Inaccessible Pothole Data in Chicago

    by Daniel X. O'Neil
    January 12, 2009

    Recently in Chicago, as the weather warmed inordinately from a deep freeze, with a 70-degree swing in temperature, the attention of the media and the municipal workers turned to potholes.

    The two daily newspapers sent writers to a press conference at the city’s “Pothole Command Center,” where Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), Tom Byrne, and his top spokesman, Brian Steele held forth on the problem of holes in the street.

    From the Chicago Tribune story:


    “Byrne said a computerized map that tracks work crews and unfilled potholes will speed the patching process and added that an estimated $300,000 in savings from the overtime deal will be crucial in helping the city stay within its $10 million-to-$12 million pothole repair budget.”

    And the Chicago Sun-Times references specific, detailed pothole numbers:

    “The city had a daily average of 300 to 400 potholes in the days before Christmas, but the number jumped to more than 1,100 Monday, city officials said.”

    These quotes indicate that the city has relatively sophisticated technology for managing street defects. They are able to track the location of potholes from the data in their 311 system. With GPS on city trucks and in city worker cell phones, they can track equipment and personnel. As workers report back on filled potholes, the city has real-time data on the exact location of street defects.

    To us at EveryBlock, that’s what matters. It’s nice to read in the paper that there’s a lot of potholes outside, and that the city is working to fill them. But it’s more useful to know exactly where the potholes are on your street, or on your way to work. And it would be great to know when these holes are filled, and to get all of this information on a daily basis. That might even help me make decisions on where to drive. In turn, this may reduce the number of pothole damage claims filed in Chicago.


    Last summer — long before pothole season — I requested the following from CDOT:

    “…a list of every pothole filled by the Department of Transportation in the City of Chicago. For each record, we would like the Department to publish the exact location of the pothole, the date the pothole came to the attention of CDOT, and the date the pothole was filled. We request that this information be refreshed on a daily basis.”

    CDOT rejected this request and all of the follow-up efforts we’ve made to get this data.

    It’s time to stop reading static stories about pothole data that are out of date before the day is out. The people of Chicago have paid for the Department’s technology, and we deserve all the benefit from it. Today, as a blizzard bears down on the city and another deep freeze is on its way, we made a renewed inquiry to CDOT.

    Tagged: chicago everyblock maps potholes transportation

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