Advocates Urge Lander to Upgrade NYPD Crash Data Bill

A bill that would have pushed Ray Kelly’s police department one step closer to opening up crash data has been reintroduced by Council Member Brad Lander. But with new leadership, NYPD is dropping hints that it will release better public data soon. Advocates say Lander’s bill could use some upgrades to help the public get more out of NYPD’s crash data.

Mandating a crash map is good, but getting better traffic safety data from NYPD is better. Image: NYC Crashmapper

A few months after the City Council required the NYPD to create an online crime map last year, Lander introduced a bill to add crash data to the mix. At a hearing on the bill last October, NYPD pushed back. Assistant Commissioner of Intergovernmental Affairs Susan Petito said a crash map would confuse the public because DMV reports require that crashes are mapped to the nearest intersection and not their exact location. She also rebuffed a suggestion that NYPD work with the DMV to fix the problem by changing the forms.

Since then, there’s been an election and several changes at NYPD. Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told Streetsblog last month that the department is working on adding crash data and other “information [that] might not have been previously available to the public” to the city’s Vision Zero website. He also said he’s looking to work with the DMV on improving its crash report forms, but wouldn’t go into specifics.

Also last month, Lander reintroduced his crash data bill. But so far the bill hasn’t been revised to reflect current needs. It would require NYPD to take data it currently releases in a convoluted format and put it on a map, which street safety advocates have already figured out how to do. They’re asking Lander to upgrade the bill with a more substantial open data mandate.

Noel Hidalgo, executive director of BetaNYC (a local Code for America affiliate), called Lander’s bill “a good start” but said the legislation would be a missed opportunity if it passes in its current form. “Ideally, in the big picture, we wouldn’t be legislating for the creation of a map,” he said. “We would be strengthening the legislation around Council Member Lappin’s original CrashStat bill.”

That 2011 legislation was a significant step forward for street safety data, but there are still big problems with the cumbersome formats NYPD uses to release the data each month. Because programmers are forced to reformat the data from NYPD before they can map it, the process is more difficult and error-prone than it has to be.

To address these problems, the mayor’s Vision Zero report calls on NYPD to upgrade its data collection mechanisms and open data policies, but doesn’t specify how the department will change its public data releases other than saying NYPD will adopt “user-friendly format(s).”

Hidalgo hopes Lander will use his bill to demand specifics. “We want data in a geo-tagged format with a date and time stamp, and we want it to be frequently updated,” he said. “Without that, this is just a feel-good bill.”

Hidalgo added that the City Council should broaden its focus to include not just crash data but better information about traffic summonses, TLC violations, and automated enforcement tickets. Gathering the data together, he said, could help advocates and officials better identify and educate dangerous drivers. “Not all drivers are bad drivers,” Hidalgo said. “It would be great to know that they’re taking an analytical approach to targeting the most dangerous drivers on the road.”

The transportation committee’s next meeting is on April 30, and Lander’s bill may or may not end up on the agenda. In the meantime, the bill might change. “We are looking at what revisions make sense,” said Lander chief of staff Rachel Goodman.