Connecting state and local government leaders
In a guest article, the city manager of Las Vegas details the municipal government’s data-focused approach to address challenges like traffic safety and sustainability.
LAS VEGAS — Our city’s core purpose is building community to make life better—and we know we’re on the way to making that statement a reality by fully embracing the right data.
In our city government, we have an amazing staff that cares about the community and has years of experience in what works when it comes to public service. For well over a decade we have embraced performance measurement and transparency. We have utilized strategic plans, business plans, corporate scorecards and other tools to keep us focused on achieving the best outcomes for our city. What we are now implementing is a way to put a greater focus on big data. We meld our experience with the data we are seeing to get a clearer picture of what will work for Las Vegas.
It’s the smart play in this age of technology. For example, you see a greater reliance on data in major businesses where decisions are based on what the data is telling them rather than relying solely on experience and gut-feelings. The city of Las Vegas adopted this approach to public service and we have seen some amazing results.
Let me give you a couple of examples of where our efforts have led to some great successes for our city:
Sustainability is one of the city’s strategic anchors. We want to make sure that everything we are doing today makes things better for future generations. Las Vegas is a metropolitan area known for its excesses. We are marketed as “Sin City” for a reason. But while this works for tourism, for those of us who live here—and more recently for those who visit or do business here—-there is an expectation for us to be more sustainable, smarter and long-lasting.
We live in a fragile desert ecosystem with all sorts of environmental challenges. We knew we had to get greener, but we could not do it all at once. Because we had accurate data we were able to scale up our sustainability efforts and now we are among the leading cities in the world when it comes to the environment.
We started with a 3.3 megawatt solar plant at the city’s wastewater treatment facility, and we also created triple bottom-line decision making for our major capital improvement projects looking at people, planet and profit. Ultimately, we have saved tens of millions of dollars and continue to count on these annual savings to bolster our city’s fiscal health and reinvestment.
Savings from the city’s solar projects are captured in a special fund and used for additional energy savings investments. This has allowed the city to install solar at about 20 city sites, resulting in the city getting about 20 percent of its power from solar. In addition, the city has reached a landmark, one-of-a-kind agreement in our state with NV Energy to allow 100 percent of the city’s retail power load to be served by renewable energy! To me, that is true leadership. This is an example of scaling our efforts based on success and outcomes that enabled us to leapfrog ahead and achieve our sustainability goal of using 100 percent renewable energy five years earlier than we had hoped.
Another area where data has served us well is with our traffic safety programs. Our residents often see the “cone zones” and road construction going on, but there is a method to the madness.
We do not have unlimited funds to go out and fix every issue with every intersection in the city, but by using data we are able to get the most bang for our buck. We look at the worst 50 intersections for congestion, the most left-turn accidents and the most crashes. And we prioritize those first, because they impact the greatest number of people in our community.
We have seen positive results. In 27 of 31 intersections ranked as the most congested, our improvements reduced delays by 25 percent. We also made improvements at 50 intersections that had the highest number of left-turn accidents and we have seen a 61-percent decline in these crashes. Finally, at the city’s 50 worst intersections for crashes we have seen a 26 percent reduction in accidents.
By using the right data we are able to address where the need is most critical in our community. It also helps us explain to our residents why improvements may have to wait on a project in their neighborhood, because public safety is increased by concentrating on these trouble-spot intersections.
But this is only the beginning for the city of Las Vegas! As part of the What Works Cities program, we look forward to incorporating even more of the right data into our daily processes.
We believe our work with the collective experts in the program will keep us on a path to being a true world-class city.
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Elizabeth N. (Betsy) Fretwell is the city manager in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is a member of What Works Cities, an initiative funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies that aims to help cities better leverage and manage their municipal data.
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