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Data Suggests Free Wi-Fi, Charging Stations Help Drive Rest Stop Choices

Location and other data collected from smartphones shows which rest stops are most popular along Interstate 95.

by / August 3, 2018
Location and other data collected from smartphones is revealing a surprising amount of travel information, like which rest stops along I-95 are the busiest. mdta/md_i-95

Free Wi-Fi and electric vehicle charging stations are just a couple of the perks that could be luring motorists off the highway in Newark, Del.

The Delaware Welcome and Travel Center holds the not insignificant title of being the busiest rest stop on the Interstate 95 thoroughfare on the East Coast, according to location data collected from smartphone apps last summer.

The data was collected by StreetLight Data, a traffic management software firm. The study analyzed smartphone data from June through August 2017, up and down I-95 from Maine to Florida. Seventy-six rest stops were included in the study, and it was determined that the five most popular are clustered in Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut.

Those top five are also those with a range of amenities like free Wi-Fi, electric vehicle charging stations and at least six restaurants. They've also been recently renovated and tended to market themselves as “more than just a rest stop,” said Laura Schewel, CEO and co-founder of StreetLight Data.

Most Popular Rest Stops Along I-95

1. Delaware Welcome and Travel Center
Newark, Del.

2. Maryland House
Aberdeen, Md.

3. Darien Service Plaza
Darien, Conn.

4. Chesapeake House
North East, Md.

5. Milford Service Plaza
Milford, Conn.

“They also all had a green initiative that was public, like LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design], certification, or they had solar panels on the roof,” she added. “And they all had at least three stars on Yelp, and rest stops tend to not have very good Yelp reviews.” 

The spacious and airy 42,000-square-foot, $35 million Delaware Welcome and Travel Center opened in June 2010, said C.R. McLeod, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Transportation, adding the original facility opened in 1964. The welcome center includes retail and food and beverage outlets like Popeyes, Cinnabon, Pret A Manger’s and others.

The StreetLight Data study also concluded that not all visitors to rest stops were out-of-towners. A surprisingly high number of visitors at rest stops — 35 percent — are traveling from within 20 miles from home.

The Darien Service Plaza and Milford Service Plaza in Connecticut landed the Nos. 3 and 5 rankings, respectively. Like many similar facilities, both are operated by a private management firm. Connecticut distinguishes between “service plazas,” which are full-service facilities that sell fuel, food and provide other amenities, from “rest areas,” which provide only restrooms and vending machines. The state operates 23 service plazas, according to Jeffrey A. Stewart, director of Concessions, Division of Property and Facilities Services with the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Aggregating data from smartphone apps can offer a number of insights into consumer types and behaviors, say StreetLight officials. For example, the top five rest stops had slightly different demographic characteristics than the average rest stop, said Schewel. The visitors to these stops tended to be higher income, with roughly 80 percent of visitors earning more than $100,000 annually. This compares to 70 percent of visitors to the more typical rest stop.

The demographic data could be informative from an economic development perspective when thinking about encouraging investment in rest stop areas, said Schewel. The data could also be useful for tourism officials or restaurant development operations, particularly given that a number of visitors are coming from the area, according to the location data.

The data could also inform planning officials, because some of the most popular rest stops were those developed in the median space between a divided highway, making for easy exits and easy entry back onto the roadway.

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Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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