I remember in my university years getting together with a big group of friends and looking forward to going out to dinner, only to get frustrated when we somehow elected to use a purely democratic approach to where we would go eat. We all got along quite well, we were a group of university friends after all, but that didn't matter when it came to picking a palate.
These days, when I go out with friends or colleagues, I care less about the food choice. It's not that I don’t care what we eat; to the contrary, I love good food far more now than I did back in the university years. It’s simply that I've learned that no matter how similar we are, how closely we share our beliefs, how deep the love is between us, we’re all still genuinely unique, each with our own tastes and preferences. We can have sushi one night and pizza another, but we’ll still have dinner together.
This point is crucial to the philosophy of how we can all contribute to complex transportation management systems in our own way: Different stakeholders can look at the same assets with different objectives in mind and work independently of one another to pursue those objectives while all working towards a common goal.
It’s been called various things, but at its core it’s a unified transportation management system. It leverages a GIS (Geographic Information System) to represent an authoritative system of record that is tailored for linear transportation infrastructure assets that are managed by a dispersed group of people that each offer their unique specializations.
Through this system, we can approach “working together” a bit differently. Rather than all members of the team sharing the exact same philosophy and approach, we craft several interaction methods with common authoritative data that each align with the unique business needs of every group.
For example, if traffic planning wants to assign traffic counts to certain streets, they assign the appropriate AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic) values to the streets wherever they are evaluated. Another group may wish to assign future paving projects to the same streets, in which case they would attribute the paving project data, including milling, paving, material quantity and so on, to wherever that particular project was occurring. In this case, the traffic counts have little to do with the paving projects and therefore are managed independently.
Figure 1: Winter Level of Service assignment for a stretch of road. (Note how the assignment does not terminate at intersections and is identified for a portion of the road.)
Figure 2: Paving project assignment for the same road but at a different location.
With a Unified Transportation Management System, recording this information on a common road network is not a problem, since each group can use the location referencing method of their choice. This is quite different from the typical approach that Canadian municipalities take, where each group must first figure out how to translate the location of their information to a common reference method chosen by the city. If the translation of this information becomes a burden, then often this group may choose simply not to do it, or worse, manage it their own system, which can result in stale or ambiguous data when that data needs to be extracted and used.
A Unified Transportation Management System not only addresses the core pains of capturing information from various specialized groups, it also enables simplified reporting or extraction of holistic information for activities like strategic infrastructure investment planning, corridor analysis, or road safety improvements.
Municipal infrastructure management professionals are encouraged to work toward a shared goal, in this case, a safe, efficient and reliable transportation network. But the magic is that they all have to do it in their own way. They are not working together in a literal sense; they are building components of a shared success. This is far more powerful because each and every individual contributes their part of the overall accomplishment in their own way.
Some of us have been lucky enough to experience the power of pride and ownership in our work. A Unified Transportation Management System has the potential to make this phenomenon commonplace.