Testimony to the Transportation Committee in support of Intro No 1114-A, 4 December 2013

Testimony to the Transportation Committee in support of Intro No 1114-A, 4 December 2013

It is a great honor to address you and represent New York City’s technology community, in particular, civic technologists and civic hackers, a rather active group of technologists.

I am Noel Hidalgo, co-founder of BetaNYC. We’re the New York City Code for America Brigade, working to create a city government for the people, by the people, for the 21st Century.

Every week, my community gathers around tables, computers, and data. We are comprised of hackers, mappers, and yackers.

For the last six months, we have hosted a community hacknight at NYU Rudin’s Center for Transportation Policy. For the last six months, we have explicitly explored bicycle and public safety related data. In October, we testified about our frustrations with Crash Stat and the NYPD’s public safety data. All in all, we hacking for good. We take the data that is made publicly available and put it to good use.

I’m here to talk about two concerns with Intro 1114-A.

  • First, the codification of bad information sharing practices.
  • Second, a unique opportunity to empower all New Yorkers to make safer streets.

With Section 19-180 and Section 19-182, we thank you for asking that these reports to be posted to the web. We love it when reports are posted to the web. We love it MORE when the underlying data of these reports are posted to the web.

With the passage of Local Law 11 of 2012, the City’s Open Data Law, all of the City’s data should be in machine readable formats. To this day, Agencies are able to circumnavigate the Open Data Law by writing data into reports.

From our experience, we need Section 19-180 and Section 19-182 to provide mandates to convert data used in these reports into raw and machine readable data. If you want anyone besides the Department of Transportation to use this data, we need to liberate the underlying data.

Second, I commend you for asking for the publication of comprehensive guidelines. We wish every agency produced such work.

We agree that all New Yorkers need access to a comprehensive guidelines for the improvement of roads and sidewalks.

We have a concern with the language “disseminated by electronic mail” and “posted on the department’s official website.” In essence, you are asking for this report to be posted as a PDF, shared as a PDF, and printed out on paper.

In my community, PDFs are where information and data goes to die.

It would be better if Section 19-182.1 asked for this information “to be published in a  referenceable and searchable website, accessible to all regardless of interface.”

As this manual is written for a 21st Century City, imagine if this manual was produced for the 21st Century. Imagine if you were able to stand on a street corner and quickly look up how the street could be safer.

Now imagine the data regime we exist in today: a community board member researching safer street options would have to pour through hundreds of PDF pages.

With the changes we are recommending, the same community board member could instead use a search feature to find the right page, and print out the exact street feature they want. Even better: they would be able to take the current intersection and remix it with their desired street features. These are all currently possible with existing free and open source tools.

The Transportation Committee has the opportunity to transform a collection schematics, photos, and stories that currently only live in paper into actionable tools to improve public safety. Using the DOT’s pre-existing videos and pilot project content, we can easily imagine a collection of interactive guidelines that truly empower people to understand the streets.

With this bill, you have the power to change how people use this information and use it for the betterment of the City. This can be done only if the City mandates critical underlying data to be released in more technologically current, sensible and useful ways, rather than “disseminated by electronic mail” and “posted on the department’s official website.

Thank you.

Noel Hidalgo