Mapping Mass Transit

An in-house experiment demonstrates the benefits of portal access to enterprise-wide mass transit data in California.

by / June 8, 2001
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has 22,000 employees and an annual budget greater than the GNP of more than half the countries in the world. Over the last 60 years, department responsibilities have broadened in response to the states exploding population and resulting traffic congestion.

In addition to managing the states 15,000 miles of highways and related structures, Caltrans oversees mass transit, intercity rail and air transportation. Many operations are conducted in partnership with private industry and with local, state and federal agencies.

Easy Access

Managing transportation in the 21st century will require rapid access to complex transportation data. To help achieve that capability, Gary Gilley, chief of Caltrans Construction, Traffic Management Centers (TMC) and GIS Support Branch, proposed making all internal data enterprise-wide to provide faster, easier access to the agencys disparate datasets in legacy, image, video and GIS formats. According to Gilley, divisions throughout Caltrans use ESRIs ArcView and ArcInfo GIS, but do not have a GIS component -- an open-architecture GIS -- capable of translating, interacting with and integrating all of these data types. "Applications are project oriented and spatial data is compiled separately for each project," Gilley said. "No one else at Caltrans was even looking at enterprise-wide data. The construction division alone was taking several months just to pull together data needed to develop annual maps of current and planned Caltrans construction projects statewide. Thats when our concept group began thinking about using whatever was on hand to develop a concept project, one that could demonstrate the utility of enterprise-wide data."

The Concept Project

Gilley formed a concept group and collected disparate transportation data sets -- highway speeds, aerial photographs, construction projects, mile markers and contractor addresses -- and put them into an Oracle Spatial database management system. In addition to a server, the group used a geocoder to assign spatial coordinates to the addresses and used open-architecture GIS freeware to access, manipulate and map the data.

Funding was not available for a fully developed project, so the group used department resources to develop applications for demonstrations. Already on hand were the servers, the geocoder and Oracle Spatial; licensing for the latter allowed for trial applications. Java-based freeware from JShape provided an open-architecture GIS to access and interact with the various data. Bill Naddy, the Branch GIS Unit manager, stressed that the applications were intended to generate funding for a larger project by demonstrating the ability of a small-scale concept project to support certain internal business needs.

According to Naddy, much of the initial effort went into collecting data sets and loading them into Oracle Spatial. "We brought in data from our old mainframe system, from current legacy systems and from CAD and GIS files," he said. "We went around to different Caltrans divisions running various programs and said, Give us a set of data. We mapped the information, then went back to them and demonstrated a solution using their data."

One division was developing a program to display long-range, mass-transportation plans by county. Using its data, the concept group made a polygon to represent a county and put the divisions transportation-related datasets into it. Highlighting the county brought up all the planned mass-transportation projects, whether they involved buying buses or installing a light-rail line. The group also enabled the division to map all of its projects by legislative district. "Just by pointing at a project, they could get 15 different pieces of information, including project scope, cost, schedule and percent of the project completed," Naddy said. "If they were meeting with a legislator or with a local group, they could call up the latest data and show it graphically."

For their own construction division, the group collected data sets of the various methods used to indicate geographic location -- mile markers, latitude and longitude coordinates and highway addresses. They developed a data layer for each method and overlaid them on a base map to show the spatial relationships and differences. They also geocoded an old legacy file of contractor names and addresses and made one data layer of office locations and another of construction projects. "We wanted to demonstrate the value of querying data for relationships," Naddy said. "In this case, to see if we had people driving all over the state to reach construction sites."

"We also did a demonstration for the mass-transit people," Gilley said. "We collected their datasets and enabled them to access and manage the data through the project architecture. The demonstration enabled them to view mass-transit work projects statewide and graphically show the Legislature how mass-transit funding is being used."

Experimental Portal

Naddy said that as they were demonstrating the applications, Caltrans acting CIO Gilbert Tafoya suggested that enterprise data could be made available through a portal, enabling users to access the information they want. "At that point," Gilley said, "we started looking into the architecture needed to set up a transportation portal and saw that by linking it to the California home page, we could provide internal access to enterprise-wide data on the Caltrans intranet, as well as offer travel and highway information to the public on the Internet."

In one of the first applications, the group collected all the various datasets needed to develop the annual maps for planned and current projects statewide, then processed the information and put it on the experimental transportation portal. With immediate access to the data, construction division managers were able to quickly decide which projects to include and have them mapped by the GIS group. Instead of the usual several months, the process was completed in a few weeks.

The three modified Caltrans applications providing highway traffic information for the public were made available on the California portal <>. One site provides access to live video of traffic. The user selects the metropolitan area and the camera location to see realtime traffic at a particular point along the freeway. Another application, the Realtime Freeway Speed Map, displays current freeway traffic speeds in selected areas. The Photolog allows users to select a section of highway and take a virtual tour along that route.

"Its another way to keep the public informed," Naddy said. "If somebody wants to see what routes are currently congested, they can check it out visually."

Internal Benefits

Gilley said the concept project shows that internal access to enterprise-wide data via a portal can improve productivity and service. "Users can analyze data for new relationships and trends," he said. "They can incorporate location data from other agencies and business partners and more effectively track construction projects, land-use changes and environmental issues. They can view multiple sources of construction data, monitor construction projects and view the dollar value of each by county. They can also display department funding and expenditures to the Legislature in a clear, understandable format without reinventing the architecture or the tools to do it."

He also pointed out that the portal could be used to display travel, transportation and highway information graphically rather than textually, making it more easily understandable to the public.