Filling in Data Gaps With Crowdsourcing
Travelers become real-time sensors in push to enhance transportation system management

By delivering data on traffic conditions beyond the limits of fixed sensors and cameras, crowdsourcing expands geographic coverage, improves information quality and timeliness, and enhances transportation operations strategies.

“With crowdsourcing, transportation agencies can get real-time information whenever and wherever people travel,” said James Colyar, Federal Highway Administration transportation specialist and co-leader of the Every Day Counts round five (EDC-5) team on crowdsourcing for operations. “This enables agencies to more effectively and proactively operate their transportation system.”

Crowdsourced data are also more cost-effective than traditional systems with their high up-front and ongoing maintenance costs. Data can be extracted from social media platforms, acquired from third-party data providers, and collected from agency-developed mobile applications.

The EDC-5 team is helping more than 30 States advance transportation operations with crowdsourced data. Assistance includes webinars, workshops, in-person and virtual peer exchanges, one-on-one technical support, and resources on the crowdsourcing for operations website such as sample crowdsourcing applications and frequently asked questions.

In 2020, the team will continue its “Adventures in Crowdsourcing” webinar series, starting with a January session on data management and governance. Spring peer exchanges will focus on crowdsourced probe vehicle data and data quality assessment and filtering. “These are excellent opportunities to learn from peers and experts,” Colyar said.

Also available is an in-person workshop tailored to State and local agency needs that highlights the scope of crowdsourcing for transportation operations. The workshop debuted in 2019 in Honolulu, HI, and Cleveland, OH.

“The Hawaii workshop helped the Hawaii Department of Transportation recognize the value that can be derived from a specific data provider, and the agency is now pursuing its use,” said Colyar. “The Ohio workshop not only made participants aware of new data sources, but helped them learn that their State DOT subscribes to probe vehicle data that local entities can access.”

Putting Crowdsourcing to Work

Agencies use a range of crowdsourcing applications to improve transportation systems management and operations:

Traveler information: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation uses both crowdsourced and traditional data sources to populate its 511PA traveler information website. These data also power an emergency text alerting system, 511PA Connect, for traffic delays longer than 4 hours. Crowdsourced data improve the speed, coverage, and reliability of both information tools.

Incident management: The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) combines data from a community-based traffic and navigation application with computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system data to improve the response time for crashes and unplanned road closures. The app data are imported directly into FDOT’s advanced traffic management system, where they are integrated with CAD incident reports for analysis.

Crowdsourcing graphicCrowdsourcing turns transportation system users into real-time traffic sensors, providing agencies with data for roadway management activities.

Traffic Signal Management: By buying crowdsourced data from an outside source, the city of Austin, TX, was able to implement a data-driven signal retiming strategy to replace a cyclical one. In the past, the city timed signalized corridors on a 3-year rotation and measured retiming results using floating vehicle travel time runs. Using crowdsourced data required no infrastructure investment and fewer labor costs, allowing Austin to allocate signal retiming resources based on need and improve corridor performance.

Work zone management: Using third-party probe data, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) can analyze detour routes to ensure optimal traffic flow. One incident involved a 37-mile road closure on Interstate 65, during which a 62-mile detour route was identified, selected, and monitored using the data. Driving the detour took up to 4 hours the first day, but using its Traffic Ticker dashboard to process the data enabled INDOT to make operational changes that cut driving time to 64 minutes.

Performance monitoring and reporting: INDOT collects raw data on vehicle speeds from crowdsourced Global Positioning System services. The agency processes the data for a dozen mobility dashboards that report congestion profiles, travel delays, and speed maps for road segments. The dashboards support a variety of analyses, including ranking of road segments by performance.

Maintenance: The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) created a traveler information app with a “report an issue” feature that allows travelers to report potholes, streetlight outages, and other roadway conditions. DelDOT shares relevant reports with each district weekly to inform plans for repair of potholes or other issues.


View an Innovation Spotlight video on how agencies use crowdsourcing to proactively operate transportation systems.

Go to the EDC events web page to register for “Adventures in Crowdsourcing” webinars and the National Operations Center of Excellence video web page to view webinar recordings.

Contact James Colyar or Paul Jodoin of the FHWA Office of Operations for information, technical assistance, and training, including workshops and peer exchanges.