The Hacking Tyler, Texas, Project: Data, Suddenly Available

By Christopher Groskopf

This is the latest installment in Christopher Groskopf's attempt to open up the data of the small town in Texas to which he's moving. Read about the genesis of the project here.

HackTyler-BugImage.jpg

Hack Tyler is an idea born out of pragmatism and self-exorcism, but underlying that are my beliefs about open governments, open data and the power of public service. One of the more persuasive statements of this ethos I've heard is "Public Equals Online," the name of the Sunlight Foundation's 2010 campaign for government transparency. It's not enough that governments produce and warehouse data that is legally accessible to the public -- this is the equivalent of building a park in the mountains and not telling anyone it exists. In order for data to be truly public it must be like the town square -- open, accessible and obvious. The corollary benefit is, of course, that someone can come along and build useful things with it.

So it is with great pleasure that I note that the Smith County Mapsite (that also warehouses GIS data for the City of Tyler) now holds official shapefiles for bus routes and bus stops. This is proper survey data and supersedes the information I described aggregating in my last blog post. This raises a few important points:

  • I was wrong. I should have asked for the data first. My desire to get things done probably cost me more time than it would have taken to ask for the data. In addition, I made an ill-founded assumption about what data existed. (The Tyler GIS department clearly has good maps.)
  • Public equals online. This data is now public, it wasn't before. This is a success. Now its time to learn from this and ask for better timetable data.
  • I wasn't wasting my time. It has always been my belief that you don't influence governments by explaining how awesome things could be. You influence them by proving something is useful and then explaining how much more awesome it could be. Its clear that in some (perhaps indirect) sense Hack Tyler caused these files to become public. I'm putting that in the "win" category.
  • As far as hand-crafted shapefiles go, I didn't do too bad:

Hack Tyler data:

HackTylerMap2.jpg

Official data:

HackTylerMap1.jpg

Using the official data, I can also revise another calculation: in fact, 72.7% of all streets in Tyler are within a half-mile of a bus stop. That's not very far given that, according to a Tyler city planner, all buses in Tyler are equipped with bike racks.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/the-hacking-tyler-texas-project-data-suddenly-available/239749/