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Webinar 19
City of High Point (NC) Transportation Department’s Innovative Sign Inventory and Management

August 22, 2013

Summary of the Federal Highway Administration’s Quarterly Webinar: Applications of Geospatial Technologies in Transportation


These notes provide a summary of the PowerPoint presentation discussed during the webinar and detail the question and answer session that followed the presentation.

The presentation is available upon request from the webinar speaker, Gwen Ford (Gwen.Ford@highpointnc.gov).

The webinar recording is available at: https://connectdot.connectsolutions.com/p5l0tq7mev3/.

Presenters

Gwen Ford
Transportation GIS Planner
City of High Point, NC
Gwen.Ford@highpointnc.gov

Blake Langland
President
Design Information Technology Inc.
BLangland@designinfotech.com

Participants

Approximately 66 participants attended the webinar.

Introduction to Presentations

Mark Sarmiento of FHWA thanked participants for joining the webinar. This webinar was the nineteenth in a quarterly series of FHWA-sponsored webinars. The series deals with the application of geographic information systems (GIS) and other geospatial technologies to transportation. This webinar focused on the City of High Point, North Carolina's in-house development of an innovative sign inventory and use of a sign management tool called “TEAMS.”

Presentation

Gwen Ford, Transportation GIS Planner at the City of High Point, described how new FHWA requirements for sign retroreflectivity motivated the City of High Point to develop a web-based inventory and later adopt a management system for the City's traffic signs.

Background
FHWA updated its traffic sign retroreflectivity requirements in 2009. The requirements directed agencies to develop a management method to assess sign retroreflectivity by 2012 and to replace all signs failing to meet new requirements by 2018. In 2012, the requirements were changed, only requiring the development of a management method to assess regulatory and warning sign retroreflectivity by 2014.

Prior to the new requirements, the City of High Point maintained signs by having staff work overtime during the evenings to identify substandard stop and yield signs using truck headlights. This method was costly and time-consuming, with staff members being able to replace roughly 26 signs per month. The City also inventoried its signs using a card file system, which provided the street name, an installation date, and description of reason for installation for every sign.

Online Traffic Sign Inventory Development
The City decided it needed to develop a more efficient inventory system to comply with FHWA's requirements. The City wanted an online management application, and it debated whether to purchase an out-of-the-box software, or to develop its own tool. It eventually decided to build its own application for a number of reasons, including:

  • Cost. The City already had an enterprise license agreement with Esri. Choosing an outside vendor would have required purchasing additional software, and in many cases paying an annual license fee per computer.
  • Design. Many of the pre-built software available were designed by engineers for those with engineering backgrounds versus those with signage expertise.
  • Data ownership. Some of the third-party software contracts gave ownership of sign data to the vendor. If the City then wanted to transfer the data to another software, for example, it would have to purchase the data back from the vendor.
  • Training. The City decided that developing a custom inventory in-house would reduce time necessary to train staff on the system.

After choosing to develop a custom inventory, the City decided to develop an Internet application using ArcGIS application programming interface (API) for FLEX1 using air cards2 and laptops instead of GPS units to locate each sign. Using FLEX and laptops ensured any data collected in the field would be updated in real-time directly to the server, unlike GPS which would have to be downloaded later and potentially post-processed for accuracy. GPS also can lose signal in areas with tall obstructions, such as downtowns or forests.

Online Traffic Sign Inventory Demonstration
Ms. Ford gave a live demonstration of the online inventory FLEX application. The application includes a basemap, using a three-inch resolution aerial imagery that the City had purchased, and a form that allows users to input sign attribute data, such as street name, assembly (groupings of signs to one post), sign type, sheeting type, sign size, and support type and size. Users input these data, and then add a dot symbol to the map that represents the sign. Each type of sign has a different symbol on the map that can be easily viewed when zoomed in. There is one dot per sign face, but the system will also allow users to denote assemblies. The City is willing to share the FLEX code and ArcGIS symbology style for this application if anyone would like to replicate the application.

Online Traffic Sign Management System: TEAMS
Using the new online inventory, the City inventoried all 22,470 traffic signs in a 95-square mile area within five months. The City identified 355 stops signs and 187 yield signs to replace based on the new retroreflectivity requirements, which sign personnel were able to replace at an average rate of 120 signs/month. In addition to the stops and yields, over 50 percent of the City's signs also needed to be replaced.

