What Transportation Data Should NYC Open Up?

Today and tomorrow are momentous days for civic-minded software developers in New York City. The Bloomberg administration is accepting requests, until Tuesday at 4:00 p.m., to make specific government datasets publicly available. Modeled after a Washington D.C. initiative called Apps for Democracy, Bloomberg’s "NYC Big Apps" software competition promises to deliver greater transparency and, ultimately, improve city services.

The mayor’s initiative is not the only open-gov game in town. The City Council is currently considering a bill sponsored by Gale Brewer, Intro 991, that would require all city agencies to make their data publicly available.

My colleague Phil Ashlock over at The Open Planning Project, Streetsblog’s parent organization, posted a great explanation of why opening up city data matters. TOPP is putting together a dataset wishlist to submit to the city by tomorrow’s deadline, and they’re looking for ideas and suggestions.

What type of data are we talking about, and how would it be used?

Consider CrashStat, the website produced by Transportation Alternatives that displays locations where pedestrians and cyclists have been injured in traffic collisions over time. To produce its maps, CrashStat crunches data obtained from the state DMV, data that must currently be procured through onerous freedom of information requests. Once TA gets the data, which arrives in a difficult-to-parse format, turning it into legible, mapped information is a long slog.

New York City has access to the same DMV data and could make it publicly available in easy-to-process formats. "Timely, accurate and complete access to crash records would allow individual citizens and organizations to identify dangerous intersections and blocks in their neighborhood," said TA’s IT Director Mike Infranco. "Widespread and easier public access to this data would also potentially benefit the City, in that increased citizen engagement in issues surrounding crashes has the potential to reduce crash rates, and all their attendant personal, property, legal and societal costs."

Crash information is one of several datasets that TOPP developers will be requesting from the city. If you have ideas and suggestions for websites or applications that could be made with open data from the city, submit them through this feedback forum.

  • The DOT has tons of data that could be very helpful to livable streets advocates – data on street width, lane width, sidewalk width, number of lanes, bike facilities, location of crosswalks, etc. There’s signal data: length of green, yellow, red, walk and don’t walk for each direction. And policy data: parking restrictions, no-parking zones, placard zones, “self-enforcement zones,” etc.

    Even more useful to the public would be the data they collect on street usage: counts of cars, pedestrians, cyclists sampled at various points. Speed data too.

    Say you’re wondering if your signals weren’t retimed recently to speed traffic, or you’re hoping to get a four-way stop sign or a raised crosswalk. This data would be very helpful. I found something like this on the “Big Apps Ideas” site and voted it up: Traffic data of all kinds – speed, volume etc. You might want to do the same.

    I can only think of two reasons not to open that data up to the public: (1) it would take a lot of time, money and effort away from other projects, and (2) it would give more information to the public.

  • @Angus, great stuff. I could imagine a whole slew of tools that could be produced on top of these datasets — DIY street design simulations, “the people’s” traffic modeling, calculating economic impacts of policy changes (I’m thinking parking), etc etc. Imagine the visualizations!

  • lee

    You can now search for parking regulations on any street in the city.


  • Ian Turner


    A lot of this data is not in digital form or indeed not maintained at all — for example, the city does not actually maintain records of its parking regulaions.

  • mike


    Actually, they do! (see above). And they have done so for years. In fact, I’m pretty sure their database contains versioning info — they can see prior parking regulations.

  • glenn

    Gothamist has some type of feed of all the incidents reported with location in real-time. Something like that with a tracker #ID so you can follow-up on incidents to see what happened. Link in MVAs, 311, 911, emergency response.

    Real-time traffic counts would be really cool. Then we could see the impact of different interventions ourselves instead of waiting for “traffic engineers” to sanitize it and make it unreadable.


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