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University of Southern California database project reveals worst roads in Los Angeles

The most comprehensive database ever assembled on Los Angeles traffic is now accessible to drivers, journalists and policy makers via a user-friendly platform built at the University of Southern California (USC).

Due to a data-driven journalism collaboration between the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC), the Crosstown Traffic project provides fresh insights on congestion, road accidents, and public transport in Los Angeles from 2012-16. So far, the project’s findings include:

• The city’s most accident-prone roadways;
• The most hazardous travel time (Friday evening rush hour);
• The worst interchanges;
• The least ‘on-time’ city bus (Route 733).

The Crosstown Traffic project is the first interdisciplinary collaboration between the USC’s Annenberg and Viterbi Schools, and resulted from a 2016 grant from the Annenberg Foundation. Since 2011, the IMSC has developed a large-scale data platform for acquisition, storage and analysis of LA Metro’s transportation with the USC Price School of Public Policy.

Initial analyses completed by IMSC’s associate director, Ugur Demiryurek, were shared only with policy makers, but he wanted to make the information available to a broader audience. Demiryurek found the perfect partner in USC Annenberg professor and veteran journalist Gabriel Kahn, who incorporates data-driven journalism in his classes. Data was mined from 17,000 street sensors on the main arteries and freeways across Los Angeles County and from transmitters on 2,000 buses. Undergraduate and graduate-level computer science students working under Demiryurek integrated, cleaned, sorted and analyzed 11 terabytes of traffic data. The IMSC computer science students then partnered with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism to discover trends, anomalies and patterns in the ways 10 million residents get around the region.

Together, the engineering and journalism students designed the Crosstown Traffic site and its affiliated customizable and downloadable data dashboards. In addition, the journalism students produced original stories about some of the most salient findings from the study. The data for Crosstown Traffic will be updated and refined, and in the next phase of the project, Demiryurek’s research will provide citizens with more accurate real-time, predictive traffic information. Demiryurek will also develop analytics regarding the impact of city events on traffic flow.

Kahn underscored the importance of transparency when it comes to traffic, an issue that impacts everyone in Los Angeles, and noted, “Voters in the county just overwhelmingly chose to tax themselves last November, in order to spend billions on new transit projects. But until now, they’ve had very little access to the data that will inform one of the largest-ever investments in public infrastructure. The findings have implications for everything from insurance to auto body repair.”

The IMSC’s director, Cyrus Shahabi, said, “We focus on data-driven solutions for real-world applications with major societal impact. That goal is well-aligned with USC Viterbi’s concept of engineering. Our collaboration with Annenberg is a great example of how the IMSC transportation data platform enables new developments in journalism, and provides real-life experience for both journalism and engineering students.”

March 28, 2017

Written by Adam Frost

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