Waze, the crowd-sourced traffic app, has teamed up with Esri, a company that provides mapping software to governments and businesses. Thanks to this sharing of information, drivers will be kept up to date on roadworks, construction delays and accidents, and local government will get a much better idea of how vehicles use the city streets.
Cities win, because they get endless real-time data about road use, traffic jams, and other factors that affect the flow of traffic. They can use this data to better plan big transit projects or just to decide which roads are best to cut during a construction project. And they get this simply by gathering data that already exists, instead of investing in a network of sensors and other monitoring programs that will never provide full coverage anyway.
Citizens win, because they will have valuable data added to their routing app. Waze is popular because it directs you to your destination using the quickest route possible. It knows the fastest way, because it pools speed data from all its other users, so it can route you around traffic jams, or busy intersections. Now, if you're in a participating city, Waze will also know about construction work, temporary diversions, and even accidents and crashes.
And both parties win because Waze users will be able to report accidents or to point out problems like potholes. Citizens of Johns Creek, Georgia (population 80,000) are already enjoying the fruits of this team-up and not just in the form of reduced journey times. "Businesses and entrepreneurs can quickly and easily use the data to predict traffic patterns for free, which is seen as a boon to economic development efforts," writes Computerworld's Matt Hamblen.
Big data is invaluable to cities, but it's often a struggle to gather it. Apps like Waze, on the other hand, have a ton of data, submitted voluntarily by users in return for some kind of service. Strava, the app that lets runners and cyclists log their activity, also has a division dedicated to sharing its data. In the case of Strava Metro, that data is used to improve city infrastructure for cyclists, and to give real-time feedback on bike lane usage.
Few people would let their city government track their journeys, but most people are happy to let a private company do it if they get a good enough reward. And big data in this form is so valuable to city governments that we can expect a lot more of these partnerships in the future.