Transportation Data at Your Fingertips
Question: How do you develop and deploy a fully connected transportation system that makes the most of multimodal, transformational applications? Answer: By supporting it with a robust, underlying technological platform for collecting and sharing data. To meet the need for accommodating the enriched data from the connected vehicle environment, the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Research Data Exchange (RDE) in 2013. Version 3.0 debuted in October 2016.
“The goal was to create a Web-based data resource to collect, manage, and provide access to archived and real-time multisource and multimodal data to support the development and testing of ITS applications,” says Walter During, a transportation specialist at the Federal Highway Administration.
The objectives of the RDE are to enable systematic data capture from connected vehicles, mobile devices, and infrastructure and to integrate data from multiple sources into data environments that can be used by multiple applications for transportation management and performance measurement. The RDE also will support performing data quality checks and provide clean, well-documented data relevant to research.
Designed for Ease of Use
The RDE hosts a number of large, comprehensive data environments that can assist researchers in a number of transportation-related fields, including roadway safety, operations, and road weather information. The RDE offers users the ability to search by data type, facility, frequency, location, and data tags. Included in these search criteria are the start and end dates of the data collected. For example, a user can find data from a certain time and at a certain location (such as information related to a weather event). Datasets also are searchable with a map feature.
The exchange enables large downloads of multiple datasets at once. Rather than clicking each data element and downloading it individually from the site, a user places items in a cart for “checkout” (everything is always free of cost), and the system emails the items all in one zipped file.
Standard metadata documentation is included within every data environment on the RDE. This includes an explanation of the data collection, the file structure for the dataset, and definitions for each variable. The RDE team also developed a list of frequently asked questions, and users can ask for help directly from the specific data environment pages and an RDE expert will respond.
RDE Data Environments
The ITS Joint Program Office performs checks to ensure that the data accessible through the exchange are quality, well-documented, and available to the public at no cost. Collections of datasets from the same location and time period are called data environments, enabling users to search data by location or type. The RDE currently has 27 data environments, such as Intelligent Network Flow Optimization (INFLO), which contains four sets of data generated from a small-scale demonstration in 2015 along a 7-mile (11-kilometer) corridor of I-5 south of downtown Seattle, WA. New data environments are uploaded monthly.
“A sample data file is available for each data environment,” says Ariel Gold, a program manager with the ITS Joint Program Office, “so users can learn more about the data before downloading the entire dataset, which is especially useful for larger files.”
The RDE provides access to connected vehicle- and passenger-related data involving private and transit vehicles, maintenance vehicles, probe vehicles, traffic monitoring and reporting devices, incident detection systems, traffic signals, weather, and other types of ITS sensors. This data sharing capability supports the needs of ITS researchers and developers, while reducing costs and encouraging innovation. Currently, the RDE has more than 1,000 registered users, of which 41 percent are from universities and 40 percent are from private industries.
“Researchers looking for high-quality surface transportation data should make the RDE their first stop,” says Gold.
Jon Obenberger, Ph.D., P.E., is a senior transportation research engineer in FHWA’s Office of Operations Research and Development.