For every serious accident, there may be hundreds more near misses.

If the cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians involved don’t report them, that data is lost forever.

Image by  Сергей Романчук. A bike on a Dutch bridge, with one wheel bent as if a car has run over it.Could FixMyStreet be used to generate useful data about road safety for cyclists?

mySociety has been running FixMyStreet since 2007. At its heart, FixMyStreet is an application which matches a location, marked on a map by a user, to the authority responsible for cleaning things up in that area.

Could this formula be adapted for other uses? Absolutely! In fact, we’ve even built some of them. There’s a site where Indian clinics can report shortages of TB medicine, another which sends reports of anti-social behaviour to the police, and we were once this close to building a coyote-spotting site for California.

Collideoscope

Collideoscope represents another repurposing of the FixMyStreet open source codebase: a place for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians to report accidents, incidents and near misses.

But the big idea was not simply to replicate the FixMyStreet model – it was that the data could, as well as being sent to the responsible body such as the police or council, be used for research, and ultimately go to inform decisions about road safety.

The Process

Unusually for mySociety, we were not approached by a client who already had the project in mind. No, this time, the idea was the result of a conversation between mySociety and our friends at Integrated Transport Partners.

There are a lot of keen cyclists among both our organisations, not to mention, on our side, a hunger for showing FixMyStreet’s adaptability. Pair that with the unfortunate spate of cyclist deaths around that time, and the idea for Collideoscope was born.

As you’d expect, we know the FixMyStreet codebase back to front. We built it in 2007, and we’ve been refining, updating, and adapting it for other uses ever since.

We rapidly knocked up a prototype, and then went searching for an organisation that would be interested in funding the initial phase of development. Happily for both sides, that sponsor was Barts and the London Hospital.

That summer, we built a custom theme to sit on top of the FixMyStreet codebase, incorporating the annually published ‘Stats19’ database of incidents reported by the police. With content already in place, we could be sure that Collideoscope would be interesting and useful from day one.

The Results

We launched in partnership with Barts, with British national time trial champion Alex Dowsett and news presenter Jon Snow supporting the event.

Collideoscope doesn’t just demonstrate that FixMyStreet has a life beyond potholes. It lends empirical evidence to the road safety debate, while managing to remain impartial in the motorist/cyclist debate.

Within just a few weeks of launch, hundreds of near misses had been recorded. As data has poured in through the site, it has demonstrated that the frequency of near misses greatly outweighs the number of recorded incidents, drawing attention to potential accident hotspots where preventative work could pay off before anyone is hurt.

Collideoscope informs local councils and national government in their plans to create safer road infrastructure – but most importantly, it publishes this information as Open Data, and will in the future create an ecosystem for it to be shared with other organisations and applications.

What’s next? We’re continuing to seek sponsors, and we’re also looking at working directly with other cycling organisations to ensure that they can make the most of the data. Could that be you?

Image: Сергей Романчук (CC)