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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Transportation Equity for All

A graphic with several hands and modes of transportation represented

Interactive GIS Tool Available for Free Community Use to Visualize Residential Demographics and Transportation Data

The Challenge

To ensure all residents have reliable, safe, and affordable ways to reach jobs, education, and other essential services, transportation agencies and communities need the ability to analyze demographic information alongside transportation data.

But not every community has the resources or access to geospatial tools and data analysis expertise, limiting the impact data can have to enable transportation equity. 

The Solution 

To help communities integrate social equity considerations into transportation planning and operations, an innovative U.S. DOT Volpe Center team of data scientists, environmental engineers, GIS specialists, engineering psychologists, and environmental protection specialists built a Tableau-based prototype geospatial tool, Transportation for Social Equity (TransportSE).

TransportSE provides an easy, dynamic, flexible way for users to visualize, interact with, understand, and interpret national data from the U.S. Census on demographic metrics, multimodal transportation burdens, and social vulnerability. 

TransportSE generates color-coded maps that show different census block groups with several other key variables that indicate vulnerability—which users can rescale or customize with additional equity factors, transportation indicators, and different geographies. 

The tool currently includes transportation components such as transportation noise and car ownership. 

Screenshot of the Transport SE tool.
Screenshot of TransportSE tool, showing how users can select vulnerability percentages and use mapping features to show community demographics and noise levels. (U.S. DOT Volpe Center graphic)

How It Works

Beyond a static map, TransportSE is a web-based tool with an interactive interface that is easy to update with the most current data. 

Users can narrow down a specific region in the U.S. using the map selection or the State, County, or Metro Area selection menu. 

TransportSE then displays a map that calculates a composite Social Vulnerability Metric from the indicator variables for each census block group. 

The tool shows individual variables as bar graphs on the left and bottom of a user’s screen. 

When a user selects one specific in a graph, TransportSE highlights that selection on all the other visualizations.

The Impact

TransportSE is available for use now, offering a free, public, accessible visualization tool to transportation agencies, designed for ease-of-use with novice users.

Access to transportation data can benefit transportation agencies that lack resources for geospatial tools and data analysts. 

The tool can potentially bring insights into drivers of high or low vulnerability scores.

Potential Use Cases

  • Stakeholder Analysis: Facilitate communication between advocacy groups, transportation agencies, and the public.
  • Planning: Aid funding decisions, and enable long- and short-term transportation planning. 
  • Project Development: Preliminary NEPA scoping (e.g., inform infrastructure site decision-making efforts).
  • Operations: Inform ongoing transportation agency decision-making.
  • Disaster Response: Inform FEMA contact teams with advanced knowledge of which neighborhoods might need the most help.
  • Equity Considerations: Empower any agency to explore social equity implications of their programs.

Innovation at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center

This project vignette is an example of the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s culture of innovation, made possible through its ongoing series of Volpe Innovation Accelerator (VIA) projects.
As part of our rich history of fostering staff curiosity and innovation in line with the U.S. DOT strategic priorities, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center launched a series of internal team transportation innovation challenges, known as the Innovation Challenge, in 2013—refining as VIA in 2020. 

VIA encourages staff to take smart risks by giving them the space and funding to explore ideas beyond day-to-day, assigned work and collaborate with cross-organizational peers to refine, test, and try out their ideas. The ideation that results often leads to work that our federal sponsors incorporate into their own research and development efforts, giving U.S. DOT Volpe Center staff the opportunity to explore further.