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Data Collection and Sharing

Data sharing refers to a broad range of activities that support the full use of readily available transportation information. Many government and private organizations collect data that can inform the design and operation of transportation facilities and systems. First and foremost, data sharing implies awareness about such data sources and a fresh perspective in considering their potential value in new uses. Data sharing typically requires that organizations store data and make it available in a useable format. It also requires a forum to coordinate with other organizations about potential data exchange opportunities.

Typical Operations Systems and Associated Data:

  Traditional Survey Data Sources ITS Data Sources
Time-frame Infrequent Continuous
Resource Labor intensive;
Individual efforts
Automated;
Collected for Operations
Sample Specific time period;
Broad coverage
All time periods;
Specific coverage
Reliability High reliability;
Errors often apparent during inspection
Reliability checks required;
Errors easily missed
Storage Small storage requirements Large storage requirements

Getting Started: Using Data Sharing as a Mechanism to Link Planning and Operations

Data sharing is often a first step toward broader coordination between planning and operations. Sharing data will require establishing new relationships with other agencies and building mechanisms to support sustained data exchange and storage. Issues such as data formats, accuracy, consistency, and appropriate use can complicate the process of establishing inter- and intra-agency data sharing programs, but these challenges can be overcome. A number of small steps can help to initiate the process. Once agencies learn about the resources available in their region, they will be more interested in exploring the benefits of data exchange. This section discusses several specific opportunities to use data sharing as a mechanism to link planning and operations.

Develop a Regional Data Clearinghouse

A central data clearinghouse can help facilitate access to the region's full range of transportation data for both planning and operating agencies. This requires that a regional agency take stock of all transportation data that are available and develop partnership agreements to make data retrievable from a central access point. There will be barriers for certain sensitive data sources, but the effort should include all planning and operating agencies, public safety agencies, as well as private sector sources such as freight companies.

Coordinate Data Resources with Transit Agencies

As a result of ITS deployments, transit agencies are becoming more valuable data sharing partners enabling them to participate in regional planning activities in new ways. With numerous vehicles throughout their service area traveling on regularly scheduled routes, transit agencies are in an excellent position to provide roadway system data using automatic vehicle location technology. This includes information on current speeds throughout the roadway network and changes in speeds on a particular route throughout the day and over longer time periods.

Use Specific Events to Initiate New Data Partnerships

Amidst the day-to-day duties of transportation agencies, taking time to discuss data collaboration is often viewed as a low priority. The need to reach out to new agencies can be heightened when preparing for special events. Special events create an opportunity to develop awareness of data that are available from other organizations. When participating in transportation planning for a special event, consider how the agencies involved might share data on a long-term basis.

Use Universities to Help Develop Integrated Databases

Universities are natural partners for developing data sharing resources. Their technological capabilities, their positions outside of the established institutional framework, and their role in developing a new generation of practitioners all contribute to their value as data sharing partners. Most major universities can be expected to have the technology and expertise required to develop large data collection, storage, and distribution systems. Moreover, universities that are involved with transportation policy, engineering, or planning may have already taken steps to develop regional transportation databases that link existing data sources in innovative ways.

Use Operations Data to Develop More Effective Performance Measures

Operational data is also essential for the development of many performance measures. Reliability measures can now be developed by collecting loop detector or traffic camera data at frequent intervals, processing the data to determine instantaneous speeds, aggregating speed information to specified time intervals, then storing the data for later analysis. MPOs and DOTs can use these measures to identify segments with poor travel time reliability, improve performance measurement, and better target public investments.

Use Operations Data to Improve Planning Analysis Tools

Data gathered through transportation systems management activities can be valuable to transportation planners for improving travel demand models and developing other analytical tools. The availability of more detailed operations data can lead to better travel demand forecasting models, including models that are more sensitive to the effects of operations strategies.

Use Archived Data to Inform Management and Operations Planning

While archived data can be useful to transportation planning agencies, it can also help those responsible for management and operations to internally plan and coordinate their activities for the most effective results. For example, by archiving and processing existing data, traffic management center staff can observe network performance characteristics on a weekly or monthly basis. This provides a tool to assess how TMC activities are affecting system performance and also helps operations managers frame their role within the broader transportation planning process.

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