For more than 16 years, Charlene Howard has transformed static numbers and data into dynamic maps that tell a story. As a Principal GIS Analyst, Howard brings COG’s research and reports to life through Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
“GIS is essentially software that allows users to organize, analyze, and visualize geographic data,” said Howard. “But the real power is in helping users see, interact with, and better understand relationships between locations.”
For example, GIS can be used by businesses deciding where to locate, based on data such as customers or proximity to transit, says Howard. Through her GIS work, Howard helps makes data more accessible, visually appealing, and easier to understand for COG and its members. Below are a few highlights from projects that she has worked on:
In collaboration with transportation staff, Howard developed a map to help the Transportation Planning Board study equity emphasis areas
As a result of her GIS work, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) at COG will use an interactive map that identifies “Equity Emphasis Areas” or geographic areas with high concentrations of low-income and minority populations to assess whether those areas may be disproportionately impacted by transportation projects in the region’s long-range plan.
“Now with the Equity Emphasis Areas map, people can explore the data more in depth by viewing multiple layers of information at once instead of one at a time as with a static map,” said Howard. “Anyone can zoom in to see information for a specific jurisdiction, click to learn more about the methodology, or see relationships between populations and locations.”
The TPB will also use the map to compare accessibility to jobs, educational institutions, and hospitals by automobile and transit in the Equity Emphasis Areas versus the rest of the region. Additionally, the map will be used in other COG and TPB planning activities, and made available to local jurisdictions to assist them in considering equity in initiatives, such as housing, education, health care, and parks.
She manages a database of regional transportation information
Howard maintains the Regional Transportation Data Clearinghouse – an online resource for transportation data, maps, and applications from the TPB. The GIS team collects and updates data from a variety of sources across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, including local and state governments and transit agencies.
“The data is open access to promote information sharing across the region,” said Howard. “Users can search the database for a variety of information from traffic counts to data on Metrorail, cyclists, and pedestrians.”
She supported COG’s effort to promote the region in attempts to land Amazon’s second headquarters
In September, Amazon announced its plans to build a second headquarters in North America, which sparked interest from jurisdictions across the metropolitan Washington region. To help members as they prepared their responses to the Amazon request, COG developed an extensive library of datasets and reports, interactive maps, and messaging about the region’s competitive advantages.
Howard’s GIS work provided the foundation for COG’s final product – a microsite that shows how the region stacks up compared to the rest of the nation, excelling in areas such as education and workforce.
“It is exciting to see your work brought to life through maps and used throughout the region to help inform our members and decision-making,” Howard said.