For the last few years, big data has been changing science, advertising, and how we shop for things.
But data put in the hands of the public can also sometimes make life a little easier and fairer.
In April, I Quant NY, a blog run by Pratt Institute statistics professor Ben Wellington, used parking ticket data made public by the city government to find fire hydrants that had a disproportionate number of tickets. He found two hydrants in particular on Forsyth St. in Manhattan that had an absurdly high rate of getting cars ticketed. Between August 2013 and March 2014 , one of the hydrants had 187 tickets, and the other had 139.
That works out, at $US115 per ticket, to $US37,490 in that eight month period in parking fines, or over $US55,000 per year.
How were so many New Yorkers getting tickets at just these two hydrants?
I Quant NY looked at Google Street View images of the parking spaces in front of the hydrants, and saw that they were misleadingly labelled. Here’s the hydrant that had 187 tickets, across from 152 Forsyth St:
First, there does appear to be an actual legitimate parking space painted on the street in front of the hydrant. Second, there is a bike lane or extended curb between the hydrant and the space, and according to the city DOT, this should mean that a person can legally park there.
A similar situation happened down the street at the hydrant with 139 tickets, across from 91-131 Forsyth:
There’s a bike lane or extended curb, and no signs or paint indicating that this is not a parking space.
This lack of clarity was pretty unfair to drivers, and the story took off across the internet. Fortunately, the DOT took note. In a new post, I Quant NY reports that the spaces in front of the hydrants have been repainted to make it clear that they are not legitimate parking spots. Here’s a recent picture of the worst hydrant across from 152 Forsyth:
Those diagonal lines will save New Yorkers tens of thousands of dollars a year. I Quant NY points out how this has been a great example of how the public can use open data to fix problems and fill in analytical gaps when officials miss things: ‘This may be a small victory for the Open Data movement, but it’s an important one. And it is the proof that anyone can use Open Data, the internet and great sites like reddit to improve our neighborhoods and our great city, one small discovery at a time.”