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Blog

The City of Edmonton's FOIP Process is Broken

Matthew Dance

Conrad Nobert is a community activist and cycling geek. He is interested in improving the cycling infrastructure in Edmonton and non-motorized safety. Pedestrians and cyclists should be able to travel throughout the city in a safe manner without fear of being hit by a car.

So, of course, this begs the question of how many people per year, cyclists and pedestrians, are hit by cars?  How safe are Edmonton's streets? The city tracks this data, but it is not posted on the City's Open Data Portal. 

Enter the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request that Conrad and I made in an attempt to have a look at this data.  I, of course, wanted to make a map like the one of Calgary's most dangerous intersections, Conrad is interested in looking at where the dangerous places are in Edmonton, and advocating for bike and pedestrian infrastructure to make it better.

In other words, Conrad is interested in looking at the data that policymakers have to inform their positions on these same questions. As it stands, City of Edmonton administrators and elected leaders can look at this data.  And, as the City's own Open City policy states:

The City believes that a democracy values and respects public input and engages people in decision making. Public engagement enhances the City’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions by leveraging the collective knowledge of the community.

To truly engage with the public, on the issue of road safety, we the members of the community ought to have access to these very same data.

Back to the FOIP request that we sent in. We very quickly learned that City policy (i.e. no good reason) prohibits the sharing of digital products. While our request was quickly met, we were sent 24 8.5x14inch pages, printed double sided, of spreadsheet data. 

Page one of 24 double sided pages printed from a large Excel spreadsheet.

Page one of 24 double sided pages printed from a large Excel spreadsheet.

While we appreciate the speed with which we received the data, it is next to useless and a big-old-waste of time and money. There is next to nothing we can do with these pages without investing some considerable effort in transcribing and verifying these sheets. 

The actions that accompanied our FOIP request fall far short of the expectations set by the City of Edmonton's Open City policy. In fact, it almost looks like the City is trying to obscure how bad the traffic safety problem really is. And we certainly cannot engage in a policy process when there are technical and cultural barriers to receiving information needed for sound policy decisions. 

Update - 30 April @ 17:47:

I've received a great response from this blog post, with many people asking to see the scan so that they can work some OCR magic (i'm looking at you Karen and Edmonton Bike Commuters). Thank you! The PDF scan can be downloaded from here [20mb PDF download from Google Drive]. If you can indeed work the magic, I promise to post the data here, and submit it to the City of Edmonton Open Data portal.