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Transportation Mapping & Project Planning Checklist

Start your next transportation mapping project with this list of tips for multimodal network planning, active transportation planning, ADA compliance, and more.

Transportation planning plays a vital role in shaping our communities, especially as our world changes each and every day. With the dynamic challenges brought on by climate change, population growth, and population movement, transportation planners are increasingly relying on geospatial data and mapping as a source of truth. At Ecopia AI (Ecopia), we work closely with planning organizations in both the private and public sectors as they leverage geospatial data to make transportation networks more sustainable, equitable, and accessible, in addition to fostering safer and healthier lifestyles. 

Our work with departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and civil engineering firms has helped us develop a list of best practices for transportation mapping projects across a wide range of use cases. If you’re not sure where to start when implementing a geospatial strategy for active transportation planning, multimodal network planning, ADA compliance, pedestrian right-of-way (RoW), or Vision Zero, check out this list of tips and tricks we’ve compiled from transportation organizations across the US.

1. Transportation data collection

To develop a data-driven strategy for transportation planning, DOTs, MPOs, and civil engineering firms must take inventory of existing data and make decisions about how to collect or acquire additional sources needed. Some organizations have their own repository of transportation mapping data they’ve digitized themselves, while others rely on third-party sources for information. Once existing data is evaluated, transportation planners can identify what features need to be mapped for further analysis and project implementation.

The best way to make sure transportation features are mapped to truly reflect real world infrastructure is to extract them from up-to-date geospatial imagery. Many organizations capture their own imagery to use in this process, while some partner with imagery providers. Ecopia’s global partner network often supplies fresh satellite and aerial imagery to transportation planning organizations looking to map features across their area of interest (AOI).

Aerial image of San Bernardino
Transportation map of San Bernardino

A sample of advanced transportation vector features extracted from imagery for the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority by Ecopia AI.

After the necessary imagery is obtained, the process of digitizing and classifying features begins. This can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive task if performed manually. For example, it took civil engineers at Fehr & Peers six months to manually digitize only 750 of the 17,000 miles of sidewalks in San Bernardino County, California to ensure ADA compliance. Luckily, artificial intelligence (AI)-based mapping is revolutionizing how transportation planning organizations extract vector features from geospatial imagery. By working with Ecopia, Fehr & Peers was able to map the entire sidewalk system for San Bernardino County in just three months, plus digitize and classify 16 other distinct features of their multimodal transportation network.

2. Analyze transportation infrastructure with mapping data

With the newly collected data, transportation planners can conduct in-depth analysis of existing infrastructure to understand how it needs to be improved to support their specific goals. By mapping all of the transportation features in an AOI, planners can identify gaps in equity, ADA compliance issues, and safety concerns. For instance, many planning organizations overlay past crash data onto their transportation maps to identify what characteristics may be contributing to these traffic incidents, and develop solutions to mitigate these in the future. Similarly, planners may visualize pedestrian RoW features in communities that have expressed a need for more active transportation modes, and pinpoint gaps in sidewalk or bike networks that need to be addressed.

Ecopia helped the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) on one such analysis. Leveraging AI-based mapping data from Ecopia, SEMCOG was able to map 24,000 miles of sidewalks and 160,000 crosswalk features across their 5,000 square mile region. With this data, SEMCOG calculated that a quarter of their residents lacked adequate access to a sidewalk, and only a quarter of crosswalks were marked. These insights have enabled SEMCOG to develop actionable strategies to improve pedestrian RoW features and foster accessible and equitable active transportation modes.

3. Transportation planning public engagement 

A critical step in any successful transportation planning project is engaging with the public to understand their needs and preferences. This can be achieved through a combination of online and in-person surveys, interviews with stakeholders from different government organizations, and public forums where community members can voice their opinions. By actively involving the public, transportation planners can gain valuable insights and ensure that the resulting plans reflect the community's aspirations.

For example, holding a public forum to learn about community preferences for pedestrian RoW features like bike lanes or walking trails can help narrow down where to start an active transportation planning project. Similarly, community members can provide helpful context about where it would be most helpful for different transportation modes to connect to each other. While data can reveal gaps in transportation networks and accessibility features, it’s important to also factor public opinion into your project plans to make sure resources are allocated where taxpayers need them most

4. Transportation plan implementation

Using these actionable insights from geospatial data and public engagement, transportation planners can effectively implement their plans for creating more liveable communities. Having a comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date record of all transportation features in an AOI helps planners implement transportation plans more efficiently, ensuring they are making the optimal infrastructure developments for their particular project goals. Data can additionally be used to communicate important project milestones with the public and get important feedback in real-time.

A digital source of truth for transportation networks can also help planners work towards multiple goals simultaneously. Many transportation planning initiatives have overlapping goals, so data can be leveraged by different stakeholders for a variety of projects. For example, planners tasked with developing active transportation networks may focus on expanding bike lanes throughout a community. The bike lane mapping data generated for this project can also be used by planners working on Vision Zero or other safety projects as they strive to make multimodal transportation infrastructure safer.

A sample of transportation mapping features digitized by Ecopia AI for IDOT and CMAP to support multiple planning projects.
A sample of transportation mapping features digitized by Ecopia AI for IDOT and CMAP to support multiple planning projects.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) are two examples of departments that share transportation mapping data across project implementations. By partnering with Ecopia, IDOT and CMAP are able to provide transportation planners across 286 member municipalities with a standardized dataset of 26 land cover and transportation features. This data supports multiple projects across the third largest metro area in the US, including:

  • State and regional long range transportation plans
  • Multimodal network planning
  • Active transportation planning
  • Vision Zero initiatives
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance
  • Stormwater and flood management
  • Performance-based capital program monitoring
  • Intersection and corridor analysis
  • Tree canopy management

5. Transportation data maintenance and updates

It’s important to remember that data is only useful for transportation planning if it is up-to-date. As the world continues to change, not only will transportation infrastructure be impacted, but so will community needs. Transportation planning organizations must update their geospatial databases to reflect these changes, inform their analysis, and subsequently evolve their strategies.

AI-based mapping makes it easier than ever for DOTs, MPOs, and civil engineering firms to refresh their geospatial data. At Ecopia, we generally see our transportation clients refreshing their data annually to detect change in infrastructure and assess dynamically changing communities. Once new imagery is captured or procured, Ecopia’s AI-powered systems can efficiently flag any changes and extract new features to ensure transportation planning projects are fueled by real world insights.

A sample of road and sidewalk change detection in Olympia, Washington between 2017 and 2019; red signifies new and changed features detected in imagery.
A sample of road and sidewalk change detection in Olympia, Washington between 2017 and 2019; red signifies new and changed features detected in imagery.

Get started with AI-based transportation mapping

Transportation planners face a myriad of challenges as they develop networks that meet the diverse needs of residents while fostering safe, accessible, and equitable communities. Geospatial data is a powerful tool that enables planners to make informed decisions and implement effective transportation solutions, but sourcing and creating a reliable database of transportation features is not always easy. 

By following the five steps outlined in this blog and leveraging AI-based mapping solutions, transportation planning organizations can build and maintain a digital source of truth for transportation features in their AOI to power project implementations for a variety of use cases. To learn more about how Ecopia can help with your planning projects, get in touch with our transportation planning team.

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