U.S. DOT is challenging students to create data visualizations to aid transportation investment and policy decisions.

The Challenge

Informed decision making, based on sound data and analysis is a cornerstone in crafting an effective transportation policy and investment decisions. Data visualization can help uncover actionable information for making better informed decisions.  Data visualization is a tool for making vast amounts of data better understandable.

Do you have what it takes to apply data visualization for transportation investment or policy decisions?  The United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) wants to see what you can do!

The Data Visualization Student Challenge is sponsored by the U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Committee on Visualization in Transportation. This challenge is designed to encourage students to examine data visualization options for helping decision makers make better informed policy and investment decisions in support of transportation safety and / or economic development.


Submission Content & General Guidelines

Using data sets including those provided by the U.S. DOT, create a data visualization product that addresses critical transportation policy or investment questions related to transportation safety or economic development.  Students are encouraged to form teams and collaborate across disciplines.  Students are also encouraged to seek mentorship from subject matter experts within their school or from professionals within the transportation industry.

Challenge submissions are due on October 31, 2011.



The two best overall submissions will be honored at the 2012 TRB 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. which takes place January 22-26, 2012. Authorized travel expenses will be paid for up to one member of the winning team to attend the conference in its entirety and present their work. In addition, each of the two winning teams will be awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

The U.S. DOT may also feature selected submissions online within its website.

More Information

Please visit the Challenge website at http://dataviz.challenge.gov for details and official rules. Examples of possible data applications for roadway safety and aviation policy and investment decisions are included below.


Improving safety throughout the transportation network is the premier goal of the Department of Transportation. Safety measures include rates of transportation-related deaths and transportation-related injuries.  Many factors may influence these rates.  For example:

In 2005, 43,510 people were killed on our nation’s roadways at a rate of 1.46 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  In 2009, the number of people killed fell to 33,808 at a rate of 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009.  There are many theories to explain the source of the improvement including:  the effects of the economic downturn; manufacturers creating safer vehicles; success of safety campaigns such as those against drunk driving and distracted driving; higher rates of seatbelt use; and engineering improvements to roads and highways. 

A sample visualization topic could be to examine through data visualization, the impacts of one or more of the above sources on improving the safety measure of rates of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled between 2005 and 2009. 

The data visualization topic could also focus on local issues.  For example, drawing from local data sources, how have improvements on an intersection, corridor or bus route helped to improve safety?  If no improvements have yet to be made, can the safety incident data be presented in a way that points to what countermeasures can be taken to improve safety? 

Possible data sources

1)      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database: http://www.nhtsa.gov/FARS.

2)      U.S. Census database: http://www.census.gov/.

3)      State and local department of transportation data: Talk to your local DOT!

4)      Other data sources as you see fit.

5)      Reduction in transportation-related deaths

6)      Reduction in transportation-related injuries

Economic Development

The competition for transportation development dollars is fierce.  It is important for decision makers to know that their investment decisions will lead to positive outcomes for desired targets, be it safety, mobility/livability, security or economic growth. 

The impact of transportation delays on economic growth has been well documented.  In April 2011 a new rule went into effect aimed at curbing the practice of airlines holding passengers on the tarmac for long periods while awaiting gates or runways.  Since that rule went into effect, the number of incidents of excessive tarmac time has dropped.  A possible side effect of the rule has been an increase in flight cancellations, resulting in individuals potentially being delayed further. 

An investment example of possible unintended consequences of decisions is the case where a new runway added at a 4 runway airport may be anticipated to add 25 percent to the overall airport capacity, but due to added operational complexity, a lower level of capacity is achieved.

There is a broad range of aviation data available for application to data visualization.  In addition to the above examples, sample topics could include:

  • Explore the relationship between airline on-time performance and airport capacity utilization across the country.  This can be examine by time of day and/or geography
  • What is the relationship between individual flight delays and passenger delay due to late arrivals and missed transfers?
  • What is the effect of weather and the seasons on airline on-time performance?
  • Examine the impact of changes to airline capacity, air fares, oil prices, the U.S. economy, and the overall financial performance of the airline industry over the years.
  • Display the potential impact(s) of establishing a distribution center near a local airport on the local economy.

Possible data sources

1)      The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ airline information:  http://www.bts.gov/programs/airline_information/.

2)      FAA data source?

3)      The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ economics account data: http://www.bea.gov/.

4)      Other data sources as you see fit.


Data Visualization Resources and Examples

Potential resources:

1)      Google motion charts. (http://code.google.com/apis/chart/interactive/docs/gallery/motionchart.html)

2)      Geographic Information System (GIS) software.

3)      Graphics editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Inkscape.

4)      Other resources as you see fit.

Data visualization examples:

1)      New York City Taxi by space and time (by the New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/04/02/nyregion/taxi-map.html?ref=nyregion

2)      The Cost Efficiency of Transportation (by Jonathan Rivers):  http://www.billshrink.com/blog/4458/the-cost-efficiency-of-transportation/

 3)      Metro Late-night Traffic (by Erik Weber): http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/9279/what-does-metros-late-night-service-look-like/

View full rules

How to enter

There are two basic steps for entry:

  1. Create an interesting data visualization product and accompanying summary:  Select a topic that addresses the goal areas of Safety or Economic Development and create an interesting data visualization product that demonstrates support to decision makers for that topic.  The data visualization product should clearly display added insight in support of a given policy or investment topic.  Identify relevant data and build your data visualization. Develop a summary of your data visualization product that explains your topic, how data visualization improves understanding of your topic, and what conclusions the data visualization helps make.  The summary shall not exceed 650 words.
  2. Submit your entry:  Register and log on at http://dataviz.challenge.gov to submit your entry.


A panel of federal transportation experts will serve as the judges for this challenge.

A panel of federal transportation experts will serve as the judges for this challenge.

Judge A

Judge A

Judge 2 - JE

Judge 2 - JE

No avatar 100

Judge 3 - BG

Judge 4 - TS

Judge 4 - TS

Judge 5 - MT

Judge 5 - MT

Judge 6 - RK

Judge 6 - RK

Judge 7 - SS

Judge 7 - SS

Judge 8 - JP

Judge 8 - JP

Judge 1 - JS

Judge 1 - JS

Judge 9 - DW

Judging Criteria

  • Creativity and aesthetics of data visualization
    Like artwork, data visualization products should be designed to capture the attention of the reader through creative use of visuals, layout, and animations (if applicable). How original and attractive is the data visualization product?
  • Success in translating multiple data sets into relevant visual information
    At the core of data visualization is its potential to synthesize multiple, large datasets to deliver relevant and actionable information to the reader in a visually compelling way. How well does the data visualization product accomplish this?
  • Relevance to the goal areas of better understanding policy or investment problems related to transportation safety or economic development
    Does the author’s submission contribute to a potential policy or investment issue in transportation safety or economic development?
  • Demonstrated value in assisting decision makers
    Does the information presented in the data visualization product and summary shed new light on a transportation issue that otherwise would not have been seen?