The City found incorporating work history and pertinent documents (e.g. road plans, accident reports, etc.) into the sign inventory using Esri products to be cumbersome. In order to better manage the signs and track work history, the City decided to use the Transportation Engineering Asset Management System (TEAMS), a sign management Internet application developed by Design Information Technology that runs on Microsoft Silverlight, a free development tool. The online sign inventory the City had developed was easily exported from ArcGIS into TEAMS. Although TEAMS does not use Esri technology, sign data can be exported to ArcGIS in order to produce maps and conduct spatial analyses

TEAMS was originally designed to manage traffic signaling with only a small sign component, but Design Information Technology has since expanded the system to provide a complete and robust sign management tool. Although High Point has over 22,000 signs in the system, using TEAMS has been affordable for the City because cost is calculated based on the number of locations entered instead of the number of signs. As many of the City's signs are grouped into assemblies, the City has entered less than 17,000 locations. The City only pays $1,700 per year for the use of TEAMS.

In retrospect, had the City known about TEAMS' capabilities, it would have collected the sign inventory in TEAMS instead of FLEX. Using TEAMS would have saved the City time, as it comes with a complete sign database and symbology with attribute defaults making data collection more efficient, uses Bing maps which would have automatically filled in the street names for each sign's location description, and uses Bing aerial imagery which would have eliminated the need to spend a significant amount of time caching each zoom level for the City's aerial photography. In addition, staff would also have been able to add custom signs instantly during collection with TEAMS, instead of waiting to return to the office to update the sign list, symbology and refresh the FLEX application.

TEAMS Demonstration
Ms. Ford demonstrated how TEAMS is used on a daily basis. For example, if a user is trying to find a particular sign, he/she can type in the street name and the application will highlight all individual signs and sign assemblies on that street.

Users can upload documents associated with a particular sign and can add a “trouble ticket” to a sign to describe an issue with that sign. The user can record what the issue is, such as graffiti or damage, and who reported it, and assign it to staff to address. Once the trouble ticket is saved, the assigned staff member receives a notification email.

Question and Answer Session

Have you heard whether Esri will support FLEX in the future?
We have not heard that ESRI will not be supporting FLEX.

Did you encounter disconnected editing conditions and, if so, how did you account for this?
We did not have many issues with connections despite working in Verizon's 3G. When Verizon started to transition to 4G, we were unable to get reliable connection in the field, so we plotted the signs on paper maps instead. We later added this information into the application from our desktops.

Do you plan to use the TEAMS system to collect and organize asset information other than sign information?
We would like to use it for traffic signals in the future.

What are the various sizes of the signs the City has inventoried?
We have a wide variety of sign sizes, but we can enter any dimension necessary into TEAMS.

TEAMS seems very similar to Cityworks. Are you familiar with Cityworks and, if so, how does it compare?
We saw a demonstration of Cityworks, but in our view the sign component would not meet our current needs. At approximately 10 cents per location, TEAMS was cost effective for the City.

Can TEAMS keep track of traffic signals and keep timing attributes?
TEAMS can keep timing signals, and users can upload as much data to the system as they want. TEAMS is a cloud solution.

What is the difference between “cost per location” and “cost per sign?”
The tree symbols in the system, which is how TEAMS records assemblies, count as one location (or $0.10). In the database, a user can enter in an individual sign, and then add it to an assembly where appropriate. So although High Point has over 22,000 signs, the signs are at less than 17,000 locations. The City only pays $1,700 per year for the use of TEAMS.

How much does ArcGIS API for FLEX cost?
FLEX is part of the ArcGIS package the City subscribes to, so use of FLEX is rolled into the overall cost.

How much did it cost to collect the data?
Seven sign personnel worked eight hours per day, three days a week for five months to collect the data.

Who do we request to get the “code” to try out the sign inventory application?
Participants should feel free to contact James Vogl, at james.vogl@highpointnc.gov or (336) 883-3391. Design Information Technology will also provide a free test run of TEAMS. Anyone interested in trying the tool should contact Blake Langland, blangland@designinfotech.com, or (803) 673-0046.


ArcGIS API for FLEX is an application building tool developed by Esri. For more information, see https://developers.arcgis.com/en/flex/.
Aircards plug into a laptop and give access to high speed wireless broadband Internet.

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