The 2018 Zephyr Agenda

So what is Zephyr going to actually DO this year?

The Zephyr Foundation’s mission is to advance rigorous transportation and land use decision-making for the public good by advocating for and supporting improved travel analysis and facilitating its implementation.

Zephyr spent most of 2017 laying the organizational foundation for launching a series of projects and programs in 2018. We now have a board, committee structure, bylaws, policies, membership structure and fundraising strategy. When our Board met in November, they also considered dozens of potential projects and programs in order to arrive at an initial batch to try and stand up in 2018. They wanted some projects that were simple, but necessary and several that they considered a difficult “reach goal” for the community, but with sufficiently high potential payoff that it was worth the risk. They also considered what projects needed to happen now because of funding or other situations versus things that could “wait a year” and not be worse for the wear. Above all, they wanted to make sure that it was a project or program that would help the travel analysis industry benefit society as a whole.

Unfortunately there wasn’t room for every good project or program that came our way…but don’t stop the project suggestions from coming and don’t be discouraged that your favorite project isn’t listed here. This is our first go at this — so this first round is really a test of our hypotheses about what will work well. We will learn and adjust along the way as needed.

2018 Priority Projects

Projects are governed by project management groups which are appointed by the Board. Most projects are supported via volunteers or specific project-related funding that Zephyr or a collaborator may apply for.

The programs committee will oversee and support projects; particularly as they are getting off the ground. Anticipated 2018 activities include:

  • Identify project management groups for selected projects
  • Help selected projects solicit funding
  • Create guidelines for being a Zephyr project

Programs Committee Chair: Eric Miller

Programs Committee: Leah Silen, Greg Erhardt, Billy Charlton, and David Ory

For 2018, the Zephyr Board has selected the following projects to pursue funding for:

  • general travel network data standards and tools
  • project and tool badging and organization
  • count and data management tool
  • transit and passenger network behavior and tool

General Travel Network Data Standard and Tools

Coding travel networks by hand is a waste of time and prone to errors. It limits:

  • The number of scenarios that can be run,
  • Leveraging of existing work, and
  • Access to most up to date or consistent information.

…and it is wasting a ton of money. Estimated to be tens-of-millions a year.

In short, it is limiting the efficacy of the resources we spend on travel analysis.

How would this project benefit the industry?

Cat coding networks. Image CCA Magnus Manske
  • The general travel network data standard has the capability of doing for travel network data similar to what GTFS has done for transit and the birth of the transit tech movement.
  • Complaints about poor data quality can finally be quantified and compared against defined quality and completeness standards.
  • Having a standard data lexicon and topology allows us to develop and use the shared tools validate, edit, version control and manage networks (+ the projects that comprise them). Git for transportation networks? Yes. Scenario creation and automatic conflict detection within seconds? Yes. The hardest part will be telling your planners that they can only run X scenarios because you are out of server capacity.

Why should this project live with Zephyr?

(1) Solving this problem requires buy in from a large stakeholder community spanning agencies and various industries. Existing attempts have suffered from “not invented here” syndrome.

(2) Is a big-enough effort that we need to pool resources.

(3) Need an entity that stays the course throughout project funding ebbs and flows.

What has already been done on this project?

Although bantered around in earnest conversations, the project was initially proposed to Zephyr by several community members in Zephyr’s initial call for projects in Fall 2016. It was discussed by a small group at the workshop “From Ad-hoc to Organized” at the 2017 TRB Annual Meeting and won the “project shark tank” at the Zephyr workshop at the 2017 Planning Applications Conference to become Zephyr’s first official project. The Zephyr Board applied for a grant to fund the project in Fall 2017 and are waiting to hear back.

As part of the grant application, we did assemble a small group with roles shown below. A project management group will be assembled once funding is established to move forward.

  • Chair: Lisa Zorn, Metropolitan Transportation Commission
  • Co-PIs: Jeff Frkonja, Gregory Erhardt, + Clint Daniels

Status: Grant applied for in Fall 2017

Project + Tool Badging and Organization

This project will compile useful tools and references so that they are approachable and discoverable. In order to encourage and promote reproducible research, well-documented projects, and approachable, open-source tooling, this project will develop “badges” of various categories and tiers.

Status: Draft tool directory exists (website; post); additional steps being scoped.

Count and Data Management Tool

Travel analysis will increasingly be relying on massive amounts of data collected using imperfect and inconsistent methods. Agencies and consultants which have the bandwidth for utilizing these data sources undertake a significant amount of start-up time in wrangling the data. Agencies without that bandwidth rely either on data providers who typically do not divulge their methods, or on consultants who often are doing the same thing over and over again, reducing efficiency. Some agencies have already developed open source tools to store and wrangle data and interface with travel models. This project would:

(A) create standardized data schema for observed travel data;

(B) build upon the SFCTA “CountDracula” data management tool;

(C) extend the tool to add a “Lab” which would add data fusion and cleaning features; and

(D) extend the tool’s visualization features to be more public facing.

Status: Working prototypes exist. Funding being pursued.

Transit and Passenger Network Behavior Methods and Tools

Many of the questions confronting urban transportation planners today concern moving people rather than vehicles. However, most advanced operational planning analysis tools still operate on the vehicle as the primary unit of analysis and use a geographic scale incompatible with the measures of concern to human-scale travel.

This project will develop and progress a research and open-source application development agenda to support these complicated modes.

Status: being considered by current collaborators as the next phase of an existing project.

Build, educate, and keep our transportation analysis workforce

Image: CCSA Owlchemy Labs

The workforce development committee will undertake activities to recruit, educate, and keep a talented and motivated travel analysis workforce stemming from and across a variety of disciplines and industries. Anticipated 2018 activities include:

  • Hold inaugural State of the Workforce survey
  • Create interdisciplinary fellowships and degree programs
  • Research current education gaps and hold tutorials and classes to address them
  • Develop a teaching tool library
  • Start an awards program
  • Initiate a guest lecture database

Chair: Leah Silen

Committee: Elizabeth Sall, Joan Walker, + Hani Mahmassani

Communications

The Communications Committee will maintain an approachable and professional front door to the travel analysis community, building on the existing foundation website and blog. Anticipated 2018 activities include:

  • This blog post.
  • Regular synthesis of recent research and discussion of research needs.
  • Regular communication of Zephyr operations, project proposals and ongoing projects.
  • Recruit and grow a group of volunteers to manage and contribute to Zephyr’s social media presence.

Chair: Mario Scott

Committee: Billy Charlton + Rosella Picado

Establish a strong organizational core

In addition to projects with more tangible outcomes, the Board is also committed to making Zephyr a strong organization that can be a steady constant in our sea of projects and funding cycles.

To that goal, we identified the following objectives to our 2018 Agenda:

  • Admit first 100 members
  • Hire Executive Director
  • Attain 501c3 status

Members are at the heart of the Zephyr Foundation’s organizational structure (see Article I of our Bylaws…we’re not joking). By becoming a member, you will help us build a tight-knit community of motivated travel analysis professionals, working together to improving our industry. We hope you will join us and become and inaugural members of the Zephyr Foundation by signing up today!