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Visualizing Vehicle Safety

Student Project Helps Prince George’s County Map Out Traffic, Pedestrian Trouble Spots

By Maggie Haslam

View down a road

Photo by Famartin via Wikimedia Commons

UMD's Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) program is working with Prince George's County on a dashboard showing where vehicular and pedestrian accidents occur on county roadways like Greenbelt Road at University Boulevard in College Park.

University of Maryland students are helping achieve the goal of Vision Zero—a Prince George’s County program to eliminate traffic fatalities—by providing decision makers with a clearer view.

A new online tool, or “dashboard,” developed by students at UMD’s College of Information Studies maps pedestrian and traffic accidents while equipping county officials with the in-depth information they need to direct resources and traffic enforcement. Launched last week, the project is part of an ongoing collaboration between Prince George’s County and the university’s Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) program. 

“We are ‘Prince George’s Proud’ to launch this innovative tool in collaboration with students from the University of Maryland, showing that we continue to come together as a community to find solutions to the challenges that we face,” said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “We know that the loss of even one life on our roadways is too many, and this will be another tool to help us prevent these tragedies.” 

The tool uses anonymized geolocation data provided by the county, in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Transportation, to visualize where and when pedestrian and vehicular accidents have occurred. Color-coded graphs illustrate fatal and serious accidents by time of year and day of the week, while maps show the locations, including information like the severity of injuries, enabling users to scrutinize specific roads or intersections. A heat map of fatal crashes visualizes incident rates regionally over time, using color intensity to illustrate accident frequency in different parts of the county. 

While the dashboard, which is available to the public, currently illustrates data over a four-year period, it is a living map; county officials will add new data as it becomes available. The student team hopes the tool will aid administrators in identifying trends and problematic areas for more strategic interventions, making Prince George’s roadways safer for everyone. 

“There’s a story to be told here,” said TJ Rainsford, a doctoral candidate and instructor in the iSchool who led the project. “Information scientists and other iSchool students like to be part of that storytelling process by using technology to put data into context. A lot of the work that PALS does has a social science aspect to it; this project is an example of how we can leverage technology to deliver better quality of life.”  

The PALS program has engaged Prince George’s County agencies for the past several years on a number of targeted sustainability projects, including increasing accessibility around Purple Line stations, stormwater management plans and a design for a local extension to the East Coast Greenway. This is the first PALS partnership with the county executive’s office. 

“At a time when municipalities increasingly face staffing and budgetary issues, PALS can provide expertise and new perspectives to enduring social, economic and environmental challenges,” said PALS Program Manager Kimberly Fisher. “Working within our Prince George’s communities is especially meaningful for our students and faculty. We look forward to more collaborations in the future.”



Schools & Departments:

College of Information Studies

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