On Monday, July 13th the City of Vancouver began the Burrard Bridge lane trial. For those unfamiliar with the trial, the Burrard Bridge is a 6 lane bridge that connects the downtown core of Vancouver with one of the cities major suburban (but still relatively dense) neighbourhoods.
Historically bikers and pedestrians have shared the narrow sidewalks on either side of the bridge. This has resulted in a number of dangerous accidents (the Burrard bridge has more cyclist accidents than any other bridge in the city) and deters cyclists from using the bridge. During the trial the three vehicle lanes headed into downtown have remained unchanged. However, one lane headed out of downtown has been converted to a protected cycling lane.
Pre-trial: cyclists and pedestrians share a narrow sidewalk
Present: Southbound, Northbound cyclists and pedestrians each have their own sidewalk or lane.
A Case Study in Open Government
So what does this have to do with open government?
To access the trial’s impact the city began measuring traffic, cycling, and pedestrian levels 2 weeks prior to the trial started and has continued to measure them ever since. Traditionally, the data generated by a trial like this would kept hidden from the public until a certain date when a report is presented to council to determine if the trial should be made permanent.
Interestingly however, the City of Vancouver has opted to share the raw data on a regularly basis, as well as blog about the trial and give citizens an opportunity to leave comments and feedback. Indeed, the whole Burrard Street Lane Trial website – including twitter account and facebook page – is a well organized affair. Unsurprisingly, the data shows that the number of people cycling over the bridge has increased significantly.
The real story here isn’t about whether the Burrard Bridge Lane Trial becomes permanent or not. It’s about the process. For perhaps the first time in the history of the city citizens and interested groups can conduct their own analysis of the trials significance, in real time, using credible data. Better yet, the analysis won’t be limited to what public servants think. Anyone, in the city, or in the world for that matter, can take this data and mash it up with other data sets or simply analyze as it is. A debate grounded in fact, not emotions or anecdotes, can now take place.
This means cycling advocates or commuter/car advocacy groups can mash the data up with other data sets or take a crack at explaining why the trial is good or bad. I, for example, would love to see if the members of the cycling community who created this website might create a site that measures the reduction in carbon emissions made possible by the trial. Or if anti-cycle lane advocates can mash the data up with traffic reports to show if commuting times have been increased.
Regardless of the outcome however, the process, created by an open government, has ensured that Vancouver’s citizens are better equipped to see what is actually happening, to make suggestions for improvement and to explain to their fellow citizens the significance of the trial. That is the essence of what Open Government allows – it enables anyone who wants to become more engaged in their community by giving them more and better information.
Making it better
As great as the City’s website is, it could be better. To begin with, there is no RSS feed on the blog, so you’ve actually got to go to the website to get updates.
Much more important, there is no way for citizens to subscribe to or download the raw data. An RSS feed or XML feed for the data would allow other websites to automatically get updates. Creating such a feed would cost the city nothing and would vastly enhance the ability of news organizations and interested citizens to re-use, re-mix and re-purpose the data.
A final note. For full disclosure it should be known that I sit on the executive of Vision Vancouver, the political party that proposed and made possible, the Burrard Bridge Lane Trial.