Ten Things I Learned at Transportation Camp ’14

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on January 13, 2014]

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TransportationCamp DC ‘14, organized by Mobility Lab, Open Plans, Conveyal, Young Professionals in Transportation, the Transportation Research Board, and the George Mason University School of Public Policy, took place Saturday.

With more than 400 registered attendees (totally sold out), the third-annual conference in D.C. (it happens in other places like Atlanta and San Francisco as well) contained more information than one person could process, and innumerable lessons as well. Still, I’ve managed to enumerate 10 of them, in no particular order:

1. The importance of being an unconference. TransportationCamp, as a user-driven conference (or “unconference”), has a collaborative and empowering feel unlike most other typical conferences. As Paul Mackie, my friend and colleague at Mobility Lab, said, “At most conferences, you simply sit and listen to speaker after speaker. TransportationCamp offers inspiration on some aspect of your work that you are currently trying to complete. There will no doubt be tons of apps and products that will result from the networking there.”

2. TransportationCamp = technology. The event – with a Collaboration Site and whose attendees and organizers undoubtedly put stress on Twitter’s and Google Docs’ servers (tweets from the event can be seen at the Twitter hash tag #transpo) – uses technology in ways other organizations can and should emulate.

3. Collaborate, don’t compete. The vibe at the conference was one of tremendous collaboration, unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Mackie concurs, stating, “One small and simple example came from the excellent marketing session. A signup sheet was passed around so that transit marketers can start a listserv to work together towards getting more people educated and excited about transportation options that don’t involve driving alone.”

4. Open up data, and transform organizations. The emphasis on collaboration and opening up datasets is built in to the DNA of the participants at TransportationCamp, who seem determined to transform the old guard of transportation agencies as well. WMATA and DOT (and many others from around the country) were represented at the Camp, boding well for the future of these organizations.

5. “It’s all about the share.” That line was used by one participant at a breakout session I attended on mobility management. The future of transportation is all about the sharing economy: for example, bike sharing, car sharing, and information sharing.

6. Our industry is underfunded. The bang-for-your-buck produced by “transportation demand management” (for example) isn’t a secret, yet I ran across many transportation professionals whose full-time jobs are unrelated to this industry, or who are only part-time employed in our field. We need to lobby harder for funding.

7. We are passionate and idealistic. The fact that many of us at the Camp were essentially unfunded underlines another important issue: we are people who believe in our industry, who are passionate about transportation and technology. And as cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

8. Marketing is essential but not well understood. The marketing session I attended, led by, among others, Alex Baca, communications coordinator of the Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA), brought home the issue that while many of us know how important marketing is, we’re a little in the dark as to how to engage in it. Aimee Custis, communications manager of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, shared some of her valuable experience (among others: include people in photos of transportation), and the above-referenced listserv means members of that break-out group are going to share insights post-Camp as well.

9. Infrastructure is important. Mobility Lab Contributor Kurt Raschke, one of the developers of the OneBusAway infrastructure on display at the event, explained this takeaway to me: “People are far more interested in end results than the elegance of the underlying infrastructure. Our challenge is to make infrastructure something that the average person sees as important and values, because it has a huge long-term impact on sustainability.” Rashke’s infrastructure is one that’s truly open, available as an API for free to developers.

10. Equity issues can be tackled with ingenuity. The intersection between land use and transportation and the way these affect equity and access are issues that keep coming up, but more and more are being addressed by people passionate about the issue. Capital Bikeshare of D.C., for example, is extending memberships to low-income and homeless residents of the city via a partnership with Back on My Feet.

The above is just a small subset of lessons learned at TransportationCamp DC ’14. What was an important takeaway you received from the event?

Photo by M.V. Jantzen

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