18 July 2013

Feel like your 311 requests get lost in the shuffle? They might be.

I used the DC311 mobile app to report this damaged school zone flasher on April 23, 2013.

**UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Ben Berkowitz, co-founder and CEO of SeeClickFix. It sounds like, for this specific request, downtime in the API may have caused it to get lost in a purgatory of sorts, rather than it being directed to DC311/OUC. Berkowitz noted that if a service request continues to show as "Open" with no response at all, it may be best to manually close the request and open another. Additionally, he mentioned that a very small number of requests in DC—something like 30 out of 18,000—have been caught up in this type of glitch. You can check under "Notified" in the right column on a specific request on the SeeClickFix site to confirm that it's been passed on to DC311. From my conversation with Berkowitz, it's also clear that DC has been at the forefront of municipalities embracing SeeClickFix as a large-scale, interactive tool.

While I still have concerns about the confusion at OUC about whether or not the request could be accessed depending on if I submitted it via the mobile app or via the SeeClickFix website, I am generally pleased with the interaction and results today. Overall, I am happy to see DC embrace Gov 2.0 tools, and I hope bumps in the road like these are considered as learning opportunities and not as reasons to inhibit or stop the progress we've made in this realm so far.**


Hang on, folks, this is a long one, though worth it, because it very likely outlines any number of the collective frustrations out there with the state of government ops and constituent services in the District (and possibly beyond)....

In May 2011, SeeClickFix announced platform integration with DC's Open311 system, and there was much rejoicing across the Distrcit: from Gov 2.0 nerds (like me), from oft disgruntled residents (like me), and even from the now-defunct Daily Gripe column on the Washington Post's website:
Now, instead of solely relying on operators fielding phoned-in requests to the city’s 311 line, residents and visitors can send non-emergency reports to 311 through SeeClickFix’s free mobile and web platform that allows them to pinpoint locations and upload photos and videos.[emphasis mine]
Did you see that? Mobile and web platform. In case you think the Post got their signals crossed, let's go back to the horse's mouththe official press release from the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer, dated May 24, 2011:
SeeClickFix is a free mobile and web platform that allows citizens to submit online reports of non-emergency public problems to governments. The SeeClickFix platform is available in many locations and formats, including mobile phones and widgets on the Washington Post and other city blogs. Citizens can access SeeClickFix at SeeClickFix.com, The Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington, and The City Fix.
Overall, the integration of SeeClickFix with the District’s 311 system ensures a seamless flow of information between residents and District officials, and a more efficient way of fixing problems throughout the city. [again, emphasis mine]
After over a month with no repairs on a lopsided school zone flasher, and a still-open request on DC's SeeClickFix site, I reached out to DC311 on Twitter on Monday, July 1, and followed up again on Wednesday, July 17:

Much, much more below the fold...

11 July 2013

The West Virginia Avenue Wetland is gone - or is it?

For years, there has been a leak of some sort coming up through the sidewalk on West Virginia Avenue NE, just north of the intersection with Fenwick Street, in front of property used by the DC Department of Public Works.

This is what it looked like for a long time:

The "West Virginia Avenue Wetland"
Water constantly flowed down the sidewalk. The water had been sitting for so long that cattails and other aquatic plants had colonized the walkway. As you can see in the photo above, the city's solution was to throw a few cones in the pond and call it a day.

I complained about this regularly on Twitter, mostly to DC Water, assuming this was their problem. They tested the water, though, and asserted that it was not coming from one of their pipes.

I figured this wasn't possible. The water had to be coming from a municipally-owned source, and DC Water controls all of that in the city. But, they're the experts!

The morning I took the photo above, I included the mayor's Twitter handle in my semi-regular complaint. Surprisingly, I received a direct message shortly after letting me know that the executive's office would be getting to the bottom of this issue quickly. I guess you just have to get your timing right, sometimes!

After a few days, crews were there digging up the area around the leak. Jaime asked the workers if they had found anything, but they treated it like a state secret and wouldn't talk.

Construction crews dig to find the source of the leak.
Finally, a few days later, this email arrived from Matt Desjardins, who works in the mayor's office:

Hello – Mayor Gray asked me to follow up with you regarding some standing water on the sidewalk near a DPW facility in NE. I know that this has been an issue you have been looking to resolve for some time now and I apologize if any of the below information is redundant. 
Here is what we currently know. DPW is working with its partner agencies to address the issue: 
· DPW has hired a contractor to address the flooding of the sidewalk at 1725 West Virginia Avenue, NE (Fleet campus). The contractor uncovered an abandoned storm water drain that originates at a manhole and dead ends into multi chambered structure under the sidewalk. When it rains, all of the runoff water backs up in the manhole and bubbles up onto the sidewalk and street on West Virginia Avenue, NE. There is no access for the runoff into the sewer system. 
· The current DC Water regulations require that there be either an oil/water separator or a storm water management system on the property. Neither system is in place for this section of the campus. 
· One possible solution is to have DC Water build a storm water management system as it builds the new parking lot. DC Water needs to use the Fleet campus to construct a 110 foot shaft to address the Bloomingdale flooding issue. DC Water will construct a new parking lot for DPW to replace the parking lot where the shaft will be used for the tunnel. 
· Unfortunately, a solution may be a few months away.
The upshot is this: there's a drainage system under the sidewalk that apparently does not connect to the regular storm sewer system. It could get "fixed" when DC Water works on the tunnel that will ultimately divert storm water from Bloomingdale.

Isn't infrastructure fun?

After construction to cap the abandoned storm drain.