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 traveler information Web site, it is important to consider the compatibility of the Web site with the agency's existing systems. Various functional units that can contribute to implementing a better traveler information Web site include: operations, maintenance and construction, public affairs and marketing departments. In addition, fostering a closer cooperation with organizations supporting non-driving modes, other transportation agencies in the region, and the area's 511 system (if exists) is important.
- Plan for the integration of the Web site with up to date information from operations, maintenance, and construction units: The Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) plans highway operations projects and traveler information provisions simultaneously. All projects done for highway operations feed information into the traveler information Web site. Up front planning takes time and costs money in the short run, but it saves money in the long run by reducing the need for running parallel systems. Since the Web site is built around agency's other internal systems, the automatic integration of information ensures that the Web site is always up to date without requiring additional staff time. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation developed their Web site with cooperation from the maintenance and construction departments, which was essential to providing good information. The Washington State Department of Transportation has stipulated Web site functionality standards such that Web pages developed in different parts of the agency look and function the same way, no matter who is the source of the information.
- Ensure a strong relationship with the public affairs office: The MDSHA utilizes its public affairs office to work with the media to ensure good local coverage. Traffic reporters use information from the MDSHA Web site, and in return refer the public to the site in their broadcasts. Especially in an emergency situation, having a strong relationship with the public affairs office can be crucial. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 emergency situation in New York City, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority was able to keep its Web site online and accurate day and night, and current by the hour.
- Integrate travel information Web site with information from other supporting non-driving modes: The Oregon Department of Transportation provides a range of information extending to other modes, with extensive links to transit, ridesharing, bicycle, and airport information.
- Coordinate and cooperate with other states in the region: The Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee (GCM) travel Web site, developed cooperatively by the Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation, is based on extensive data from all three states sent to a state-of-the-art data sharing system. With this system, users can link to information across the entire three-state priority corridor, including cameras, traffic maps, and dynamic message sign messages.
- Integrate traveler information Web site with the regional 511 telephone system: The Louisville-Southern Indiana traffic information website, TRIMARC ITS system, posts information on incidents on the Web which are then automatically sent to the 511 system. In Chicago, the 511 telephone traveler information system uses the same data sharing system as the Web site.
This lesson suggests that during the development of traveler information Web site, working with a variety of departments and integrating systems can reduce costs, improve the information on the Web site, and attract more users. Agencies should consider the compatibility of the traveler information Web site with other existing systems to ensure a successful and efficient system.