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MassGIS Impacts and Stories

MassGIS serves a broad constituency including government, private sector, non-profit, and educational customers.

As you can see below, real estate, survey & engineering, and other private companies are a key constituency. Their use of MassGIS maps and services, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggests that resources available through MassGIS make it easier to do business in Massachusetts. Other states report similar impacts with their GIS programs.

The information below characterizes MassGIS' customer base, quantifies the benefits we provide, and details some recent success stories.

Table of Contents

What do people say about us?

On average, we receive about 500 general inquiries per year by phone (617-619-5611) or to our General Inbox. We provide written responses to these requestors. Here is how they respond to our detailed responses.

how people respond to our help in a word salad

We have detailed conversations with some of our users who come from a variety of disciplines. Here are some specific quotes:

Without OLIVER we could not do what we do in searching for future large-scale solar sites.  OLIVER gives us the parcel information, numerous map function, all of the information concerning a particular parcel of land, wetland factors, running water, topology information, etc..  It's all there, so at a 60,000-foot level, you can say this is a potentially good or bad solar site. …we do business in New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire also and these other states don't even come close to the OLIVER program we have here in Massachusetts.  You have done a great job putting this program together.”

Owner of a small Solar Installer, Merrimack Valley

shows Oliver with a solar facility
 Interact with this map

 

“In a world of connectivity, the commercial real estate industry is behind the trend of aggregating and organizing information.  OLIVER is a unique resource that offers a statewide approach for the management of information on real assets.  Environmental, political, flood, terrain, ownership, and more is all overlaid on a map interface.  We are weekly users of OLIVER because it saves time, connects otherwise disparate information, and, ultimately, [we] trust its sources.”

Senior Vice President, Development, Major Development Company, Metrowest

image showing how oliver could be used to plan for development
Interact with this map

“Given our size, geographical location, and income flow, we don’t always have easy access to resources that larger companies in the central and eastern parts of the Commonwealth may have.  Therefore, access to resources … via Oliver enable our company to continue to exist as a small business entity.“

Owner of Engineering Firm, Pittsfield, MA

Interactive elevation finder map
Interact with this map

 

Imagery Base Map, including successful 2019 project

Aerial imagery is the most widely used base map. In the past 20 years and at fairly regular intervals (2001, 2005, 2008/2009, 2013/2014), MassGIS has opportunistically identified and coordinated with funding partners to acquire statewide aerial imagery for use as a base map (many states have a more formally funded imagery program that follows a published refresh schedule and supports buy-ups for additional products).

statewide ortho 2019

In 2019, MassGIS surveyed its constituents concerning their interest in imagery available through MassGIS. Survey respondents by industry are shown in the chart below.

Users of 2019 orthos

In spring 2019, MassGIS partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to procure another statewide, high resolution aerial imagery base map. Funding was provided by MassDOT, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the State 911 Department, the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS) and the Massachusetts office of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

In mid-February, this new imagery was posted to our website for download, as well as being published as a webservice for use in web mapping applications and GIS software. Below are some results of an opt-in user survey pertaining to their use of the imagery: note that over 40% of the use is in the private sector. We know that many of these companies are small or mid-sized firms based in Massachusetts.

2019 Ortho users from survey

Who downloads our statewide data?

MassGIS distributes 100's of maps through file download from our website (or via web-services). To better understand our customer base, we ask users to respond to several questions before they can download several of our statewide data sets.  

The pie chart below shows the types of organizations that are using our statewide mapping of address locations. MassGIS mapped address locations onto their building location across the Commonwealth. This work was completed and, with municipal support, is maintained for its use in supporting 9-1-1 emergency call routing; it is the most comprehensive address database in the State and our constituents have found other valuable uses for the data. In 2019, there were over 100 discrete downloads and 20% of those were by private companies (excluding data services companies).

pie chart of who downloaded address points
This chart illustrates the type of customers who download statewide address point data.

