Best Practices for Traveler Information Websites: Lessons Learned From Top Traffic and Transit Website Winners
Section 1201 of the SAFETEA–LU requires the establishment of a Real-time System Management Information Program. This program consists of the development of systems that provide real time traffic and travel condition information on the major highways of the United States. The information provided by these systems should focus on: improvement of security of the surface transportation system, congestion issues, weather events, incident management, and to facilitate national and regional highway traveler information
In 2006 the Office of Operations of the Federal Highway Administration commissioned a report on the Best Practices for Traveler Information Web sites. The report provides information on the current state of the practice for traffic information Web sites and describes best practices highlighted by the developers of such Web sites in the United States for the past five years.
Agencies planning to upgrade their Web sites as part of the Section 1201 program have additional resources available to them, including the following sites:
When implementing a new traffic information Web site, the technical staff should consider the likelihood of high usage of the system.
- Prepare traveler information Web sites to accommodate high volume of users. Successful Web sites can attract millions of hits, especially when there is an event that causes problems with the transportation system. As an extreme example, after the September 11, 2001 emergency situation in New York City, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Web site usage went to 10,000,000 hits per day in the immediate aftermath, as the site became the regional Web site of choice. There are a variety of technical approaches to keep the site available and working well during peak usage.
- Develop a condensed site for peak time usage. The San Antonio District of Texas Department of Transportation's TransGuide Web site received more than 118 million hits in 2003. The system used to slow down during major weather problems because of the heavy use. To respond to technical constraints and enable more people to use the system during peaks, the Texas DOT developed a condensed site for use at those times. Condensed sites take less space, so more people can get the information.
- Add faster servers and increased bandwidth. The Georgia Department of Transportation added faster servers and increased bandwidth to handle the large volumes of users.
This lesson suggests that developers should take into account the likelihood of high usage of traveler information Web site in the event of inclement weather conditions or emergency situations. Having the capability to accommodate high volumes of users gives credibility to the Web site and may encourage users to continue using the Web site during other non-emergency times. Using a condensed Web site, adding faster servers or increasing the bandwidth of a system can ensure that the Web site will remain available during high peak periods of usage. Thus, when traveler information Web sites are being developed, it is imperative that they consider the technical requirements for high volumes of users to ensure a successful and efficient system.