NYC DOT Seeks Developer Feedback

A screenshot on traffic conditions in Lower Manhattan at 3:30 PM from Google Maps.

A screenshot on traffic conditions in Lower Manhattan at 3:30 PM. (Google Maps for Android)

Yesterday morning Nick Grossman and I attended a developers’ meeting at the NYC Department of Transportation to brainstorm some ideas to better enhance the open data movement at the agency.  The room was very well-balanced in terms of attendance between developers and DOT officials, and there were some interesting requests from the development/programming community.

Real-time data and the consolidation/aggregation of NYC transportation data were two general areas of importance to the DOT and development/academic community.  In the long run, the DOT hopes to provide real-time traffic information along with improving delivery truck routing around low bridges on their data feed portal.  They mentioned that like many New Yorkers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg would prefer knowing the traffic conditions ahead of time and not getting delayed for meetings and events in Midtown traffic.  Better real-time traffic data will be the foundation for building apps to help New Yorkers navigate congested streets.  Moreover, better transportation apps could help people make more informed transportation choices, thereby building a more sustainable city.

Thus, the DOT is seeking the talents in the developer community to help build solutions.

The DOT has made good progress in unlocking their data feeds.  They are now tapping into the developer community to discuss the objectives and  strategies for future projects with DOT data.  The data feed portal contains advisories, speed restrictions, alternate side parking and  real time camera feeds.  To the extent that it’s possible, the DOT has shown interest in working with other agencies, such as the TLC and the MTA to share data.

While there are many data sets that the DOT can publish easily, others are either out of their control or harder to unlock.  Some of those that might be particularly useful for real-time traffic apps include:
  • synchronized police investigations alerts
  • taxi locations
  • traffic light timing
  • real-time street closure updates, ranging from construction sites to cultural streetfairs (probably through the DOT currently-internal Citywide Event Coordination and Management database)

This is rather a short list, but it would more interesting what other application ideas developers and the DOT can come up with.  Perhaps, some sort Uservoice or Ideascale page to keep track of a “wishlist” of applications the DOT and developers want to develop with the available data (similar to the one in Portland for CivicApps, Edmonton’s AppsforEdmonton or NYC’s own BigApps).  At a recent Gov2.0 event, Sarah Kaufman, a Projects Coordinator at MTA NYC Transit, mentioned that a developers’ wishlist will be published based on the MTA’s datasets.

While there is no existing executive or legislative mandate by the Mayor or City Council to standardize data for all agencies (yet), the DOT is moving ahead to release more datasets in preparation for BigApps II set for Fall 2010, following a very successful BigApps I launch last year.  DOT has highlighted that some of its difficulties will be digging through older or unformatted data, but they are willing to work with developers on data delivery and data content to make NYC traffic more sustainable and user-friendly.

To continue the conversation from the meeting, the DOT has established a Google Group for developers, just like the thriving MTA Developers Group.  Feel free to chime in with ideas to improve the datasets (like Steven Romalewski’s excellent MTA dataset post) or request datasets for application development.  This is an integral step for the DOT to gain momentum going forward and increase their presence in the development community.

We applaud the DOT’s effort in leading this initiative and becoming a leader in open transportation data.  It is a welcome commitment to empowering smarter transportation choices in New York City.