Can Data Science Fix Potholes?

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Is it possible? Might data science and data analytics help improve our potholed roads?

Applied data science is all around us. It’s how Google Maps can recommend routes to take with some ability to predict traffic (because other Google Maps users have tested those routes before you, and GPS tracking records and analyzes the speed of those previous drivers at different times of day and in various road conditions). It’s also how spellcheck fixes our words when we mistype or misspell; it’s how political campaigns apply their resources in the most effective ways; it’s how sports betting works; it’s how petroleum reserves and oil pricing is determined; and it’s increasingly a part of predicting tomorrow’s weather and broader climatic changes over the next 50 years.

Data science can be applied to municipal challenges that include potholes. Pothole.info was contacted by Kyle Polich, co-host of DataSkeptic, to participate in a podcast that explores where data can tell us about how things work, and, in some cases, how things can work better. Because information is power, right?

We touched on this in the past on Pothole.info. We’ve included stories about smartphone apps such as SeeClickFix and proprietary reporting systems out of Portland, Oregon, Boston, Massachusetts and elsewhere that help departments of transportation identify where the most critical pavement problems are. Under the right setup, public administrators can look at response times to pothole complaints, and perhaps correlate that with reduced accidents or fewer claims against a city or county for damages to vehicles. If data science can result in smarter, faster repairs at locations that affect the largest numbers of drivers, we count that as a giant leap forward.

Pothole.info editor Russ Klettke participated in the DataSkeptic podcast, along with Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix and Chelsea Ursaner of the Los Angeles Open Data Team. It’s a thoughtful look at the potential future of potholes and pothole fixes. We’re not there yet, but with billions of dollars of road repairs waiting to happen – and lots of accidents (i.e., injuries and deaths, plus expensive repairs) attributed to potholes – there certainly is an economic imperative to push these future concepts along.