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2009 National Highway Data Workshop and Conference

By Matt Hiland
October 21, 2009

I recently participated in the 2009 National Highway Data Workshop and Conference (HiDaC). HiDaC is a biennial conference for practitioners of highway data collection, processing, and analysis from federal, state, regional, and local agencies. HiDaC’s intent is to encourage collective discussion of the often subjective and loosely defined concepts used to track and assess the performance of the public highway system. It also strives to facilitate coordination of data collection, processing, and analysis practices across jurisdictions in order to derive equitable performance measures and funding allocations across jurisdictions.

The first interesting thing about this workshop was that it was designed for remote participation. While webinars and video conferencing are not new, this was the second workshop I have attended recently in which there were more people participating via the Internet than physically present. With economic conditions, reduced travel budgets, and environmental concerns, this seems to be a growing trend.

The opening keynote and panel discussed data challenges and priorities for various agencies. Programming, planning, prioritizing, and executing transportation projects have traditionally been as much art as science, with decisions made based largely on professional subjectivity and – dare I say it? – political influence. A growing emphasis on transparency and defensibility of public decision making means that agencies must make sure they are collecting the right data and processing it correctly. Also, with reduced budgets and staff, agencies must do these things very efficiently. Collecting a data item once and sharing it thereafter, combining and streamlining data collection processes, using the right technologies, and eliminating un-needed data elements have become critical practices rather than just good ideas. Also, maintaining flexibility in the data elements collected and their processing is critical to meet constantly changing reporting and analysis needs.
Another emphasis of the workshop was measuring the quality of the collected data. This was discussed particularly in the context of traffic flow and congestion monitoring, but is applicable to any data used in decision making. In this case, the key was to perform statistically significant and valid amounts of ground truthing to validate data from automated sensors.

Finally, in the “gee-whiz” department, the Mobile Millenium pilot project — a partnership between Caltrans, UC Berkeley, NAVTEQ and Nokia with support from the federal Safe Trip-21 initiative—intends to establish the modalities of traffic data collection from mainstream mobile GPS devices. The increasing ubiquity of GPS devices in mobile phones provides a potential platform for constant collection of traffic location, direction, and speed, and detection of congestion and emergency events. The researchers pointed out that, despite significant privacy concerns, technology infrastructure requirements, and complex sampling and data processing, this seems to be a promising method for producing very meaningful real-time traffic data and short-term predictive data. You can learn more about this exciting project at

You can learn more about HiDaC at