The number of Americans killed in traffic fatalities has fallen over the last decade, but the number of bicycle/pedestrian fatalities is up 12 percent over that time according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Meanwhile, the number of bicyclists commuting to work has risen by 64 percent since 2000.
As a result, cities are turning their attention to creating safer streets for all. One of the first steps is to publish detailed open data on pedestrian and bicycle crashes in their jurisdictions. Giving citizens access to crash data has already led to greater citizen engagement and better citizen awareness of dangerous locations, which are benchmarks toward the ultimate goal of fewer pedestrian and bicycle-involved collisions.
New York City was among the first cities in the country to publish open data on pedestrian and bicycle crashes. The New York City Council passed legislation in February 2011 requiring it. The stated goals of the TrafficStat legislation are to “improve the quality of reporting relating to pedestrian safety and cyclist crash data, as well as the inter-agency processes in place to continue to improve pedestrian safety.”
The bill required NYPD to publish summary statistics relating to crash data, but the department decided to disseminate more detailed, higher quality information than the minimum required.
The results are impressive.
NYPD’s TrafficStat website is a custom Microsoft-based solution that provides aggregated crash data updated weekly. These data can be broken down based on NYPD patrol borough and precinct. The department also provides the raw data on over one million motor vehicle crashes in New York since mid-2012. NYPD tries to be as transparent as possible, withholding only the names and license plates of those involved in crashes.
New York now has good company with its crash data. Both Chapel Hill and Durham produce separate data sets of pedestrian and crash data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DoT). These cities provide data on over 50 categories relating to pedestrian and bicycle crash data, including information on the incident’s location; the age, race, sex, and injury of the bicyclist or pedestrian; road conditions and speed limit; and much more.
"(We) weren't collecting data well and we knew we needed to change it, and as we began to change it we thought 'hey, let's make this public.’”
Jeremy Ellison, St Paul Police Department.
The Tucson Police Department has worked to engage their community with bicycle crash data, with a well-attended community data dive event last year and a long-term collaboration with a local advocacy group that has extensive information on bicycle crash data. Tucson recently added bicycle-related traffic incidents, automatically updated nightly, to the city's open data portal.
Tucson PD and the community worked together to produce data that could be used to problem solve jointly around crashes.
In Saint Paul, MN, the police department relies on daily manual RMS and CAD data queries to produce its impressive dataset on pedestrian and bike crashes. This dataset includes information on whether a traffic signal was present, who (if anyone) received a citation, the degree of injury to the bicyclist or pedestrian, and a several sentence synopsis of what occurred.
The Saint Paul Police Department, according to Sgt. Jeremy Ellison, saw open pedestrian and bicycle data as a means of enhancing the work the city was already doing to improve safety. Ellison says “we weren't collecting data well and we knew we needed to change it, and as we began to change it we thought 'hey, let's make this public.’”
This orientation toward openness is an effective tactic for aligning efforts of local government and public stakeholders, one that is particularly well-suited for a many-sided issue like bicycle and pedestrian safety.
Pedestrian and bicycle crash data presents an opportunity for cities to help drive change through open data on an issue that a growing number of people care about. Having a shared understanding of the scope of the problem and where crashes are occurring between law enforcement and the public is a first critical step.
The Police Foundation hosted a call in May with over 30 Police Data Initiative law enforcement agencies to discuss ways of expanding crash data on their open data portals. To learn more about joining the Police Data Initiative, visit policedatainitiative.org
Top Photo Credit: NYPD's Traffic statistics as recorded in the TrafficStat book. (September 2017).
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