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Federal Mobility Data Helps State, Local Governments to Make More Intelligent Transportation Systems

The Department of Transportation's data exchange program has made hundreds of data sets available for city and state governments to analyze and utilize.

Data creation is exponentially increasing. Each day, 2.5 exabytes (2.5 billion gigabytes) are created, and more than 90 percent of all data generation has taken place within the last two years. Nearly everyone with a smartphone in their pocket is constantly gathering data on their location and browsing history, among other things

So why not use that massive amount of data being collected to better plan infrastructure? Although the Department of Transportation (DOT) has operated the Intelligent Transportations Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) for decades, the recent technological advances in vehicle connectivity and smart infrastructure design have led to a number of programs adaptable for state and local governments.

The ITS JPO Data Program is a multimodal effort that works in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, other federal agencies, state and local governments, academia, and the private sector.

The program has four overall principles:

  • increasing adoption of efficient and secure data sharing architectures within ITS deployments;
  • sharing ITS research data to fuel third-party research and application development;
  • operationalizing privacy-by-design principles; and
  • providing strategic direction for the ITS community.
During a recent webinar hosted by ITS Data Program Manager Ariel Gold and Michael Pack, director of the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT) Laboratory, the two shared several infrastructure pilot programs that can help lower congestion, increase pedestrian safety and better measure pavement conditions. “Data underlies all technologies and programs,” explained Gold.

Several data products made available from the Smart Cities Challenge, Connected Vehicle Pilots and other ITS JPO initiatives are working to better the way people move around. “There is a broad range of data that is coming out of these projects,” Gold said. This includes data surrounding vehicle automation, collision avoidance, truck platooning, signal phase siming and vehicle travel time.

The Smart Cities Challenge, a competition helping medium-sized cities to transform the way their residents get around, was ultimately awarded to Columbus, Ohio, which focused its efforts on creating an inclusive mobility system that connects traditionally underserved communities to job centers. The Connected Vehicle Pilots began in 2016, and awarded three cooperative agreements collectively worth more than $45 million to initiate a Design/Build/Test phase of the Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program in three sites: Wyoming, New York City and Tampa, Fla.

Because infrastructure projects are more controlled at the state level, the ITS JPO has set up the Research Data Exchange, where registered users can download data from next-gen transportation projects. “We have more than 180 data sets available,” said Gold, adding that the data sets provide a snapshot of what is possible.

An added benefit from setting up the data exchange was the standardization of language. Because it all needs to fit into the online portal, Gold explained, it has driven the adoption of standards for cities and states that are looking to utilize the information. “These kinds of activities complement standards and interoperability.”

In order to understand how to build these systems in larger scale, Pack said, "We need to have data feeds available. [Infrastructure] is not a federal program, it is a federal expense.”

Once solutions such as infrastructure-to-vehicle safety alerts and automated shuttle data can be proven, it is up to the cities and states themselves to take that information and run with it.

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.