How you can help keep Iowa roads safer

Traffic on US 20One of the main things you need to be safe on the road is predictability. That means getting from Point A to Point B without any surprises. Whenever an unexpected incident happens, whether it is a crash, stalled vehicle, debris on the road, or anything else that could impact traffic, your trip becomes less predictable and more hazardous.

At the Iowa DOT, we rely on a lot of tools to help keep your trip as predictable as possible. Two of our core values, Safety First and Customer Focus, are put into practice doing just that in our Traffic Management Center in Ankeny. The dedic
ated staff monitors hundreds of roadside cameras 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and fields incoming calls from law enforcement and other sources. They then work to make sure you have the information you need by lighting up the message signs along the road and posting information to the 511 system.


But all of that incoming information isn’t enough. There are still gaps in the time it takes to identify an incident, get information out about the issue, and then work with law enforcement and others including towing companies to remove whatever might be in your path.

Here’s where you can make a difference.

Smartphones are extremely common and navigation apps are used by millions. One of those apps, Waze, provides real-time driving directions based on live traffic updates provided by the people who know what’s up on the road – drivers and passengers.

Waze logoSince 2014, we’ve been partnering with Waze through their Waze for Cities program to gather data, analyze, and use data related to incidents on the road. Sinclair Stolle, our 511 administrator, orchestrated the Waze partnership nearly a decade ago. “Since that initial connection, the public’s use of Waze and the amount of data we can collect from the app has grown and filled an information gap without allocating a lot of our resources.” Year over year notifications from Waze

Stolle explained that when the partnership with Waze began the data was relayed to the Traffic Management Center via email. “That was more labor-intensive for our operators than we wanted, so we were able to develop a data stream that feeds a dashboard that is easier for the operators in the Traffic Management Center to see and act on quickly,” she said.

Stolle said the information that comes in from Waze is from active and passive sources. “When someone makes a report to Waze through the app, we hope hands-free, the TMC operators can see that in almost real-time. If you have the app open, Waze can detect significant congestion without you having to lift a finger or speak into your device. This data goes directly to the dashboard in the TMC.”

While this “crowdsourced” data is very useful and accounts for up to 35 percent of the initial notification of incidents reported to the Traffic Management Center, it isn’t taken at face value without verification.

John Gilligan, a contractor with AECOM, who manages the Traffic Management Center, said, “Drivers and passengers are providing valuable information, but before we act on that information, we use our roadside cameras or input from other entities like law enforcement to verify the data. But those tips get the ball rolling and are very important. It’s more sets of eyes on the road that can give vital information that there may be something going on out there that will impact travel.”


Stolle adds that not all information transmitted by Waze ends up on the Traffic Management Center dashboard. She said, “The data that shows up on the dashboard is filtered to certain types of incidents and roadways the Traffic Management Center deals with like stalled vehicles, debris on the road, crashes, or traffic jams.”

Incidents reported on Waze

Ashley Hochberger from our Traffic Operations Bureau oversees the Traffic Management Center. She said, “Ultimately, the traffic management center’s goal is to help get incidents cleared up quickly so your travel is safe and predictable. The sooner we know about something that impacts travel, the sooner we can get resources to the incident. Having more information also helps all agencies better understand what may be needed to get the situation cleared and improve safety for everyone.”


Process-improvementEditor’s note: This post is part of a series related to our goal of “Supporting a Culture of Innovation” at the Iowa Department of Transportation. We are working to find innovative ways to improve processes, tools, & relationships to create positive experiences for our customers.

Richard - Waze is an app that you can download from your smartphone's App Store.

How do I download it?

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