Many of you might remember when crowdsourcing was all the range back in the early 2010s. While the concept of gaining information by enlisting help of people picked up steam as technology advanced, the history of crowdsourcing dates back in the early 1700s, when the British government offered a prize for developing a reliable way to compute longitude. The bottomline: the power lies in the crowd and we now have the tools to tap into it.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Highway Admin., recognizes this and is crowdsourcing data from multiple streams to improve operations. This is the practice of addressing the needs—think existing roadway use, traffic incident management, work zone management, and traffic signal management, among others—by enlisting the services of a large number of people through technology.

There are three common sources of crowdsourced data: social media platforms, third-party data providers, and specially developed mobile apps. State and local TSMO (transportation systems management and operations) programs can use information to improve operations, increase safety, and save costs.

Ohio is one state that is also taking advantage of crowdsourcing. In October 2020, the Ohio DOT (Dept. of Transportation) improved its method for integrating vehicle probe data with their state’s linear referencing system data, which translates into better intersection start and end points, segments crossing country boundaries, ramp sections, and roads that loop. With improved data integration, the multiple realtime and archived crowdsourced data applications become more accurate and useful.

The ODOT Traffic Management Center uses the data through an event streaming platform to help operators investigate traffic. Operators can then alert motorists to delays through dynamic message signs, the internet, and mobile apps.

As another example, in Illinois, the Lake County DOT uses realtime tools and dashboard to integrate crowdsourced data with automated traffic signal performance measures data to adapt traffic management systems to transportation system disruptions.

Innovation like this is helpful because as we know our infrastructure is underfunded. A recent presentation by Tom Smith, executive director, ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), punctuates the importance of this topic once again. Of the total economic impact projected in its 20-year study, more than three-quarters occur during the second decade (2030-2039).

Here is what it predicts: About 80% of gross output losses, 79% of GDP (gross domestic product) declines, and 78% of disposable income losses are expected to occur during this time. Further, by 2039, we are forecasted to lose $10.3 trillion in GDP, including $2.4 trillion in exports. Thus, our national trade deficit will grow by $626 billion and we’ll lose 3 million jobs by 2039. What’s more, about 47% of the projected jobs lost in 2039 will be in high wage, high production jobs.

We need innovation—like crowdsourced data—to help improve operations and reduce costs. Data is the new oil and we need to up our game with crowdsourcing. What else can we do to get innovative in our transportation? There are so many opportunities as we move forward.

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