blurry cars zooming on a highway

Motor vehicle crashes in the United States resulted in 42,915 deaths in 2021, and traffic congestion is costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year in wasted fuel and time delays. Improving both transportation safety and reliability for all road users is a national priority, and one in which FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) program and the crowdsourcing for advancing operations innovation has made a difference.

“Crowdsourcing is the practice of addressing a need or a problem by enlisting the services of large numbers of people through technology. It is common today for companies and public agencies to use crowdsourcing to help meet their needs,” noted James Colyar, Transportation Specialist for FHWA’s Office of Operations and EDC crowdsourcing co-lead. “In transportation, nearly every agency, regardless of size, can access free or low-cost crowdsourced data to better manage and operate their transportation system.”

As part of EDC rounds five and six, agency crowdsourcing efforts advanced from a focus on obtaining data from a specific source and applying it to a single application area, such as traffic incident management or traveler information, into a system that gathers multiple streams of real-time data, integrates it, and uses it in multiple application areas for improved operations.

Crowdsourcing’s Proven Value

With the proliferation of smartphones and advances in cloud technologies, an unprecedented wave of crowdsourced data is now available to transportation agencies. State and local agencies can access vehicle probe, navigational app, social media, 511 and 311 service, connected car, and other crowdsourced data to improve operations, increase safety and reliability, and save cost. Moreover, analytics tools and services make processing and using crowdsourced data a true game-changer for nearly every transportation systems management and operations strategy. The following are just a few examples.

Incident management: The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and the city of Frisco, TX, are among the agencies that are detecting more incidents and detecting them more quickly through crowdsourcing. Agencies typically integrate their roadway sensor and law enforcement data with crowdsourced data from social media posts, free navigation app user reports, or vehicle probe data. For example, on any given month, Iowa DOT may receive 15 to 35 percent of its initial incident notification from a free navigation app. With quicker detection and more information on the nature of the incident, agencies can clear roadways faster and significantly reduce the likelihood of a secondary crash.

Traveler information: Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, and other State and local DOTs are using vehicle probe data to automatically post and update travel times on their dynamic message signs. New Jersey, Colorado, and North Carolina are among the DOTs that currently deliver real-time, in-cab alerts on road conditions to commercial vehicle drivers. These alerts, based on vehicle probe data, help drivers react more quickly to unexpected slowdowns from bottlenecks, incidents, work zones, or adverse weather conditions.

Work zone management: When a 62-mile detour route associated with an unplanned bridge closure and repair in Indiana took drivers up to 4 hours the first day it was implemented, the Indiana DOT used its Traffic Ticker dashboard tool to visualize vehicle probe data and iteratively adjust operations (e.g., traffic signal timing) to cut driving time on the detour to roughly 1 hour. The agency’s suite of tools also supports the real-time monitoring of work zone-related queues.

street view of downtown DC with traffic lights

The District of Columbia used crowdsourced vehicle probe data to optimize the timing of 600 signals along 49 routes.Credit: Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

Arterial management: Crowdsourced data helped the District of Columbia cost-effectively optimize the timing of 600 signals along 49 routes. They used vehicle probe data in lieu of floating car studies. The new signal timing strategies helped make the District’s traffic signals safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, improved transit running time, and reduced traffic congestion. The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) in Arizona uses vehicle trajectories from connected car data to more frequently update signal timing. MAG also uses this data to identify safety hotspots much sooner.

Roadway maintenance: Kansas City (KC) Scout, a bi-State traffic management system spanning Missouri and Kansas, began exploring pothole reports from a free navigation application in the summer of 2021. Their goals were more timely, accurate, and low-cost pothole identification. KC Scout confirmed a pothole or other issue was present within 90 feet for 45 of the 46 reports—a 98 percent accuracy rate. By using crowdsourced pothole data, Missouri and Kansas DOTs are now able to repair potholes more quickly and efficiently, making pavements safer for all road users in the KC region.

In this Adventures in Crowdsourcing webinar video, hear how the Maricopa Association of Governments uses connected vehicle data and other crowdsourcing technologies (starting at 52:00).Credit: National Operations Center of Excellence

Jumpstart Crowdsourcing for Your Region

Those interested in how to get started using crowdsourced data to advance transportation operations in their agency or region can view an Adventures in Crowdsourcing webinar recording to hear directly from practitioners. There are more than 20 webinars to choose from featuring over 30 State and local agencies, data experts, and crowdsourced data providers. Topics cover emergency management, data management, traffic signal systems, traffic incident management, work zone management, social media for operations, engaging navigation providers, validating crowdsourced data, and more. They can also review a list of example applications or case studies for a closer look at why and how agencies are leveraging crowdsourced data.

Practitioners who are not sure what crowdsourced data or use cases best meet their regional needs can request a free introductory crowdsourcing course. The course has no prerequisites and can be delivered online or in person. It is modular by design, which means it can be tailored for the audience and delivered in a 1.5-hour to full-day format. Contact any of the crowdsourcing co-leads for more information.

While the formal EDC-6 innovation cycle ended in December 2022, crowdsourcing for advancing operations continues among State and local agencies. The FHWA co-leads from the Office of Operations and the Resource Center remain available to provide technical support, guidance, and peer resources for agencies that want to leverage crowdsourced data for improved operations and increased safety and reliability.


Visit the EDC-6 Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations webpage.

Read the EDC-6 Final Report to see how crowdsourcing progressed in round six of Every Day Counts.

Contact James Colyar (FHWA Office of Operations), Greg Jones (FHWA Office of Operations and Resource Center), or Ralph Volpe (FHWA Resource Center) for information and technical assistance.

Notice: The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this article only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Recommended Citation: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration – Washington, DC (2023) Innovator Newsletter, May/June 2023, Volume 16 (96).

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