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Transportation Secure Data Center Provides Real-World Data for Planning, Modeling, and Analysis

May 20, 2011

In ever-increasing numbers, members of the public and private sector are mining data and leveraging existing research to improve the credibility of studies, generate models, and create new tools for consumers. To meet this growing demand while safeguarding sensitive information, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the U.S. Department of Transportation have launched the Transportation Secure Data Center (TSDC).

"Having quality data is the cornerstone of any research task," said Jeff Gonder, an NREL engineer who spearheaded this effort. "With the Transportation Secure Data Center, NREL is working to securely archive and provide access to detailed transportation data—valuable data that have been lost previously due to privacy concerns—from a variety of travel surveys and studies."

The TSDC preserves respondent anonymity while making vital transportation data available to a broader group through secure, controlled access. This repository includes data sets collected by planning agencies from the federal to the municipal level, and supports researcher efforts to build accurate and reliable real-world models.

Valuable to Planners, Researchers, and Manufacturers
As the TSDC database grows, metropolitan planning organizations, universities, national laboratories, air quality management districts, disaster planning agencies, and auto manufacturers will all find material valuable to their efforts. This data can be used for transit planning, travel demand modeling, congestion mitigation, emissions and air pollution modeling, vehicle energy and power requirement analysis, climate change impact studies, homeland security evacuation planning, alternative fuel station planning, and validating transportation data from other sources.

NREL screens data for missing values and adds metadata to assure quality and supply context. Summary statistics provide an overview of each data set and highlight differences between them.

Two Levels of Clearance
Transportation data can present particular confidentiality challenges, because global-positioning-system information makes it possible to identify an individual from an "anonymous" data set. While detailed geographic and time/speed resolution make the data extremely valuable, associated privacy concerns often discourage collecting agencies from sharing it with other researchers. The TSDC's two levels of access make composite data available with simple online registration, and allow researchers to use detailed spatial data after completing a more rigorous clearance process.

In addition to system design and maintenance, NREL is responsible for scrubbing raw data for use by a wider group, removing any confidential information. The resulting cleansed data, which includes high-level summary statistics and second-by-second speed profiles (with latitude/longitude information removed), is freely available for download.

Detailed spatial data will be made available later this year. Interested researchers will need to complete an application process before being granted access to the data through a secure Web portal. Users will be prohibited from transferring raw data out of the secure environment, but they will be able to generate aggregated results. Software tools will also be available for database querying, GIS visualization, and statistical analysis.

Building on Success
The TSDC builds on NREL's extensive experience with GPS data collection and analysis, secure data storage/processing, and information sharing. Since 2003, the laboratory has hosted the Hydrogen Secure Data Center (HSDC) to support DOE hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell vehicle research. The HSDC provides detailed analyses, data products, and internal reports comparable to those available in the TSDC.

—Julia Thomas