Modernizing government’s approach to transportation and land use data: Challenges and opportunities

Adie Tomer and Ranjitha Shivaram at Brookings: “In the fields of transportation and land use planning, the public sector has long taken the leading role in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data. Often, public data sets drawn from traveler diaries, surveys, and supply-side transportation maps were the only way to understand how people move around in the built environment – how they get to work, how they drop kids off at school, where they choose to work out or relax, and so on.

But, change is afoot: today, there are not only new data providers, but also new types of data. Cellphones, GPS trackers, and other navigation devices offer real-time demand-side data. For instance, mobile phone data can point to where distracted driving is a problem and help implement measures to deter such behavior. Insurance data and geo-located police data can guide traffic safety improvements, especially in accident-prone zones. Geotagged photo data can illustrate the use of popular public spaces by locals and tourists alike, enabling greater return on investment from public spaces. Data from exercise apps like Fitbit and Runkeeper can help identify recreational hot spots that attract people and those that don’t.

However, integrating all this data into how we actually plan and build communities—including the transportation systems that move all of us and our goods—will not be easy. There are several core challenges. Limited staff capacity and restricted budgets in public agencies can slow adoption. Governmental procurement policies are stuck in an analog era. Privacy concerns introduce risk and uncertainty. Private data could be simply unavailable to public consumers. And even if governments could acquire all of the new data and analytics that interest them, their planning and investment models must be updated to fully utilize these new resources.

Using a mix of primary research and expert interviews, this report catalogs emerging data sets related to transportation and land use, and assesses the ease by which they can be integrated into how public agencies manage the built environment. It finds that there is reason for the hype; we have the ability to know more about how humans move around today than at any time in history. But, despite all the obvious opportunities, not addressing core challenges will limit public agencies’ ability to put all that data to use for the collective good….(More)”