Best Practices in Social Media

Lyndsey Scofield, an urban planning graduate student in New York City, tipped me off to a recent virtual workshop held by the National Academies of Science’s Transportation Research Board.  This workshop, entitled “Keeping up with Communication Technology: An Online Workshop on the Practical Use of Social Media,” gathered together 22 transportation professionals who shared their professional uses of things like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. In my experience, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) would not be the first group to come to mind when thinking about these more nuanced uses of social media tools.  Nonetheless, they put together an engaging array of presentations and resources on the topic as it relates to the transportation industry.  At least three of the presenters had been involved in MIT’s PlanningTech@DUSP conference this past January, a student-led half-day conference on urban planning and technology, so it is encouraging to see the insights of a few newer, younger urban planners trickling up into the collective consciousness of the TRB.

Ironically, I found one of the most interesting resources provided by the workshop to be “The Extreme Presentation,” a guide for developing engaging, persuasive, relevant, and action-inducing presentations.  If there’s one thing I have learned in grad school, it is that you either know how to leverage the value of PowerPoint or you don’t.  Most people don’t, and no matter how engaging the topic may be (e.g. a proposed new light rail through your neighborhood), poor use of a good tool will lead to a disengaged audience and a failed presentation.

The link between PowerPoint presentations and social media comes in their potential to create an impact.  The Extreme Presentation provides 10 steps, organized within 4 themes that produce this impact: politics and metrics, logic, rhetoric, and graphics.  Social media outlets involve each of these themes as well.  Outreach through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc, will be more effective if it includes a proper identification of audience, evidence-backed information presented in a way that is both relevant and visually stimulating to readers or listeners.  I know I could learn a lot from this strategy, and I’m happy that an institution as far-reaching as TRB embraces the concept as well.

- ­Terra Curtis


Capital Bikeshare (Washington, DC)

DC bike laneI’ve spent this week in Washington, DC at the annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) Conference which brings together transportation professionals from all over the world to discuss the state-of-the-art and the state to which it’s heading in the future.  Topics ranging from innovative pavement materials, livability, community involvement and many others have been covered. This afternoon, after spending all morning in a session about context-sensitive solutions, one of my colleagues and I decided to try out DC’s Capital Bikeshare (side note: check out this map of bike usage).  I have to admit, my initial experiences with the system left a lot to be desired; the first station we tried to rent from had a completely faulty payment collector.  We had to walk 4 or 5 blocks to the next station to rent from another station.  Had we not been so interested in trying out the product (after all, we’re here for a transportation conference), I’m sure this issue would have been enough to turn us away not only today but in the future as well.

Once we figured out the payment structure ($5 for a 24-hour membership plus fees for any rides over 30 minutes long), we checked out our bikes and were on our way.  Despite the below freezing temperatures in DC today, the rest of the ride was a joy.  DC has implemented new bicycle infrastructure all over the city.  And for the US, much of it is quite innovative.  On Pennsylvania Avenue, for example (see the photo above), they have arranged a partially separated, two-way bike path that runs down the center of the roadway.  This is supposed to avoid conflicts with vehicles that frequently pull over to the curb (buses, taxis, delivery vehicles), but we found it was still plagued by blockages (again, see the photo – that is actually a police vehicle blocking the way).  Elsewhere, we had to leave the protection of the separated lane to swerve around a taxi and a post office vehicle literally parked in the lane, without anyone sitting inside the vehicle.  With these new treatments, enforcement will be a necessary add-on.

With more studies showing that even minimal bicycle infrastructure like “sharrows” can induce cyclists to ride more safely, I think DC has done a good job to encourage and foster cycling not only downtown but also in the suburbs near metro stops.  Let us know your feedback if you’ve used Capital Bikeshare as well.

-Terra Curtis