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Highways England mulls GIS expansion potential

Neil Merrett Published 19 May 2015

Organisation’s use of mapping tools to inform ongoing provision of cycling schemes viewed as key exemplar to encourage further take up of the technology


Senior analysts in Highways England hope to expand the use of geographic information systems (GIS) within the organisation's operations to try and drive more efficient planning and working - though they believe more must be done to demonstrate practical benefits of the technology to stakeholders.

Data intelligence figures within the organisation, which is charged with overseeing motorways and other major roads in England, said there was interest in encouraging more colleagues to make use of data mapping technologies and information provided to identify key needs across its network.

Daisy Smith, a divisional management and regional intelligence unit (RIU) team leader for Highways England based in the north of the country, said that despite this interest, there was an acceptance in the organisation that GIS technology was not presently being used as much as it should be in order to address challenges facing staff and management.

"It would be lovely to feel that it is a really core part of the organisation, I think we are still a few steps away from that happening. As a result, maybe there hasn't been some of the investment in the technology we would like to see," she said, speaking in London at the annual conference of GIS provider Esri.

Smith noted that the organisation was presently using GIS information largely around highlighting areas in need of improvement, such as through schemes focused on addressing issues such as safety, congestion or cycling provision. Additionally, she identified the importance of the mapping technology in helping local authorities and other public sector stakeholders to better understand current priorities regarding road maintenance and development projects.

Bruce McDaniel, a tactical analyst with Highways England, cited the organisation's cycling prioritisation projects used to outline routes and other developments as an example where GIS had been fundamental to its overall planning processes.

"Using the mapping technology was fundamental to the project. I could not have done this without it, especially in terms of things like indentifying the nearby population within the distance of a proposed scheme with the number of cyclist casualties."

Using these outputs, McDaniel said he could then compile information in a spreadsheet and use the tool to rank current priorities in terms of cycling needs for Highways England.

"Had I not had access to a mapping system of some point, I wouldn't have been able to do that," he said.

McDaniel added, "Senior management have seen the benefits of being able to put the right resources in the right place at the right time, up against their in-year financial constraints, which is obviously most in their mind," he said.

Highways England has used the mapping technology to allow it to bring together a broad section of information including location details held by cycling charities, in-house accident data and figures from mainstream new sources.

Smith claimed that without GIS, Highways England would likely have had to rely on a single source of information to inform its cycle programmes, potentially reducing the effectiveness of planning.

"I think that being part of a government organisation, obviously we need to demonstrate the value in everything we do, which is right and if we wanted to purchase additional add-ons or software to what we have got then there would be quite a rigorous approval required," she said.

"This is an example to show people what we can do and that's when you can get people to buy into things - when you demonstrate it."

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