Transportation Analysis in the Information Age
A White Paper

Iguana, Inc.
May 1998


Changes in the capabilities and potential applications of computer software and hardware offer significant opportunities for both improvement and economics in the conduct of transportation related analyses. Two of the most significant developments in this regard are:

• the development of a widely supported graphical user interface (GUI) to simplify use of computers for such analyses; and,

• the communications and remote access capabilities now available through the Internet and, more specifically, the World Wide Web (WWW).

Iguana Incorporated has developed our flagship product, IguanaSpace and it’s extension, IguanaWebWorks to help transportation planners and engineers take advantage of these new computer capabilities. The purpose of this white paper is to illustrate how new aspects of information technology offer new opportunities for transportation analysis.


Expanding Our Horizons

Traditionally, transportation analysts have been faced with the problem of utilizing many different software packages, all of them having different interfaces. Some of the legacy software long in use for activities such as travel demand forecasting and air emissions forecasting still utilize what are largely script and control file based interfaces. Locally developed software for custom applications often have their own unique interfaces. More up to date packages include Windows or similar GUI based interfaces. Often, complex projects may involve using all of these types of software in combination.

From a management perspective, this complicates the issues of staff training and retraining and, with the attendant investment in staff experience in a particular package and interface, limits consideration of new, improved software and related capabilities that may appear in the marketplace. Although it is impossible to replace application and vendor specific interfaces, Iguana has set out to provide tools to group and coordinate the use of these interfaces in a more organized and centralized manner.

IguanaSpace belongs to a family of software designed specifically to provide a consistent interface for the full range of applications it is utilized to invoke. Also, IguanaSpace includes tools to customize the look, feel and operational capabilities of itself offering the user a means to develop and implement an interface specific to a project and their unique working requirements (Figure 1).

Figure 1

The tools to develop such an interface include:

• The Menu Builder which allows the user to customize menus to both submit tasks for background execution and run interactive programs;

• The Script Alias facility which in addition to providing a standard library of file manipulation and task management functions allows the user to create their own alias definitions to simplify development of task processing scripts;

• The Profile and Panel Editors which allow the user to define global variables for use in script and menu event definition. The Panel Editor also allows the user to develop project specific lists of variables for easy access when invoking particular functions;

• A full hypertext and expandable Help facility which, in addition to online help specifically for IguanaSpace, allows the user to invoke his own application specific help functions through the IguanaSpace help menu.

For the project or group manager, the importance of these tools is:

• First, that an interface can be developed specifically suited to the requirements and working style of project staff;

• Second, that problems of training and retraining can be mitigated by use of a consistent, locally specified interface independent of both the tools and software being utilized; and,

• Third, adoption of new software or procedures can be more easily accommodated within the existing interface structure.

Iguana remains committed to enhancing the IguanaSpace interface with access to the latest developments and new capabilities in software as they become available. The emphasis on provision of an effective interface instead of on accommodating the operational characteristics of applications software ensures that such capabilities will be implemented to provide the greatest range of support and in the most flexible manner possible.


Doing Business Everywhere

While the advent of the graphical Windows style interface has revolutionized the use of personal computers by making them more accessible and eliminating many of the technical barriers to their use by the less technical user, the rise of the Internet and the associated remote access capabilities, including easy to use World Wide Web browser software, email and other facilities, has begun to change the perception of separation and distance. Already, the Internet, particularly in technical and scientific fields, is widely used for coordinated far-flung project participants and activities.

Iguana is strongly committed to the Internet as a means to manage our own company operations, distribute information to both our users and potential clients and to provide new capabilities in the area of process and task distribution for transportation agencies and organizations.

Our latest achievement in this area is the development of IguanaWebWorks (IWW). IWW allows the implementation of a client-server environment to provide remote task invocation of transportation analysis software over the World Wide Web. This is done by utilizing paired client and server processes which through a standard web browser interface allow invocation of application task scripts stored on a web server (Figure 2). Through this facility, a remote user can:

• request a display of menus stored on the server specific to his project;

• submit a task execution request by selecting desired functions from the menus;

• receive output at a local PC and, through the application task script, have the output displayed or processed using local software.

Figure 2

Process Overview

This environment provides a number of advantages compared to simple local execution by the user. Since data, applications scripts and applications software are centrally located, the agency or organization is assured that the versions of the source data being processed, as well as, software and software application instructions will be current and consistent. This also eliminates the problems and issues associated with distribution of software, procedures and parameters to remotely located sites. Similarly, remote invocation of centrally maintained and defined menu interfaces ensures consistency of interfaces for all users and helps mitigate issues related to provision of applications support. In many organizations, this is significant, due to the already identified need to centralize applications and software support.

From the manager’s perspective, a significant benefit of using such a distributed environment is flexibility in utilization of technical and professional resources and potential new opportunities for outsourcing regardless of geographic location.

In essence, the work process model provided by IWW minimizes the impacts of location and geography on a manager’s choices of approach and options. With IWW, more efficient and appropriate utilization of a staff and contract resource pool becomes a viable option and many problems associated with proliferation of software, data and supporting data sets can potentially be eliminated.


An Example

To illustrate some of the advantages of the IguanaSpace and IguanaWebWorks approach, we will examine how these tools are being applied in the context of a university research project in the United Kingdom. This project, named PLUTO-E (Property - Land Use - TranspOrtation - Energy) seeks to examine comprehensive energy impacts of transportation and property development policies in the Belfast, Northern Ireland area. To accomplish these objectives a number of different software resources are being brought together including:

• a geographic information system;

• a land use forecasting system;

• a multimodal travel demand model;

• a mobile energy consumption and air emissions model;

• a statistical model of domestic and static source energy consumption.

As part of the project, to assist university research staff in effectively performing the required analyses, a custom IguanaSpace interface is being developed to support specification and use of all of these models in a common environment. In the case of the geographic information system, which has the most sophisticated interface of the above applications, IguanaSpace will be utilized to allow access to the GIS capabilities through an interface specifically designed for the project and supporting parallel access to related capabilities. In addition, the scripting and global variable definition and editing capabilities will be utilized to specify start up and task specific parameters for the GIS wherever feasible.

The remote access and task invocation capabilities of IguanaWebWorks will also be utilized to support Iguana’s involvement in the project for our US based offices and participation of university staff in both London and the University of Leeds. The "modelling chain" for the above applications and the associated applications scripts will be fully accessible for execution from all remote locations. In addition, model task results generated on the Belfast server by remote users will be available for downloading display and analysis through IguanaWebWorks. Menus and scripts used with IguanaSpace will support both local and remote modelling activities.

The hardware and software to support these facilities includes a 266 MHz Intel PC running the Windows NT 4.0 Workstation operating system, Microsoft’s Personal Web Server software and any standard web browser on the remote user’s local PC.


Closing Remarks

New capabilities and facilities in information technology are changing, not just the tools we use, but potentially the way the way we do business. In the context of transportation analysis, this means new opportunities to control and standardize operating procedures and to perform studies and analyses. Also, these new perspectives offer both greater latitude in the choice and implementation of the tools we use to perform specific tasks and allow consideration of fresh options and innovative approaches to staffing and resource allocation. Iguana supports this through providing a new set of software tools to improve the quality and flexibility of the user interface and to support an Internet based client server processing model.