What is data really, and what does it have to do with our transportation system?

What is data?

In the simplest sense, data is a way that we can describe the world. It lets us compare the way things are now to the way that we want them to be in the future and, oftentimes, it can give us an idea of how to get there.

Good data can make difficult decisions easier and help us to measure the positive results of those choices. It can also show us where improvements are needed and what the most effective means of making them are. All in all, data is a tool that guides us, informs us, and keeps us accountable.

How do we use data in our lives?

Coloradans use data to make decisions all the time in their daily lives. When you set a household budget, purchase a new car or plan a family vacation, you look at existing information to help guide your choices about the future. Later, you think about the results of those choices and use that experience as new data for the next time that you face a similar decision.

How does CDOT use data?

CDOT does the same thing when developing a Statewide Transportation Plan; we start by examining a wide range of data—including demographic, economic and transportation trends—to forecast what type of transportation needs Coloradans will have in the coming years, and how we can best prepare for them.

We consider budgetary limitations, legal requirements and environmental restrictions to balance these needs with the realities that limit our options. Finally, we combine this data with the expert opinions of our customers—the traveling public—to make decisions about how and where to target investments in our transportation system.

What happens after decisions are made?

CDOT's use of data doesn't end with the adoption of the Statewide Transportation Plan. Just as important as using data to inform planning decisions is tracking the effectiveness of our projects and programs over time to demonstrate progress, maintain accountability, and ensure that money is spent in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

In turn, these performance measures contribute new data to the ongoing process of planning, analysis, and assessment that helps CDOT to continually refine its policies and improve future decision-making.

What does this have to do with the Statewide Transportation Plan?

Altogether, data helps CDOT to answer critical questions about Colorado's transportation future—questions that help us to envision and plan for the next 10 years and beyond. Some of these questions include:

  • How will demand for transportation services in Colorado change between now and the future, and how can the transportation system best adapt to these potential changes?
  • How does the transportation system support our state economy, and how can it continue to do so in the future?
  • With its current funding level, how well will CDOT be able to address the needs of the transportation system in the future?
  • What needs are likely to go unmet without additional revenue sources, and how can we best target the funding that is available to maximize the existing transportation system?

What does the data tell us?

While any individual point of data can only illustrate a small facet of our large and complex transportation system, combining and comparing multiple sets of data across different years, themes and geographic areas has the power to tell us a clear and important story about the future of our state, and its transportation needs.

To learn what the data is telling us about Colorado's transportation mobility, safety, funding, economic vitality, and asset management, view the interactive presentations from the Statewide Transportation Plan.