Calls for Action From Milwaukee to Manhattan

Whether it’s the end of bike month or the open data enthusiasm spurred by Obama’s new "Democratizing Data" initiative, the Livable Streets Community is full of calls to action this week.

Milwaukee’s new interactive mapping project

Dan Knauss of the Cream Citizen group — "Milwaukee’s open source think tank for progressive urbanist policy,
sustainable development, regional transit solutions, and open
government." — is asking people to comment on this blog post about a new Milwaukee County interactive mapping site. MCAMLIS (Milwaukee County Automated Mapping and Land Information System) provides valuable geographic data, but currently charges the public for certain types of access because the copyright is held by private utility companies. As Knauss tells Streetsblog:

Municipal and county governments accumulate a large amount of data that
is relevant to many public interest issues, like land use and planning
or neighborhood health and stability. This data is public record and is
produced at the taxpayers’ expense. As such, the public has a right to
have this data, and when the public has it in highly usable structured
data formats (like XML and KML), it becomes a basis for greater public
awareness, participation, and investment in our cities and counties.

In the Poconos, Scott Dietrich has started a map workgroup for community planning of bicycle and pedestrian trails in the Smithfield Township. He invites resident members to view the proposed trail system on this handy Google map. Residents are asked to give their own suggestions on the group’s discussion page. Dietrich is also getting the word about about National Trails Day on June 6. 

Meanwhile in New York, Lisa Sladkus is urging Upper West Siders to come out on June 2 to ask Manhattan Community Board 7 to support protected bike lanes. Her request has spurred some lively discussion, with Tila Duhaime making a great case for the importance of separated bike lanes for riders at all skill levels. Maggie Clarke is forging connections between this group and the livable streets campaign up in Inwood & Washington Heights.

And rounding up, Kasia shares some great lessons from the Municipal Art Society’s recent Livable Neighborhoods program on the Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn blog.

  • Many local governments, as in Milwaukee, that do provide some degree of publicly accessible data at the present time will often protest what they are doing now is “good enough” or somehow meets a/their standard of being sufficiently “public.” But unless that make their data available as structured data in widely accessible formats, this claim rings hollow.

    Lacking an open API for external applications to fetch public data, open standards formats for structured data that can be used in many free applications (like XML and KML) should be implemented. One benefit to cities is that a move to open standards makes possible a move to open source applications as well, and this represents millions in potential cost savings. It is likely that, in the near future, federal requirements for data interoperability will mandate XML standards for all levels of government, so holdouts at this point are just putting local entities further behind the curve.

    See the OpenGeoSpatial Foundation’s various white papers on this subject ( and especially the Yale Journal of law and Technology 11 (2008-09) “Government Data and the Invisible Hand” ( which opens: “If President Barack Obama’s new administration really wants to embrace the potential of Internet-enabled government transparency, it should follow a counter-intuitive but ultimately compelling strategy: reduce the federal role in presenting important government information to citizens. Today, government bodies consider their own Web sites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use. We argue that this understanding is a mistake. It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing Web sites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility.”

    It is clear that decisions related to data infrastructure are being made at the state, county and municipal levels with little to no public discussion or input, and this too is a problem. There must be some alternative models of deliberation and planning on public data infrastructure; perhaps Vancouver holds or will soon hold some models; as yet, I don;t know of any in the US:

  • I should also have noted the Independent Government Observers’ Task Force’s (IGOTF) eight principles of open government data: These principles were hashed out in 2007 by some great minds, including Tim O’Reilly.

  • Speaking of which, when can we expect NYC DOT data from vehicle and pedestrian counts to be available on the web?

  • @Cap’n Transit: you may find that valuable data like that is treated as proprietary and on the level of “trade secrets” by departments of public works when traffic counts are hitched to state funding for municipal road repairs. Pedestrian and transit advocates may find their desire to get more progressive street design inhibited by graft-protecting bureaucrats who will also not like you to get your hands on “their” street data. See for example this recent article on Streetsblog:



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With Milwaukee looking to implement a BRT system connecting downtown to the suburb of Wauwatosa, Ken Smith of Urban Milwaukee was eager to get a look at how BRT works in Quito, when he was in the city for the recent UN Habitat III summit. The system impressed him, and Smith wonders if Milwaukee will be able to duplicate […]

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Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers. Looking for a job? Here are the current listings: Senior Transportation Planner — Planning Division, SF County Transportation Authority, San Francisco, California […]

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