The Standardized Assessor Parcel mapping program has come a long way since we launched this initiative in 2010. The project’s original purpose was meeting the address data and mapping needs of the Next Generation 911 system (NG911). From that success, we moved to funding enhancements to the standardized mapping so that it met municipal needs. With these enhancements, municipalities have transitioned to maintaining standardized parcel mapping. Since early 2018, all but a handful of municipalities have provided standardized mapping updates to MassGIS. While parcel mapping remains important for maintaining mapping used by NG911, a broad cross section of MassGIS’ constituents rely on this data. The statewide data was downloaded over 350 times in 2019. Excluding data services companies, over 40% of those downloads were by real estate, environmental services, and engineering companies.

pie chart of who downloaded parcel data
This chart illustrates the type of customers who download statewide parcel data.

Since its inception over 30 years ago, MassGIS has always been about open data. The taxpayers pay for the data development so we've always made it available. Many years ago, distribution was done mostly via paper maps ordered using paper forms mailed in with bank checks. With the advent of CDs and then DVDs, for a fee we distributed maps using that media. Now that Amazon Web Services has provided us with virtually limitless storage with no file size limitations, we can distribute our entire statewide vector database (almost 6GB and 200 datalayers) via download. In 2019, almost 600 users downloaded all the statewide data. Excluding data services companies, almost 30% of those downloads were by real estate, environmental services, and engineering companies. 

pie chart of who downloaded vector data
This chart illustrates the type of customers who download statewide vector data.

In addition to the 3 statewide datasets above, users can download any of the 100's of individual datasets from our data download page, or can package and download smaller sections of data using our interactive online map, OLIVER.

This graph shows the daily averages of data download of the other datasets by month. As you can see, users download between 800 and 900 GB of data per day. 

graph showing data download volume averages per day by month
Graph showing data download volume averages per day by month

 

Who accesses our online mapping tools, and how often?

Most people do not have GIS software so MassGIS provides a mapping tool on our website.  OLIVER (our OnLIne dataViER) provides access to the maps and some tools for interacting with the maps. In 2019, unique launches of OLIVER averaged about 2,400 per weekday.

line graph of oliver launches in 2019
This graph shows the number of OLIVER launches per weekday in 2019

 

So that we could determine who uses OLIVER and the value that it has to them, we surveyed users via a link placed on the OLIVER interface. Over 40% of the survey responses were from private sector users. Below are charts showing the types of survey respondents, and the importance of OLIVER to their work.

this chart shows to constituency of users of OLIVER
The self reported constituency of OLIVER users.
chart showing how important OLIVER is to users
How important is OLIVER to our users?

 

Statewide Assessor Parcel Map Viewer

Since the creation of OLIVER over 15 years ago, we've more recently been making topic specific online maps using ArcGIS Online. By far our most popular ArcGIS Online map is the Massachusetts Interactive Property Map, which combines Standardized Assessors' Parcel data from 350 cities and towns into a single seamless statewide map to view the property record of any parcel across the state. Because the City of Boston has yet to adopt our Parcel Standard, we integrate the City's parcel webservice thereby providing access to property data and maps for the entire Commonwealth. 

The graph below illustrates just how popular this tool is, averaging over 1,200 launches per day.

graph showing number of launches of AGOL property map in 2019

 

MassGIS in Action-Impactful Projects

GIS is a powerful tool for analysis. Over its long history, MassGIS has completed a variety of analysis projects for various agencies. These projects -- some highlighted below -- have often supported significant legislative or policy initiatives.

 

 

Crumbling Concrete Commission Mapping Project

Purpose: To assist the Legislature's Crumbling Concrete Commission realize the potential scope of a serious issue affecting hundreds of property owners

When: 2019

Partners: Massachusetts Legislature

In 2018, the Massachusetts Legislature formed the Crumbling Foundation Commission to study the financial and economic impacts of crumbling concrete foundations due to the presence of pyrrhotite. Between 1983 and 2012 a concrete plant in north central Connecticut used pyrrhotite as aggregate in their concrete, which, when exposed to water and oxygen, causes the slow deterioration of the building foundations. Tens of thousands of homes in Connecticut are affected, as are an undetermined number of homes in central and western Massachusetts. In 2019, MassGIS was asked by the Commission to create a map that showed the plant, all other nearby concrete plants, roads, and buildings constructed during the 29-year date range of the plant's operation. Obviously, not every foundation on those properties would contain the faulty concrete, but this project well illustrates the usefulness of having updated standardized parcel mapping data on hand for valuable analysis.

map showing areas potentially affected by crumbling concrete

Download to view a full size version of this map. 

