Waste, Fraud, & Mismanagement

San Diego Spent $30 Million to Collect Data That Isn’t Useful

City of San Diego

More than three years after the city of San Diego spent $30 million for a project designed to collect traffic data, “the project is failing to live up to its hype and members of the public trying to work with the data are encountering problems that throw the project’s early promotional claims into question,” Voice of San Diego reported.

“San Diego’s smart streetlights were supposed to collect and produce anonymized data that planning professionals and app-makers could then use to help solve transit and mobility problems,” the online news source wrote, but “city officials have acknowledged a lack of expertise internally.”

The city is trying to address its internal issues while also attempting to renegotiate its contract with an outside company that processes the data. The city’s Sustainability Department has been looking at the data to see how stay-at-home orders are changing pedestrian activity, but officials said they were unaware of any apps the public can use to track the data.

“Back in 2017, however, officials were promising to democratize the public process by letting developers track cars, people and bicycles in real-time, all from a single 40-foot pole,” Voice of San Diego noted.

Only about a dozen of the more than 3,000 sensors attached to the streetlights are producing information about passing pedestrians. Most of the sensors are capturing information about vehicles, but not all of it is useful and reliable, according to those who have attempted to use it.

“The parking data is just wrong,” said Eric Busboom, a technologist and the director of the San Diego Regional Data Library.

Multiple sources told the news site that the data doesn’t reveal which public parking spots on the street are filled and which are unoccupied, but instead shows how many cars are coming in and out of a given area. (Source: Voice of San Diego, April 29.)