Oversight - DoITT’s administration of the New York City Open Data Law

Good morning. Thank you Chair Cabrera and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify. My name is Juan Martinez and I’m Transportation Alternatives’ General Counsel. We are a 40-year old non-profit, with over 100,000 activists in our network, dedicated to improving the safety of New York City’s streets. We use the data that has been unlocked by the Council through Local Law 11 of 2011 on a daily basis in order to encourage agencies to more efficiently focus their limited street safety resources, and to empower communities to make their own streets safer. I am here today to explain how your efforts to continue to unlock that data and remove impediments to its analysis will ultimately make New York safer for everyone who walks, bikes or drives.

In 2011, this Council passed and the Mayor signed landmark legislation, authored by Council Member Lappin, which aimed to allow all New Yorkers the opportunity to assess the relative safety of their street, or the route their child walks to school, or the safety of their neighborhood at large. The hope was that this data would enable Council Members, Community Board members, community members and community advocates to identify danger patterns and trends. Thus empowered, these leaders would be able to organize and develop plans to increase safety on crosswalks and sidewalks, at intersections, and within vehicle lanes.

Yet despite the overwhelming support from this body, and the scrutiny from the Council on the implementation of that law, New Yorkers are still unable to tap into this enormous resource. The demand for this data remains high, but the New York Police Department’s efforts to comply with this law have frustrated the high hopes for the bill. They publish the data, but in a format that obfuscates the data and renders it all but inaccessible to the public. Indeed, if it weren’t for the intervention of a few exceedingly talented, driven, and diligent New Yorkers, the promise of Local Law 11 would have been entirely frustrated.

We deeply appreciate the work of these volunteer experts, our organization receives, on average, four requests a week for crash data from elected officials, reporters, community board members, or civic groups. In just the past week, we’ve used the data to:
 provide context and analysis to panelists at an event evaluating the NYPD’s traffic safety priorities
 provide context to journalists who needed statistics on pedestrian fatalities for the past few years
 provide a Councilmember-elect with the crash history of a particular intersection in their district.

We are thrilled to help these people when we can – indeed, we view it as an essential function of our office- but the truth is that we can’t keep up with the requests to sift through the data and produce maps to fulfill each of these requests.

The open access to this data in a format which can be analyzed by researchers, data experts and advocates would be beneficial; but we’re not there yet. Once that does happen we should expect that within a short period of time community members, Community Board members and Council Members will have applications made available to them to view, understand and use. All that stands in the way is the application of less formatting of the data by the NYPD. If they did less work researchers, data experts, and others would produce applications to make the data available to any New Yorker with an internet connection. We are greatly appreciative of the Committee’s attention to this issue, and look forward to taking your questions.