Tagpothole

The Chicago Way: Potholes that definitely no longer exist

311 report for a pothole

Screenshot of the 311 service tracker that tells me that the photograph I submitted contains no image of potholes.

The Chicago Way is as much about the process as it is about the result. This story involves what happens when you can’t provide accurate information about a street inspection in the tracking system that has been built, effectively making a group of potholes disappear.

I submitted a pothole report via the Chicago open 311 system – assigning it service request #13-00420100 – on April 12, 2013 for 1653 N Milwaukee Avenue near Red Hen Bakery and Athletico. Three days later the inspection found no potholes and the request was closed.

The website or the Chicago 311 system seemingly could not provide a better answer. Certainly dismissing the existence of potholes is the wrong response. There’s no hope for the future in this response. Maybe there’s a plan to resurface this block. This could be the opportunity to inform a concerned citizen. Instead, the response told me I’m wrong.

Fast forward to now and the situation has devolved. Potholes have gotten a little bigger and they’ve spread as if the street is diseased. What also sucks is that this problem will probably persist for at least another year from my report (unit April 2015) because the hot asphalt plants are going to shutdown soon.

This reminds me of that Chicago maxim: “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” Or Metra, that the trains would be on time if they didn’t have to stop to pick up passengers.

#TheChicagoWay

Potholes on Milwaukee Avenue - I reported them over a year ago

The potholes as of August 2014.

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!

CDOT misses the lesson on open data transparency

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.

Urbanity fails again

Photo by my friend and UIC alum, Joshua Koonce.

I asked him about the photo’s title, “Urbanity fails again.” He replied:

I just thought it up on the fly, but you do see a lot of just these really little urban failures. Like, decayed bike lanes, weeds, potholes, gaps, sidewalk plates missing, leaky viaducts, “minor urban disasters” so to speak.

I feature Josh’s photos often on Steven Can Plan and now Grid. I also created a Flickr group for Grid where you can showcase your photos about sustainable transportation in Chicagoland.

© 2019 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