Tagopen government

Getting a little closer to understanding Chicago’s pothole-filling performance status

Tom Kompare updated his web application that tracks the progress of potholes based on information in the city’s data portal in response to my query about how many potholes the city fills within 72 hours, which is the Chicago Department of Transportation’s performance measure.

He wrote to me via the Open Government Chicago group:

Without completely rewriting http://potholes.311services.org, I added a count of the number of open (not yet addressed) pothole repair tickets (requests) that exceed 3 days old. As of today, the data from the City of Chicago’s Data Portal shows 1,334 or the 1,404 open tickets in the 311 system are older than three days.

Full disclosure: The web app actually looks for greater than 4 days old. The Data Portal’s pothole data are only updated once a day, so these data are always a day old. 4 – 1 = 3.

Keep in mind that this web app only shows how many are yet to be addressed, and does not count how many have been patched within CDOT’s 3-day goal during some arbitrary time period. That is a much more intense calculation that this pure client-side Javascript web application can handle due to bandwidth restrictions on mobile (3/4G). This web app already pushes the mobile envelope with the amount of data downloaded. I can fix that, but, again, not without a rewrite.

Still, 1,334 open repair requests (12/16/2013 Data Portal data) is quite different than the number of open repair requests reported by CDOT (560 in Alley, 193 on street) on 12/16/2013. I’m not sure what is the difference.

This reminds me of a third issue with the way CDOT is presenting pothole performance data online (the first being that it’s PDF, the second that it doesn’t work in Safari). The six PDF files are overwritten for every new day of data. If you want information from two days ago, well you better have downloaded the PDF from two days ago!

Slicing the crash data into interesting visualizations

The Chicago Crash Browser as it looks now. This only exists on my laptop and no place else. I can’t put it online because it’s so inefficient it would kill the server. 

I presented my Chicago Crash Browser to attendees of an OpenGov Hack Night three weeks ago and gathered a lot of feedback and some interest from designers and programmers there.

We collaboratively came up with a new direction: instead of focusing on creating a huge web application that I proposed, we (anyone who wants to help) would start small with a website and a couple of crash data visualizations. The visualizations would serve two purposes:

  • attract attention to the project
  • start building a gallery of data-oriented graphics that describes the breadth and extent of the crash data

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Chicago Police responds to my FOIA request about bicycle theft

A Chicago Police (CPD) officer called me this morning to discuss my FOIA request for bike theft data. It was very revealing.

The first problem is that I forgot to ask for a time frame. No big deal, I can tell him over the phone that I want the last three full calendar years.

The second problem is that there’s not a separate code for recording bicycle thefts. It’s recorded under “Simple Theft” and as being under $300 or over $300.

Third problem is that the database front end (the graphical interface that allows officers to search the reporting database) doesn’t allow him to search all of the report narratives for “bike” or “bicycle” and limit the search to “Simple Theft” in a specific time frame. Some report codes allow narrative searching, and some don’t. He said it would be impractical to search all narratives for the words “bike” or “bicycle” because a lot of reports not about theft would appear in the results.

In my last blog on the Chicago Police Department’s FOIA response (for my request about bike crashes), they explained that they don’t have to create records that don’t already exist (like a list of bike thefts). This response is identical, but they called and gave me a better explanation. The officer also said they don’t have the staff resources to spend on collating their records for bicycle theft reports. I understand this.

He also explained that reporting standards at the CPD are guided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the department’s “Incident Reporting Standards.” In the FBI’s reporting standards, there exists a line item for “bicycle theft” but it’s the same code as “simple theft.” There are separate codes for “credit card theft” and “motor vehicle theft.”

It seems the solution to the problem of obtaining records on bike theft in Chicago is to update the Incident Reporting Standards and include a new code for bike theft reports. At the end of the call, I understood that I was not going to get a list of bike theft dates and times from the police.

For now, Chicagoans should also report their bicycle theft to the Stolen Bike Registry so there’s a publicly available record of theft locations.

A Chicagoans rides his bike north on Halsted Street through University Village. If his bike is stolen, we can’t expect the Chicago Police Department to keep an easily findable report of it.

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.

MBAC meeting now online

In a small victory for open government (Gov 2.0), one new City of Chicago meeting has gone “live.”

Well, it was live two Wednesdays ago (if you showed up at City Hall at 3 PM on the 11th floor*), but you can watch the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council on Ustream. Thanks to Jim Limber for setting up the webcam and streaming it. I haven’t watched it yet; you can also read the meeting minutes and see one of the distributed handouts.

MBAC is where people involved in bicycle projects come together to talk about them. It includes riding and racing clubs, police, city agencies, CTA, advocacy groups, messengers, and regular citizens.

An MBAC meeting in June 2009. This was a special meeting and the only relevant photo I had for this blog post.

*I missed this MBAC; first one since working at the Chicago Department of Transportation, where I started in October 2007. I’ll be leaving at the end of this month and I’m looking for new employment. You can hire me.

Google snaps up another open web advocate

I’ve been following the work of Chris Messina (also known by his handle, factoryjoe) for a couple years now. I can’t remember how I found him (maybe it was BarCamp, OpenID, of the Firefox ad), but I know why I follow him. Like me, he wants to keep the web open and data transferrable or transportable.

While browsing the New York Times Technology section Monday morning (my favorite tech news site, hands down), I saw the headline that he now works for Google (Monday was the first day). This kind of shocked me. I feel Google gets a little scarier every week: some of my friends have admitted that a lot of their online life exists on Google servers and feel queasy about what could happen (some call this “the cloud” and have pointed out the devastating possibilities for privacy and business).

Open web advocate, Chris Messina, presents at the Open Source Bridge conference in Portland, Oregon, in June 2009. Photo by Aaron Hockley.

The author pointed out Messina’s history in open web advocacy (he hijacked his high school’s website because of its refusal to allow an ad for a new gay/straight alliance). The article offers some speculative reasons why Messina made the move, but I want to discuss the inclusion of a quote from Eran Hammer-Lahav, who works for Yahoo!.

With Messina, Smarr, [inventor of OpenID and more Brad] Fitzpatrick and others all working for Google, focusing on the Social Web, there is less and less incentive for Google to reach out. Google has a strong coding culture which puts running code ahead of consensus and collaboration. Now with so many bright minds in house, they are even less likely to reach out. Quote continues…

In other words, with all of the open web advocates being Open Web Advocates (Messina’s new title), who will advocate for web users now? There’s me, for sure. And there are folks standing behind Open Government and Government 2.0. People like Barack Obama (he issued the Transparency and Open Government memo), Adriel Hampton (host of Gov 2.0 Radio podcast), Mark Abraham (urbandata on Twitter), and anyone in the government “black box” who’s willing to set government data free.

In addition, new websites are up and running that remix and mash up government data into useful applications that can promote, through the web, a different level of ownership of one’s community. Or websites that provide useful and relevant information for residents. Websites like SeeClickFix (identify problems in your neighborhood to get city politicians and staff to take notice), or the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

And don’t forget that the Chicago Bicycle Parking Program liberated its bike parking data into Excel, KML, and GIS-compatible formats in 2009.

Screenshot of the Advanced Search page in the Chicago Bike Parking Public Interface web application from which you can download bike rack installation data.

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