You may be staring at a bunch of charts here and wondering “What is this Traffic Hackers thing?” Here’s a quick history.

Traffic Hackers is the spawn of a hackathon sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation last winter. In a blizzard. In 24 hours we built a very rudimentary model to visualize past traffic conditions and were able to have it work just well enough to win. Figuring that we were on to something, we started pulling data every five minutes and waiting to do, well, something with it.

That something has become this website. We’ve worked closely with MassDOT and their excellent open data team (MassDOT is one of the leading agencies in promoting open transportation data) to create this site. We’ve focused, at first, on the busy Thanksgiving holiday period, as we continue working on a more extensive suite of desktop and mobile applications. For Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on three main travel corridors: 93 north of Boston, the Mass Pike west of Boston, and Route 3 and the Southeast Expressway south of Boston.

We’re aggregating the speeds on these highways and comparing them to normal to create a “Misery Index” to tell you if traffic is better or worse than normal. We’re also modeling the future. In general, our model looks at years of data, comparing, say, this Thursday to last Thursday and a similar Thursday in October and June. For Thanksgiving, we’re looking at a very specific travel pattern, not just the everyday back-and-forth to work. So we’re looking back at data from 2012 and 2013, and current traffic, to predict what you may see down the road.

And how can you use Traffic Hackers? Well, it depends on who you are. Are you traveling for Thanksgiving? Look at our charts and graphs and see if there might be a better time to leave and avoid traffic. Are you commuting next week? See if there might be traffic at unusual times, and consider different hours, or maybe taking the bus or train (with people going off on holiday, the trains probably will be less busy as the highways are worse).

Massachusetts has a limited number of highway lanes. Our goal is to help you better manage your time, and help the Commonwealth better manage this limited resource.