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Esri, Waze Partnership: A Growing Trend in Sharing Data for the Benefit of All?

Local governments are combining geospatial data and crowdsourced information to ease congestion.

Esri and Waze announced in mid-October that they're partnering to help local governments alleviate traffic congestion and analyze congestion patterns. Called the Waze Connected Citizens Program, the program — which enables local governments that use the Esri ArcGIS platform to exchange publicly available traffic data with Waze — may represent a growing trend in which citizens and government share data for the benefit of all.

Connecting Esri and Waze data will allow cities to easily share information about the conditions of their roads with drivers, while drivers anonymously report accidents, potholes and other road condition information back to the cities. Local governments can then merge that data into their existing emergency dispatch and street maintenance systems.

Paige Fitzgerald, head of new business development and data acquisition for Waze, said the partnership was a natural evolution of work Waze was already doing and a way to scale the arrangement given that so many governments around the world already use the Esri ArcGIS platform. According to Esri, about 40,000 clients currently use the company's database and mapping software, including ArcGIS, to manage a wide collection of city assets, ranging from sewers and electricity infrastructure to locations for planting trees. Waze currently has more than 65 million monthly active users worldwide.

“The two-way data exchange was a model that had a lot of interest and a lot of demand from the public sector,” said Fitzgerald. “Governments also wanted to use Waze as a platform to disseminate information about road closures because Waze reroutes drivers around those closures, so it reduces the associated congestion. We thought this partnership made a ton of sense for both parties.”

Jams and Alerts

Through the Connected Citizen program, Waze shares two main data sets with its government partners: Jams and Alerts.

“If a traffic jam report comes in via Waze, we send that data to our government partners,” Fitzgerald said. “If they're already signed up with Esri, that jam data goes directly into their ArcGIS platform and shows up on their existing maps.”

If there's a major traffic jam in an unusual area, a traffic management center operator might be triggered to examine that area further. For example, Boston recently used Waze jam data to identify a couple of traffic-prone intersections in the Seaport district.

“In doing so, they recognized that they could adjust the signal timing at those particular intersections and then used our jam data to measure an 18 percent reduction in month-over-month congestion because of the signal timing adjustment,” said Fitzgerald.

Similarly if a Waze user reports a crash, that information shows up on the city’s existing ArcGIS map. City personnel can assess the crash and combine the Waze data with its existing data sets, if desired. The city can then notify emergency response, for example, to address the accident and send out emergency vehicles if necessary.

The partnership also has the potential to enable long-term traffic and congestion improvements by helping governments understand where crash-prone intersections and congested areas exist. Governments get more comprehensive data sets so that they can figure out exactly when, where and how to make infrastructure planning changes to alleviate those problems.

An IoT alternative?

The Connected Citizen Program could also provide local governments an alternative to IoT investments, because a city can utilize real-time reports from the road rather than investing in sensors and IoT infrastructure. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, for instance, uses data from the Connected Citizen Program in several ways, including to monitor and detect automobile accidents on its roadways.

“The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet likes to think of Waze data as millions of sensors within vehicles,” Fitzgerald said. “Instead of investing in road sensors or embedded sensors, they get access to the data provided by Waze users who are out there contributing information whenever they open the application and are navigating with the app. So, it’s moving from a fixed infrastructure to a dynamic crowd-sourced data infrastructure. It’s an opportunity for government to utilize the data that users are already generating through Waze.”

Johns Creek, Ga., is an early adopter of the Connected Citizens Program, whose Alerts feed lets the city see what’s happening on the roads before small problems become big problems, said GIS Manager Nick O'Day, adding that Jam data provides his city a longer-term history of where traffic jams are occurring.

“It provides our engineers with better ideas of where we need to improve roadways,” he said. “It also helps us provide a better level of citizen service with limited resources so we can have the most impact. It’s data we could not have afforded to hire someone to go out and get for us.”

Chris Lambert, systems consultant for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said combining Waze data about accidents with his agency’s own real-time traffic data enables them to detect incidents with much higher accuracy than if they depended on one data feed alone.

“We’re also using Waze data during snow and ice events to create better situational awareness, as well as using it as an index of how well we’re clearing the roadways,” Lambert said. “As we see storms moving through the state, we’re able to monitor Waze reports of ‘ice on roadway,’ which helps us deploy trucks sooner than we otherwise could have.”

Last year, Kentucky also leveraged the Waze partnership to push out shelter locations to motorists stranded during a storm and worked with local Waze map editors when they had short notice on road closures.  

“I’ve been able to contact the Waze community about a major event and they have responded within the hour saying the closures have been entered," he said, "so motorists get that data much more quickly."

Lambert said that overall, the relationship his agency has with both Esri and Waze through the Connected Citizen Program allows them to think differently about data, and he believes this type of data sharing between commuters and city/state government will be a growing trend.

“It’s a new direction for our cabinet,” said Lambert. “We’re moving toward being data facilitators, not simply data creators or originators. Instead of spending tax dollars trying to reproduce apps and platforms, we want to partner with those apps/platforms and publish our data to them.  We want to meet the public where they are, on the platform(s) of their choosing.”

Justine Brown is a veteran journalist who specializes in technology and education. Email her at