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San Jose, Calif., Uses Data to Reduce Traffic Fatalities

The city’s Transportation Department is using analytics and GIS to determine where a significant share of fatal and major injury collisions occur.

This story was originally published on Data-Smart City Solutions.

San José, Calif., joined a growing list of US cities implementing a Vision Zero initiative, which aims to reduce traffic fatalities to zero through education, enforcement and engineering. During the same year, there were 60 traffic related fatalities in San Jose, the highest annual total in more than 20 years. With a population of 1 million people, projected to grow nearly 50 percent by 2040, and an already-overburdened transportation network (indeed, San José and the greater Bay Area region are frequently cited as having some of the worst traffic congestion in the country), the city faces significant public policy, planning, and service delivery challenges in this endeavor. 

As the leader of the city’s Data Analytics Team, I’ve worked extensively with the Department of Transportation to ensure that leveraging existing data collected and stored within the city is an integral part of its Vision Zero work plan. Through data analytics and GIS analysis, the Department of Transportation (DOT) identified 14 Priority Safety Corridors, where a significant share of fatal and major injury collisions occur; these will be the primary focus of initial engineering and enforcement efforts. In January of 2016, the Data Analytics Team presented Vision Zero stakeholders from DOT and the Police Department with an analysis of five years of collision data. We found that while pedestrian-related collisions made up a very small share of priority corridor collisions, they comprised over two-thirds (67 percent) of the fatal collisions on those roadways. Further, a majority (51 percent) of pedestrian fatality reports produced by responding officers indicated that pedestrians may have been illegally in the roadway or crossing roadways outside of crosswalks. This has clear implications for the city’s traffic fatality elimination strategy: pedestrian safety and awareness will be critical for success.  

Translating insight into action, however, is often the most difficult challenge. To help facilitate action on the ground, the Data Analytics Team presented several key findings to the San José Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit (TEU) during roll call, prior to the officers’ deployment. This allows the direct flow of information from the city’s analysts to the Police Department’s front line officers, who will execute the enforcement strategy in the field. Deployment times for the officers are changing to align more closely with the peak times of traffic collisions. TEU Officers were also provided access to GIS maps of high-incident intersections with detailed intelligence on citation trends by type and time of day for each location. The maps are intended to be accessible via smartphones and the laptops in their service vehicles, allowing them to directly access — and act on — this information while in the field. In addition to the data-informed police work, the Department of Transportation is devising further strategies for engineering and education based on these findings and additional analytics and research.

On the open data front, at the direction of the City Manager, the Data Analytics Team conducted a comprehensive, citywide inventory of all existing datasets to kick off San Jose’s Open Data Initiative.  The Initiative, which includes an Open Data Policy set to head to City Council in March of 2016 and a newly designed open data portal, is being supported by the Sunlight Foundation and Johns Hopkins’ Center for Government Excellence as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative. With over 600 datasets identified to date, the city now has a vastly improved understanding of our information assets, which we have already begun using to improve service delivery and streamline the flow of information across agencies and to the public. Transportation in particular will benefit tremendously from this effort. In DOT alone, over 50 datasets have been identified, many of which will be made publicly available on the city of San José’s Open Data Portal, allowing residents and visitors unfettered access to the same information city management uses for internal decision making and forming public policy.  In addition, city managers and frontline staff will soon be operating with maximum access to citywide information resources regardless of which agency “owns” and maintains a given dataset. The Vision Zero initiative will directly benefit as the Police Department and Department of Transportation look to streamline the collision information collection and sharing processes. 

Looking ahead, the city recognizes that growth and innovation — particularly in the areas of transportation and civic technology — will allow collection of even larger quantities of real time information. Tremendous improvements in safety, service delivery, and community engagement are expected as a result, but only with the proper foundation in place to collect, store, and analyze this information. With this in mind, the city has designed a Smart City Vision, which was released today, to guide these efforts and ensure they align strategically to the city’s public policy goals, such as Vision Zero. The city’s efforts to ingrain analytics and operationalize key insights into its Vision Zero work plan will inform its approach to tackling other service delivery challenges. Ultimately, city leaders will look to institutionalize this mindset in San José — that evidence-based decision-making should be at the core of its governance model.