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Data & Transportation: A Perfect Match?

Data. It is more than this little (or huge) thing that drives Google search results and determines what shows we see on TV. Data is generated at staggering rates and transforming how we live. By 2025, the world could create as much as 163 zettabytes of data a year. First of all, who knows what a zettabyte of data is (one trillion gigabytes)? And second, what does that mean for us in transportation?


Transportation Data: What are we talking about?
We have long been able to gather data from transportation solutions, such as detectors and traffic controllers, but modern technology enables us to gather data at a much higher resolution. Take 170 controllers, for instance, which are limited to gathering data in 15 minute intervals - only showing you peak travel times. Conversely, ATC controllers gather data every tenth of a second, enabling us to not just know that a vehicle drove through an intersection, but at what speed, the number of arrivals on red vs. green, and if the vehicle turned or went straight.

Modern solutions also have greater memory for storing collected data, with many offering cellular connectivity for uploading data to the cloud. Leveraging this data, engineers are empowered to analyze the performance of signal operations and build stronger traffic control strategies to make roads safer, more effective and eco-friendly.



Sharing is Caring: Disseminating information
As with many things in life, data is better when shared with others. Advanced communications have improved our ability to share traffic data with the traveling public via dynamic message signs (DMS), websites, in-vehicle systems, and smartphone applications. This data can greatly improve the overall driving experience by allowing drivers to check traffic conditions in real-time, enabling them to make more informed decisions on when to leave and the best way to reach their destination.

The USDOT’s recently released “2017 ITS Benefits, Costs, and Lessons Learned Update," identifies several key benefits of information dissemination via DMS including:

  • When travel times posted on DMS are twice as long as normal, drivers begin to favor alternate routes resulting in less congestion, better fuel efficiency, and reduced emissions
  • In Missouri 94% of travelers took the action indicated by DMS

When agencies begin sharing information with other agencies, vast additional improvements can be achieved such as Integrated Corridor Management, which in San Diego alone yielded: 

  • A projected benefit-to-cost ratio of 10:1 over a 10-year cycle
  • 246,000 hours in annual travel time savings
  • 10.6% improvement in travel time reliability
  • 323,000 gallons of fuel saved annually


The Future of Data
The overall goal of the USDOT is clear: crash prevention and safety for all road users. It is with this in mind that the USDOT, FHWA, NHTSA, and a myriad of other leading acronyms in transportation, believe that connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are the future of transportation. With the USDOT report estimating that safety applications enabled by vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies could eliminate or mitigate up to 80% of non-impaired crashes, including crashes at intersections or while changing lanes.

While the details of how all this will work are still in development, one thing is certain, data will be at the center of making CAVs possible. Data is driving new technologies, allowing traffic professionals to make better, more informed decisions resulting in reduced traffic-related incidents, better mobility, and an eco-friendly environment. And by the looks of it, we’re just getting started.

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