Last month I began to tell you about the City of Winnipeg’s GIS investment. The question is whether or not it has paid off.

The original street network system was a database of street segments and co-ordinates representing streets and other features within the city. The database was originally

acquired in 1978 from Statistics Canada for use in the city’s computer-aided dispatch system to assign emergency calls to the appropriate response zones or districts. This database was corrected, realigned to match the accurate computer base map, and then graphically represented as a unique map feature.

Other data layers have since been added to the “”foundation”” systems. These include the complete network of water, sewer, land drainage and pavement segments. The placement of these facilities on the map took advantage of the accurate computer base map. Facilities were not traced from paper maps, but were placed using offsets from the property line. This resulted in very accurate facility maps. Other information such as transit routes, political boundaries, neighbourhoods, refuse collection zones, zoning and underground structures have also been added. A recent addition is colour aerial photos (digital ortho) maps.

The technology required for the GIS has also evolved from expensive high-end workstations to desktop computers, and now to Web-based applications. This has made the GIS data accessible to all city staff via the city’s intranet. Digital maps are also more accessible to citizens who can get information on their and their neighbour’s assessment using a mapping application on the Internet. In addition, citizens can use a map to locate addresses and city facilities. They can also plan city bus trips with the aid of a map on the Internet.

GIS is now available on handheld computing devices. Inspection crews are using handheld computers loaded with maps to conduct field inspections and input data.

Next month, I’ll finish up by telling how much the system cost and where the savings have been to justify such an investment.

From 1987 to now, the total cost of the project has been $15 million. Having gone to such expense, it is understandable that some administrators might question whether the benefits of the City’s accurate parcel database and GIS justify the cost.

City of Winnipeg departments save an estimated $300,000 annually by not having to redraft the base map, which is accurate enough for engineering design. These savings are also realized in other utility agencies that have purchased the base map and pay a fee for update services. In addition to the daily operational efficiencies, GIS has been used to conduct a variety of analyses that have saved the City time and money. For example: the City saved about $100,000 annually resulting from a garbage collection routing study.

The GIS system has produced many other benefits. The City has saved money defending assessment appeals through access to accurate parcel maps linked to assessment data. The accurate database flushed out some long-dormant ownership issues that had the potential to seriously delay major developments. A thin parcel of land less than a metre wide was discovered in the right-of-way of a major freeway project. During the flood of 1997, the GIS was critical in determining risk areas and identifying and coordinating evacuation plans. A by-law prohibited the establishment of an adult video store within one thousand feet of a residential property. An accurate parcel database allows the calculation to be performed immediately upon application of a development permit.

Instead of producing accurate maps, other jurisdictions have chosen a different strategy for their GIS project and decided to only produce an inexpensive digitized copy of their paper map records for thematic mapping. Map accuracy levels for these jurisdictions average three to six metres as opposed to our centimetre accuracy. However, this computer map product is limited to broad thematic maps that do not require accurate measurements or placement of facilities. The maps cannot be used for engineering and construction drawings resulting in the need to survey and redrawn parts of the city at a cost, that over time, could equal the accurate map costs. In addition, these low accuracy GIS products are not suitable for field data collection or map based dispatch and vehicle navigation systems using GPS technology, as the coordinates do not align.

Today, GIS is used in departments to support many business functions that would not have been possible without the integrated and accurate foundation systems, for example: Police – crime analysis and dispatch; Fire Paramedic – dispatch and station location analysis; City Clerks – election boundary redesign; Assessment – property valuation, public information: Planning – zoning, historic buildings, building permits, inspections; Transit – bus route planning, citizen trip planning; Finance – taxation and local improvements; Community Services – insect control, facility planning, neighbourhood evaluation; Public Works – cut permits, asset management, snow removal, street cleaning.

The evidence is clear: the City’s investment in GIS has paid off. The foresight of past City leaders creating an accurate parcel base, property address system and street network base has created a GIS that has been used in countless applications and that has resulted in considerable cost savings to the City.

Peter Bennett, manager of information systems for the City of Winnipeg, is responsible for corporate information systems development and maintenance, strategic IT planning, co-ordination of department-based IT groups and data management and administration. E-mail him at pbennett@winnipeg.ca.

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