National Academies Press: OpenBook

Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary (2015)

Chapter: Chapter 8 - Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps

« Previous: Chapter 7 - Resolving Differences in Data Element Definitions
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 8 - Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21910.
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Page 131
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 8 - Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21910.
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Page 131
Page 132
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 8 - Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21910.
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Page 132
Page 133
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 8 - Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21910.
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Page 133

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130 C H A P T E R 8 NCFRP Project 47 resulted in the development of an interactive web-based Freight Data Dictionary to organize data elements from multiple freight data sources, provide a method to identify differences in the data element definitions, and offer a set of homogeneous approaches for bridging gaps between the definitions. The study also identified examples from the literature of how freight data currently is utilized by agencies and researchers to perform public-sector functions. This study also supports four key recommendations made in the 2014 National Freight Advisory Committee (NFAC) findings on current barriers to obtaining available, adequate, and useful U.S. freight data. 8.1 Addressing the Barriers Identified by NFAC The 2014 NFAC recommendations to the U.S. DOT related to the development of a National Freight Strategic Plan identify barriers and corrective courses of action to improve current freight data. One critical barrier identified is that “certain types of data are reported differently depending on the mode of transportation” (NFAC 2014). NCFRP Report 35 provides guidelines on bridging data gaps so that differences in data reporting do not hinder the integration and use of the databases. Chapter 7, which offers methods to bridge data gaps, includes a specific sub-section (Section 7.7) that deals with mode-of-transport bridges and the differences within related definitions. • NFAC Recommendation B30 states that “data collection needs to be comprehensive, coordi- nated among federal agencies (especially with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (TSA, USCG, CBP), and complete by including information from all freight infrastructure owners and freight carriers to the extent that proprietary data is protected” (NFAC 2014). The research for NCFRP Project 47 suggests that it may be both feasible and beneficial for all publicly available data sources to be compiled into a single source, using a tool such as the web-based Freight Data Dictionary. Accordingly, NCFRP Report 35 offers guidelines on bridging the inherent differences of the various data sources. Such a compilation would serve to facilitate any future coordination among agencies by providing them with a single, common, and complete source of information derived from all the different databases. • NFAC Recommendation B31 supports the need to “strengthen data collection, including multimodal origin-destination freight flows, ports of entry performance, import bottlenecks and the repositioning of empty containers for exports. U.S. DOT should evaluate the benefit of purchasing third-party aggregator data to fill critical gaps” (NFAC 2014). The Freight Data Dictionary facilitates searching data elements and identifying gaps among the various sources. A third-party aggregator can utilize the Freight Data Dictionary’s application program Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps

Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps 131 interfaces (APIs), along with the information contained in this report, to automate the pro- cess of bridging critical data gaps. • NFAC Recommendation P12 states that “data collection efforts should be tailored to per- formance measures that are in line with specific outcomes that the U.S. DOT and Congress want to obtain with the increased emphasis on the multimodal national freight system” (NFAC 2014). This recommendation suggests that data collection efforts should focus on the nation’s multimodal freight needs. Chapter 3 of NCFRP Report 35 focuses on freight data uses and demonstrates how current, publicly available, multimodal data sources are being used to address freight planning issues. The Freight Data Dictionary also offers researchers and freight data users a medium to exchange knowledge of and experience with the adequate use of data for performance assessment and areas where upgrades can be targeted to improve data effectiveness and relevance. • NFAC Recommendation C8 states that the “U.S. DOT should continue to support the devel- opment of best practices toolkits for urban and rural freight transportation planning that seek to reduce freight-related congestion, air emissions, parking issues, and impacts on the health and safety of transportation professionals and the public” (NFAC 2014). The Freight Data Dictionary provides a medium for freight data users to discuss their findings and experiences with their use of freight data and related toolkits. Such discussions could include newly discov- ered best practices that can be incorporated into the website. Additionally, Chapter 7 of NCFRP Report 35 serves to highlight selected best practices in the use and integration of available freight databases to serve freight needs, and Chapter 3 provides some examples of previous uses of integrated and non-integrated data sources and the challenges faced by practitioners. 8.2 Future Steps To ensure the long-term sustainability and usefulness of a web-based Freight Data Dictionary, the research team suggests that the following steps be taken: 8.2.1 Updates to Data Sources, Dictionary Elements, and Methodologies The purpose of the Freight Data Dictionary is to provide an avenue by which information gathered from NCFRP Project 47 can be updated as newer data sources and methods for resolv- ing data heterogeneity become available. The Freight Data Dictionary developed in conjunction with the research for NCFRP Project 47 is currently housed at http://freightdatadictionary.com. The Dictionary will be permanently hosted on the BTS website, where it will be updated and maintained by the National Transportation Library of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology. Changes made over time in data element names and definitions will need to be tracked and documented. Recommen- dations by practitioners for resolving data heterogeneity will also need to be vetted before inclusion in the main web pages. Updates should be documented and published to enable others to keep track of data gaps that may still exist and also provide guidance on additional areas for research. 8.2.2 Inclusion of Private and Big Data Sources Data reliability and validity of nationally available freight data sources remain a concern. It is suggested that future updates consider the shift toward the use of relatively new and more reli- able ITS-related data sources, such as GPS data and vehicle-to-infrastructure connected devices. The private sector also continues to invest in systems to improve the collection of highly dis- aggregate information on cargo movement, mode of transport operations, and other facets of

