Crowdsourced data gives DOTs added insight on road conditions

By Chris McCahill

The Oregon DOT recently announced a new partnership with Waze—a navigational app that collects crowdsourced traffic information from its users and employs the data in real time. Florida was among the first states to sign an agreement with Waze in May 2014, granting them access to the company’s data in exchange for information about road closures and other incidents in the state. Approximately 30 agencies around the world have partnered with the company, including cities, regional agencies and a handful of states.

Public agencies can partner with Waze through its Connected Citizens Program, which allows the exchange of information about traffic congestion, construction, maintenance or operations issues, road closures, and weather-related incidents in an accessible format. While many agencies already have traffic monitoring and incident reporting programs in place, Waze incorporates three layers of data in order to provide users with the most current and accurate information possible:

  1. Historical data from its users and from common providers like Inrix to understand regular traffic patterns;
  2. Current information on travel speeds based on users’ location data; and
  3. Incident reports provided by users, which are weighted based on the number of reports and other user information.

To date, state agencies have relied most heavily on Waze data in cases of emergencies. Waze provided information to the Georgia DOT and several other coastal states after Hurricane Sandy hit in late 2012. The company later signed an agreement with the Florida DOT, after then-Secretary Ananth Prasad expressed a need for real-time data on flooding. The Utah DOT provides information on road conditions to Waze and plans to incorporate the information it gets back into its own road conditions database. Cities, in particular, have embraced the app for a wider range of uses—for example, to identify parking violations or to alert road users about important system changes.

In Oregon, the DOT recently has been building on a variety of data sources to better understand how people move around and where issues exist. Last year, for example, it purchased data from Strava, a popular mobile fitness app, to track bicycle patterns and determine where to install rumble strips along bicycle routes. The agency currently feeds data from its TripCheck information portal to Waze and it is assessing how to use the additional user-generated data that it receives in return. “Citizen-supplied data will add to the eyes and ears of ODOT staff already out on the roads and highways,” according to the agency’s ITS Manager. “Waze users travel in places where we can’t have roadway sensors or cameras so it greatly enhances our ability to provide up to the minute and accurate traffic data to the public.”

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.