 

Digital Services and MassGIS Teams Analyze Rideshare Data

Purpose: To analyze the trip origins of Transportation Network Companies (Uber, Lyft and others)

When: 2018

Partners: Department of Public Utilities

On May 1, 2018, the Commonwealth became the first state to launch a website containing data about rideshare companies. Informed by data supplied by the Department of Public Utilities, MassGIS staff worked with colleagues in the EOTSS Digital Services group to create maps and other content for the web page. Informative maps were created using both React-d3 (see graphic below) and ArcGIS On-Line. While rideshare use is, not surprisingly, concentrated in more urban areas, use is both much heavier (65 million rides statewide in 2017) and much more widespread than expected.

Map showing density of TNC ride origins
Density of TNC ride origins

This website has more detailed maps.

 

Boston Marathon Situational Awareness

Purpose: To assist the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency with tracking the runners along the route of the 26.3 mile Boston Marathon

When: 2016-Ongoing

Partner: Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)

In 2016, using a data service feed of runner locations provided procured by MEMA, MassGIS developed a runner tracking map application. This application enabled MEMA to display the aggregate location status (by segment of the racecourse) of Boston Marathon runners as they progressed down the racecourse. Using a GPS tracking chip interwoven into the sneaker laces, electronic mats at each mile marker can sense the runner ID from the chip and send that information to the tracking map application. Having this information available is crucial to help with the deployment of emergency medical and safety personnel as they monitor the health and safety of the runners and spectators.

image shows marathon tracking dashboard

Download to see a full size version of this map 

 

Value Capture Analysis Proof of Concept

Purpose: To illustrate land parcels in four communities that might be subject to Value Capture to help fund the expansion

When: 2016

Partners: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance

Value Capture is an approach to funding public infrastructure. Public infrastructure can increase property values near the infrastructure, to the benefit of the property owners. If that increase can be estimated before the project impacts property values, then the projected value increase can be taxed as a way of funding the infrastructure. This strategy was being considered to help fund the extension of the MBTA’s Green Line northward of its current terminus in Cambridge. MassGIS used current assessor parcel data and buffer areas around the proposed stations to tally current property values. Prior year property values were used to project future valuations.

Green Line Extension map

Download to see a full size version of this map

 

Wind Turbine Site Suitability

Purpose: Create a tool for locating sites for new wind turbines

When: 1999-2004

Partners: Department of Energy Resources

The most critical input needed for siting turbines is a map of where the strongest and steadiest winds are. In 2002/2003, Truewind Solutions, LLC produced maps and data displaying mean sustained wind speeds across New England. More technical details about the methodology and data from this project can be found in the final report Wind Resource Maps of Northern New England (5MB PDF) . MassGIS created an online map showing wind speeds at various altitudes.

Modeled wind speeds map

 

Subsequent work with parcel data and other inputs made it possible to make very specific siting recommendations by screening for setbacks and other site-specific constraints. The image below shows the results of an analysis performed to identify potential wind turbine sites on Cape Cod.

Cape Cod wind site map

View this wind speed data and more in an interactive map

 

Broadband Mapping Project

Purpose: To help provide high speed Internet service to under served areas

Time: 2009-2014

Partners: Massachusetts Broadband Institute

In 2008, the Governor Patrick administration signed the Broadband Act, which sought to bring high-speed Internet access to underserved areas of the Commonwealth.  One of the first priorities was gaining a better understanding of service territories and gaps in broadband service.  MassGIS created maps of existing infrastructure, and also created an online map using the Google Maps platform and a linked data entry form that prompted users to enter their address, and then answer questions about Internet service providers and speeds at their address.

