Staff Editorial: Publishing crash data reflects welcome transparency effort

The District's new online crash data include a map of incident locations and some information about each collision.

When the District’s traffic engineers redesign a road, evaluate a speed limit or otherwise review the operations of the city’s transportation network, they place great importance on information about crashes. Similarly, when residents advocate for or against a certain change, they can also find their arguments informed or bolstered by this type of safety data.

A wrecked car sits on the sidewalk after a collision at the intersection of Arizona Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard NW. (Brady Holt/The Current/September 2016)

Until recently, this data was often difficult to come by. Community members and even many decision-makers couldn’t glance at a map of a neighborhood to see where its drivers were most frequently colliding with each other, with pedestrians or with cyclists.

Now that’s changed, thanks to a new collaboration among the D.C. Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. Now, anyone can visit to see a map of collisions, click on any dot to view data on that crash or download a chart with a full data set.

The project is part of the Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. We support that goal and the role of these crash data to help achieve it.

We do hope, though, that the District can find a way to present the information in a more user-friendly manner. While the map’s cluster of blue dots is clear enough, the data are largely made up of codes and of fields that don’t apply to most crashes. Still, this is a great starting point toward improving public access to key traffic safety information.