132 Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary their operations. Dissemination of this information is, however, restricted due to privacy con- cerns and the competitive nature of private-sector businesses. The need for effective freight planning has led to discussions on data sharing partnerships between the private sector and the public sector. NCFRP Report 25: Freight Data Sharing Guide- book explored and addressed some of the barriers to freight data sharing and cited case studies demonstrating instances in which the private sector has been willing to work with the public sector to make this possible. Progress is also being made in some states and regions to cost- effectively procure more accurate truck travel data using technological applications instead of the traditional survey methods. In the case of truck data, several ITS technologies are able to collect salient truck travel attributes not previously available. As new sources of data become available, the issue of data heterogeneity will persist. Strategies for resolving differences in data element definitions from these new sources with the traditional sources will need to be further examined. 8.2.3 Expansion of Discussion Topics NCFRP Report 33 focuses on taxonomic, methodological, and temporal differences in the data, both within individual data sources and across different data sources. Seven main types of data elements have been examined: origin and destination, commodity, mode of transport, industry, imports and exports, safety, and units of measure. These topics serve as a starting point for data users to become familiar with the particular issues they may encounter when working with the specific data elements. Similarly, concerning reconciling, harmonizing, and creating statistical bridges to address differences in data element definitions, five main topics have been examined in this report: place name bridges, commodity classification bridges, industry classification bridges, mode-of-transport bridges, and units of measure bridges. These topics also serve as a starting point for data users to begin to reconcile differences in data elements that are commonly encoun- tered in freight data analysis. Although extensive, these topics do not cover all aspects of freight data. Additional issues, such as addressing heterogeneity in GIS data sources, resolving the issue of information reported at different time frequencies, determining which data source is most suitable for a particular task, and dealing with error propagation within the data sources themselves, remain to be addressed. It is suggested that future research further examine these topics and other topics yet to be identified. 8.2.4 Updates to the Literature on Freight Data Uses The literature review identified key studies showing innovative and unique examples of how available freight data sources are utilized by agencies and the research community. Most studies were, however, found to be limited either by outdated data or the availability of disaggregated data. It is recommended that information on newly published studies be added to the Freight Data Dictionary website as the information becomes available in order to provide novice users with more recent examples of how freight data is being used to perform public-sector functions such as transportation planning, congestion management, economic development analysis, safety related studies, and mode-of-transport operations and services. 8.2.5 Need for a Centralized Freight Data Repository A review of the literature on freight data identified additional sources of data utilized by prac- titioners from local and regional planning agencies, marine port and airport authorities, and industry sources. Data from these project-specific studies, though relevant, is rarely available

Conclusions and Suggested Future Steps 133 to or accessible by others on completion of a study. There may be an opportunity to develop a central data collection repository in which locally collected or project-specific data can be stored or shared with other users in the transportation community. These project-specific data sources will complement currently available freight data sources and will provide additional opportuni- ties to test or validate freight-related models. 8.2.6 Evaluate and Track Agency Data Needs to Meet MAP-21 Objectives As MAP-21 performance measures and targets are being finalized, a targeted review of database profiles, crosswalks, and statistical bridges could be conducted to identify key areas of data needs for setting and assessing agency targets. A review of case studies on how currently available data sources are being used to develop MAP-21–mandated state and metropolitan planning organiza- tion (MPO) targets for supporting freight movement could also be beneficial. In addition, it is suggested that pilot methodologies for compiling and analyzing data that speaks directly to the evaluation of performance measures be developed and further examined in future research. 8.2.7 Software Updates As in any software development cycle, there is a need to ensure that the web-based tool devel- oped in this project is kept up-to-date with current technologies. Issues such as browser compat- ibility, spam blocking, and security vulnerabilities will need to be addressed through frequent system updates. It is suggested that a dedicated system administrator be assigned to keep track of system bugs, perform minor fixes, and address requests from users. 8.2.8 Promote the Use of the Web-based Freight Data Dictionary The intended audiences for the Freight Data Dictionary are data analysts, modelers, plan- ners, regulators, and policy analysts and organizations responsible for the use, development, and implementation of freight models and tools. Research engineers and technicians at univer- sities and private research organizations who frequently utilize data also may benefit from the availability of a unified freight data element dictionary. Suggestions for dissemination include promotion of the use of this application in classroom settings to educate future engineers and planners on the appropriate use, limitations, and sources of freight data. A session during the TRB Annual Meeting also could be used to promote use of the application and to gather recom- mendations for future updates from professional societies and organizations such as state DOTs, city planners, and MPO staff.

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TRB's National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCFRP) Report 35: Implementing the Freight Transportation Data Architecture: Data Element Dictionary provides the findings of the research effort to develop a freight data dictionary for organizing the myriad freight data elements currently in use.

A product of this research effort is a web-based freight data element dictionary hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

The project web page includes a link to supporting appendices not printed with the report.

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