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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-20-001    Date:  Autumn 2019
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-20-001
Issue No: Vol. 83 No. 3
Date: Autumn 2019


Internet Watch

Crowdsourcing to Improve Traveler Information and Operations

by James Colyar

Travelers routinely turn to mobile applications and social media sources to help plan their trips and find information about traffic incidents, weather conditions, work zones, and more. Crowdsourcing turns transportation system users into traffic sensors, generating data that improve real-time operations and enhance the overall management of transportation systems. By leveraging crowdsourced data from mobile apps and social media in combination with traditional data sources, State and local agencies can improve traveler information, traffic incident and work zone management, weather response, and more.

"Crowdsourcing is a low-cost, powerful tool to overcome gaps in field instrumentation, data latency, and limitations inherent in traditional real-time monitoring," says Valerie Briggs, director of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Transportation Management. "That's why Crowdsourcing for Operations was selected as one of the innovations for round five of Every Day Counts."

Crowdsourced data are available wherever and whenever people travel, offering visibility into suburban and rural networks where roadway sensor technology is cost-prohibitive. More than half of all State and many local transportation agencies already use some form of crowdsourcing.

Combining Data Sources

Some agencies have successfully applied an approach that integrates crowdsourced and traditional data to improve agency operations. For example, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has data-driven performance measures for winter operations by integrating multiple sources of crowdsourced data with traditional sensor and automated vehicle location data. This has resulted in improved snow and ice operations through better identification of corridors to treat and more effective distribution of treatment materials, and overall better use of taxpayer dollars.

KYTC's traffic management center operators receive email notifications based on events from certain mobile apps to improve incident detection and response. Operators also use the integrated data to monitor work zones in real time and support research on traffic control performance. KYTC maintenance divisions use the data to identify and respond to issues ranging from potholes to missing signs. Planning, traffic, and environmental groups also rely on these data for improved analyses at lower cost.

Improving Traveler Information

To improve safety and increase information available to travelers, some States provide their data directly to crowdsourcing apps, or report crowdsourced data through State apps and websites. For example, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey makes real-time work zone and incident information available to navigation platforms including Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps. The Michigan Department of Transportation has automated workflow at its traffic management centers to report crowdsourced incident data through the State's traffic data systems, improving timeliness of traveler information.

Other State departments of transportation have developed or are developing automated filtering and prioritization of crowdsourced data for management center operators. The Indiana Department of Transportation uses its Traffic Ticker tool to identify dramatic changes in speed, which enables quicker identification of incidents and congestion hotspots. Traffic management center operators note crowdsourcing brings incidents to their attention 10 or more minutes sooner than other methods and helps capture incidents that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Advertisement. A photo of a snowy roadway with the headline: "Are the roads slick? Let us know. Become a UDOT citizen reporter." The ad shows an image of a cell phone displaying the user interface for a mobile app to report incidents and conditions. Accompanying text reads, "Download the free UDOT Citizen Reporter app, available for Android and iPhone." © UDOT
The Utah Department of Transportation's (UDOT) Citizen Reporter app enables the public to submit hazardous road conditions. Mobile apps are one example of successful crowdsourcing methods being used across the country.

For more information, contact James Colyar at james.colyar@dot.gov or Paul Jodoin at paul.jodoin@dot.gov.

James Colyar is a transportation specialist on the Innovative Operations Strategies Team in FHWA's Office of Transportation Management.



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