How the quest for a bike collision map opened up city data in Edmonton
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Two Edmonton cyclists are the first people — ever — to receive city-gathered data in electronic form rather than on the printed page, and it’s something they’re not taking lightly as the city moves toward its goal of open data.
Conrad Nobert and Matthew Dance are collecting data dating back to 2005 on the number of collisions between cars and cyclists, or cars and pedestrians, in order to make a map of the collisions.
To do so, they requested collision data from Edmonton through the Freedom of Information Act. But the two faced an uphill battle, since the city would initially only provide paper documentation.
“Essentially we want to make a map that takes this complicated data in a way that makes it transparent and easily understandable by anyone who wants to look at it,” said Dance.
The reason it’s essential to get data in digital form is that it allows users to plug it in immediately rather than painstakingly — and expensively — transcribing it.
In short, it allows data to be open.
But the city shifted its approach to paper versus digital recently, explained Laura Kennedy, director of Elections and Corporate Records with the city.
“This is a first for us and…we are reviewing our ability to do it in the future. We do have redaction software and we have to make sure that whatever we release either electronically or on paper, it protects personal information.”
The FOIP Act requires personal info be removed before data is released to the public. In the past the city’s policy was to only release this data on paper, but that will be reviewed September, according to Kennedy.
And Dance said the shift is a big one.
“The whole promise with open data and the Open City initiative is to engage citizens in matters of policy development. If we, as citizens, don’t have the same data that the decision makers do then we’re not really engaged in the policy development process,” he said.
Thanks to the released information, Dance said they’re looking to partner with two developers and paying them $750 each to produce the online map that would provide people with extensive data about collisions between vehicles and others in the city.
“I’m glad the City of Edmonton seems to be understanding of what we’re trying to do and that we’re actually engaged citizens and we want to be engaged.”