Ben Wellington – Data scientist
Six thousand miles of road, 600 miles of subway track, 400 miles of bike lanes, and a half a mile of tram track, if you’ve ever been to Roosevelt Island. These are the numbers that make up the infrastructure of NYC, these are the statistics of our infrastructure. They’re the kind of numbers released in reports by city agencies.
For example, the Department of Transportation will probably tell you how many miles of road they maintain. The MTA will boast how many miles of subway track there are. But most city agencies give us statistics. This is from a report this year from the Taxi & Limousine Commission, where we’ve learned that there is about 13,500 taxis here in NYC. Pretty interesting, right?
But did you ever think about where these numbers came from? Because for these numbers to exist somebody at the city agency has to stop and say hmm, here’s a number that somebody might want to know. Here’s a number that our citizens want to know. So they go back to their raw data, they count, they add, they calculate, and then they put out reports. And those reports will have numbers like this. The problem is, how do they know all of our questions?
We have lots of questions. In fact, in some ways there’s literally an infinite number of questions that we can ask about our city. So the agencies can never keep up. So the paradigm isn’t exactly working and I think our policy makers realize that because in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law what he called the most ambitious and comprehensive open data legislation in the country. In a lot of ways he’s right. In the last two years the city’s released 1,000 data sets on our open data portal and, it’s pretty awesome. You look at data like this, and instead of counting the number of cabs, we can start to ask different questions.