Broadband survey form and map
Broadband availability survey form and map that was created using input from the forms

Additionally, MassGIS created several demonstration projects to help illustrate where the concentrations of potential subscribers live by using census data and residential land use data.

Broadband resident concentration

 

Finally, MassGIS created custom mapping to help illustrate priorities for broadband infrastructure development and its potential economic viability using census data and residential land use data along with existing infrastructure.

DSL population map

 

Co-location Study

Purpose: Combine State offices into underused facilities

When: 2011

Partners: Executive Office of Administration and Finance and Division of Capital Asset Management

A major cost-saving initiative under Secretary Jay Gonzalez prompted an analysis of the geographic distribution of state facilities and the potential for co-location of programs in different agencies at under-utilized facilities.  MassGIS developed a tool for budget analysts and others to support identification of these opportunities.

state offices mapped for co-location study

Download to see a full size version of this map

 

Watershed Protection Act

Purpose: To protect watershed land around the Quabbin and the Wachusett reservoirs

Time: Multi-year, beginning in 1988

Partners: Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Metropolitan District Commission (now DCR), and Department of Environmental Protection.

Waterhsed Protection Act map

 

The proposed legislation strictly regulated land alterations in buffer areas around the reservoirs and their tributaries in order to maintain the high quality of the metro-area drinking water and avoid EPA-mandated construction of a hugely expensive filtration plant. The analysis was primarily to evaluate the impact of these restrictions on future development, and mitigate concerns about the effect on the local tax base. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (who oversee the protected lands in the watershed area) have replaced the paper maps with an online mapping application that MassGIS helped to create to show the areas affected by the regulations.

View the data in this map interactively

 

Choose Growth

Purpose: Show Legislators what projects would be funded in their districts

When: 2013

Partners: Administration and Finance, Department of Education, and Department of Transportation

One of Governor Patrick’s final initiatives was to propose to the Legislature a long-term program of investment totaling over two billion dollars in Transportation and Education. In an effort to demonstrate to each Legislator the projects that might be funded, MassGIS was tasked with creating two maps for each of the 200 Legislative districts. One map illustrated the potential Chapter 90 transportation projects, and the other showed changes to the Chapter 70 state aid to public schools and the number of wait-listed Early Education applicants. Each map included an analysis of the funding amounts that would be expended within that legislative district.

image shows choosing growth in First Suffolk Senate District
These maps show potential transportation and education improvements in the First Suffolk Senate District

 

Transportation Modeling and Estimating Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)

Purpose: To illustrate the distribution of VMT in relation to population, transit, jobs and other factors

When: 2008

Partners: Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Registry of Motor Vehicles

To support Smart Growth land use policies, with a long-term view towards the development of a Climate Change mitigation strategy, MassGIS produced a very detailed map of the distribution of vehicle miles driven using actual recorded odometer readings from the Registry of Motor Vehicles geocoded to their registration address. This product was then used to validate a very robust model that predicted the VMT for any given location using access to jobs, population density, transit availability and other spatially distributed factors. Neighborhood density turned out to be the best predictor of miles driven.

Vehicle Miles Traveled map

Download to view more maps used in this project 

 

Buildout Mapping Project

Purpose: To support the passage of the Community Preservation Act

When: 1999-2001

Partners: Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Cities and Towns

Under the auspices Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand, MassGIS embarked on a multi-year project to produce a buildout analysis for every community in the Commonwealth. These analyses aggregated mapping of existing land use, zoning and other development constraints such as protected open space to show what potentially could be built in the long-term.

A series of four maps was provided to every community to help illustrate current conditions and then what the city or town might look like at buildout.

4 buildout maps for Abington
Map 1: Zoning & constraints, Map 2: Developable land with constraints, Map 3: Developed land, Map 4: Zoning

Download to view full size versions of these maps

In recognition of the effort, MassGIS received an award from Digital Government Magazine in 2002.
MassGIS award

Cape Cod Land Use Time Series

Created as part of the Buildout project, the maps in this time series show the dramatic effects of development on Cape Cod from 1951 to estimated buildout in the future.

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