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A consortium of groups, led by International Council for Science's Committee on Data for Science and Technology (ICSU-CODATA) Global Roads Data Development Task Group, is developing a digital, public domain global road map under the name Global Roads Open Access Data Set (gROADS).  The current version of the gROADS data set is available via the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). The longer term goal is to develop a global roads data set that is:

  • globally consistent (in terms of the underlying data model and attribute coding);
  • spatially accurate (~50m positional accuracy);
  • topologically integrated;
  • suitable for mapping at an approximate scale of 1:250,000;
  • focused on roads between settlements (not streets);
  • up-to-date and with the possibility of frequent updates;
  • well documented; and
  • freely distributed (on an "attribution only" basis).   

The gROADS initiative is sponsored by CODATA, is an approved task of the UN-GAID e-SDDC (UN Global Alliance on ICT for Development Open Access to and Application of Scientific Data in Developing Countries), and is endorsed by the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) and GISCorps of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA).  In addition, the roads data development activity has also been listed as sub-task EC-09-02(a), "Human Dimension of Ecosystem Utilization and Conservation," of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) 2009-2011 Work Plan.   Finally, gROADS is linked into the United Nations Spatial Data Infrastructure (UNSDI) through its adoption of the UNSDI-Transport (UNSDI-T) data model.

Background: There is an urgent need for a free, improved, and well-documented global roads data set among professionals working in the humanitarian response, development, transportation, biodiversity conservation, and allied fields (see Nelson et al. 2006). As a first step towards addressing this gap, CIESIN's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) organized a workshop on global roads data from October 1-2, 2007, at the Lamont Campus of Columbia University. A major outcome of the workshop was a strategy paper (1.1MB, PDF) that describes the steps required to develop and maintain an improved, public domain (i.e. free-of-charge restricted to attribution only) global spatial roads data set.

Another outcome of the workshop was the establishment of the CODATA Roads Data Development Task Group, composed of a number of workshop participants representing the academic, data, agricultural research, humanitarian, and corporate communities. The working group has developed an implementation plan for 2008-2010. As of January 2011, the working group was upgraded to a task group, with a number of new members. The task group has developed a 2011-2012 implementation plan.  See also the News & Events section for updates on the activities of this working group.

Those wishing to receive regular updates on gROADS, or to exchange information on roads data sources, are invited to sign up for the ROADSDATA discussion list.