Thursday, January 17, 2019

My reflections on TransportationCamp

This article originally appeared at
It’s always fascinating to see what topics are trending at our yearly TransportationCamp DC unconference – where almost all of the sessions are picked that day by attendees themselves.
Last Saturday at Catholic University, about 520 fans of transportation braved the cold to dig into the weeds on topics and burning questions that they wanted to workshop and take back in 2019 to further solve.

Which topics were popular?

At TransportationCamp DC a year ago, Campers’ favorite modes to discuss were bikes and trains, with busses and walking next. There was a surprising lack of interest in autonomous vehicles, ride-hailing, and ride sharing.
But, from my back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the session titles (all listed here, and with full notes of most sessions), this year was pretty different. Of the 56 sessions throughout the day, 5 were primarily focused on scooters – which definitely proved to be in most of the day’s conversational thread. As far as modes, busses were the next popular with 3 sessions. Bikes dropped down to 1, airplanes 1, carpools and vanpools 1, and transit in general with 1. Unlike last year, there were no sessions focused primarily on rail. And AVs, which were less the talk of the town last year, seemed to bump up in interest, with 3 sessions.
Outside of mode, the popular topics were definitely data (9 sessions), planning (6), equity (3), policy, such as a session I moderated with Washington, DC’s Transportation Director Jeff Marootian, nicely covered here by Greater Greater Washington (3), and the public (7). Many people told me they loved the behavior-economics bent – trying to understand how people make their fundamental transportation decisions – of many of the sessions, especially the kind offered in a featured session in the Hannan auditorium by Duke Professor Maura Farver. (She also works at The Center for Advanced Hindsight.) Farver’s session was titled, “Your blueprint for mapping people’s transportation behavior and habits.”
And data appears to finally be having its day in the sun. After years of knowing that the transportation industry has mega-loads of data, it may now actually be doing something with that data. TransitCenter, one of Camp’s sponsors, was in the midst of releasing its Open Transit Data Toolkit, which helps even the least tech-nerdy people figure out how to analyze where and how people are traveling. And TransitScreen, another sponsor, announced that it’s working with OpenMobilityData to archive transit data feeds from cities all over the world as a way to help software developers make cool tech that will help people discover transit.
There were a handful of topics that had 2 sessions, including: partnerships, the environment/traffic congestion, transit cost and payment options, safety, and “fun” – meaning there was a session to play the planning card game Cards Against Urbanity and another for yoga.
The other topics that got just 1 session included parking, rural issues, and communications (down a bit in focus from previous DC Camps).

A handful of key insights from the Camp’s notetakers

One highly provocative session questioned whether there should be bike lanes at all in our streets. Session leader Mark Egge noted that infrastructure money is scarce, there are unclear safety benefits, they supposedly don’t attract new riders, and they’re often poorly planned.
Session leaders from the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance discussed the need for a “transportation report card, like that produced on the state of the Chesapeake Bay. Some metrics suggested for such a report card included convenience, seat utilization, FHWA and INRIX congestion data, satisfaction levels, access during “free flow” versus congestion (Minnesota Accessibility Observatory), cost, and safety.
Do you know what could fit in a 22 x 10 parking space? 75 people standing! That and other amazing tidbits and lists were discussed in a session titled Curb Appeal on what to do with our curbs.
Some of the solutions for scooters and bikeshares discussed in a session on broadening the user base focused on giving more access to teenagers and forming partnerships with high schools.
Among the bad habits that started to break in 2018 were the smugness of experts in thinking the public will instinctively adore autonomous vehicles, not demanding enough from transit data, and not realizing that cities need mobility managers. Those were in the featured session that included Calvin Thigpen of Lime, Tiffany Chu of Remix, Katherine Kortum of the National Academies, and Laramie Bowron of Swiftly.
And projects we should be excited about in 2019 include shipment tracking via SafeShift; Ford’s City of Tomorrow; pilots to find new and interesting uses for curbs; the public-private data clearinghouse called SharedStreets; Zipcar’s carsharing partnerships in New York City; equity-based decongestion pricing policy; the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle; and Streetlight Data for pedestrian, bike and transit flows. Those predictions came from featured panelists Chris Forinash of Nelson\Nygaard, Sabrina Sussman of Zipcar, Allison Wylie of Uber, and Courtney Ehrlichman of The Ehrichman Group.

Other perspectives

We’ll know a lot more after next week’s post-Camp survey goes out to attendees, but thought you all might like this early, and, as I mentioned, back-of-the-envelope content analysis. Along with our own coverage of TransportationCamp, TransitScreen and Street Justice also had some perspectives.

And a big thanks

From our venue Catholic University to Arlington County’s staff (largely consisting of Mobility Lab’s close partners at the Destination Sales & Marketing Group) to the note-taking volunteers provided by Young Professionals in Transportation and the student discounts courtesy of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), we thank you.
And to Andrew Glass Hastings of sponsor Remix, who helped lead The Human Spectrogram exercise (look for more analysis and dissection on that soon) and sponsor Zipcar, whose Sabrina Sussman helped us secure Marootian for a featured session (her story about how everyone needs to tell their stories about why they care about transportation may have been the event’s highlight), we thank you.
And to Leib Kaminsky, who helped Mobility Lab (remember, we’re researchers and communicators, not event planners) secure our best-ever group of sponsors, we thank you. And we thank the sponsors themselves: Uber, Zipcar, TransitCenter, Lime, Lyft, car2go, Remix, Bird, Noblis, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Swiftly, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), Young Professionals in Transportation, TransitScreen, the American Bus Association (ABA), Kimley-Horn, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and Nelson\Nygaard.
And last and most important, thank you to all the attendees. We think you’re taking transportation to another level!
Photos of me on stage as master of ceremonies, Campers brainstorming, and Campers discussing which sessions to attend at “The Board” all by M.V. Jantzen/Flickr.

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