behalf of a project to upgrade the tracks and rolling stock for the Amtrak lines Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle that run from Chicago to St. Louis. This is by far the state’s most prosperous route. The Illinois DOT has increased the subsidy to this route, increasing the frequency of service. In response, ridership has grown year over year over year (although the gain from 2008 to 2009 was only 6 percent).

Will Americans soon travel with more convenience in the coming decade?

What’s up with SAFETEA-LU

SAFETEA-LU is the “current” federal surface transportation funding bill – it builds highways, light rail, bikeways, and funds safety research and education outreach programs. Typically, Congress passes a six-year reauthorization to the bill, changing its name to reflect some of the new funding priorities it contains, and many times modifying the balance between highways, transit, and “ehancements” like pedestrian and bicycle projects and Safe Routes to Schools.

Read about how SAFETEA-LU was extended twice this year, currently expiring December 18, after an original expiration on September 30, 2009.

House Congressperson Jim Oberstar, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is opposed to President Obama’s suggestion to extend SAFETEA-LU for 18 months, and is opposed to a three month extension as well. His opposition has been known since at least June 2009. He prefers to give Obama a surface transportation reauthorization bill as soon as possible. Obama wants an 18 month extension so that congresspersons can concentrate on passing a healthcare reform bill.

Bike lanes are often projects funded by the federal transportation bill, either under the Transportation Enhancements or Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality programs.

Major barriers to new surface transportation authorization bill:

  • Jim Oberstar, himself – Yes, the House Representative may derail his own bill.
  • Healthcare – The House passed its healthcare reform bill 11 days agoo and the Senate Democrats revealed their version of a healthcare reform bill today.
  • Unmodified revenue scheme – Motor fuel tax unchanged won’t work; The Highway Trust Fund, and its companion, the Mass Transit Fund, is mostly supported by a constant fuel tax that hasn’t changed since 1993.
  • The country’s growing deficit – Bailing out banks and providing economic stimulus money isn’t free.
  • President Obama, himself
  • High speed rail

And, as always, the following two barriers have presented themselves:

  • Representatives’ conflicting priorities about what the national priorities should be, and about what a transportation bill should fund; Congressperson Oberstar has developed a National Transportation Strategic Plan in his reauthorization bill, something the country has lacked for decades.
  • States’ budgets will not be able to match the funding ratios required to be awarded projects.

Read on for deeper explanations of obstacles that add friction to passing a transportation bill.

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Obama’s promise for open government

I’m excited about Obama’s memorandum he wrote in his first week of office, on January 21st, 2009. In it, he calls for federal agencies to stop looking for legal ways to say no to requests for data, or in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

He will help usher in a new American government, where “[a]ll agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure.” 

And the agencies shouldn’t be so passive about the distribution of their data. President Barack Obama continues with:

“…agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

The United States Government is probably the world’s largest collector and holder of data. It probably stores more data and information than the internet (minus what the government publishes there). I hope I can expect an onslaught of data, but it must be accessible in multiple formats and in ways we can use. Saving spreadsheets is NOT distributing data. That’s protecting it and trying to make it harder to manipulate. It means providing raw access to tables and databases, providing APIs for custom queries, and XML feeds for simple and broad presentation.

Perhaps we’ll need a White House Office of Data to coordinate with agencies about the formats and presentation and distribution methods they choose or will choose.

I’m glad Obama’s transition team took the advice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on this one – they fight for, among many things, the rights of the internet and information and how access to both should be equalized and open. Read the EFF’s news article about this about-face from George Bush’s archaic information policies.

To Obama: When you create that office, please consult the geniuses at EveryBlock for the Office’s “Public Consumption” division. They know how to package data for quick and informative understanding.

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