I’m a fan of making government data open, as I think most people probably are. Transparency in government, particularly through ensuring that the data it collects and generates are easily accessible to the public in machine readable formats can only be a good thing. However, even if you’re in favor of the concept, you may not see how it could directly impact your life, if you don’t actively use such information, right?
Well, this week there was a great example of how open data can directly benefit you and me. In particular, if you ever drive and (try to) park in New York City, you can now thank open data for saving you from a potential parking ticket. In particular, given the current fine for parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, it could save you $115.
Ben Wellington is a professor in the City & Regional Planning at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn who regularly studies data obtained from NYC Open Data to tell stories. He recently used city data to see which fire hydrants in the city generated the most money in parking tickets. Sure enough, he found two hydrants (one located opposite 152 Forsyth Street in Manhattan and the other one just down the street, opposite from 104 Forsyth Street) that alone generated more than $50,000 a year in tickets.
Looking more closely at the location of these hydrants, Wellington noted that each parking space appeared to have a bike lane between it and the hydrant, making it less obvious that it was an illegal spot. In addition, neither parking space was marked as an illegal parking spot. This raised the question of whether these hydrants were, basically, meant to trap drivers.
As you may imagine, Wellington’s work soon got a lot of attention on Reddit and from the media. As a result, the Department of Transportation quickly repainted both spaces to clearly indicate that they were illegal. As Wellington wrote, it was a small but important victory for open data.
“...it is the proof that anyone can use Open Data, the internet and great sites like reddit to improve our neighborhoods and our great city, one small discovery at a time.”
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