Technology Helps Professionals Share Information and Engage Stakeholders

April 14, 2009

The reaches of technological advancements continually evolve and grow, expanding the depth of resources available to transportation professionals. Technology, as a means for clearly communicating complex ideas and solutions, is invaluable for collecting and sharing data. Researchers use technology to synthesize data in a clearly communicative way, and when made user-friendly this information can inform stakeholders and other members of the public to address their needs. Whether it's widespread urban planning or improving traffic flow along a corridor, many evolving tools are helping transportation professionals conduct research and present it in an understandable and meaningful way.

Web-based communication features, such as file transfer sites and interactive forums, move the Internet beyond being a flat mechanism for presenting information to a dynamic tool for exchanging ideas. The conference call has evolved into video-conferencing capabilities with the capacity to display documents and presentation materials on the screen in real-time. Within the transportation industry, technologies for understanding roadway networks and transportation plans allow for clarifying visions and demonstrating plans.

On a technical level, applications are used for conveying complex processes into digestible, and often visual, pieces. Today’s technology allows for a research tool to be employed for the purpose of presenting a project’s goals and solicit public opinion. A case in point: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) saw a need to provide a one-ride connection between Georgetown and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The central part of the new service was proposed to travel along K Street, a congested corridor just north of the White House and home to a number of large commercial and government complexes. The project team used tools that could simultaneously assist them in reviewing the plan while also providing an outlet to present the new routes to the public and gain community support.

Three-dimensional images and animation videos conveyed to the public and agency officials how a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service would operate and look. The animations were based on the microsimulation model VISSIM, software used to simulate multimodal traffic flow and illustrate auto, transit and pedestrian behavior and interaction in a real-world environment. The visualization included photo-rendered buildings, vehicles and pedestrians.

The eight-minute visualization video supported agency coordination meetings, individual business meetings and public outreach. This valuable tool allowed the community to see tangible depictions of how the changes would influence travel along the corridor.

Simulation tools, such as that used in the K Street project, provide transportation planners insights into how well proposed adjustments will operate, while helping laypeople understand proposed changes and provide feedback to planners.

Taking complex ideas to a level where the public and community stakeholders can engage researchers is a cornerstone of productive transportation planning and engineering. Ultimately, clear communication stems from a solid understanding of a subject and addressing an audience effectively. Rapidly developing technology tools and techniques can lead to enhanced avenues of research and communication.

Staying on the leading edge of technological tools and advancements paves the way for transportation professionals to gather, hone, and distribute information effectively and economically. The wealth of available and developing tools, such as web-related techniques, data collection and other mechanisms, is integral to supporting a progressive approach to operating and managing transportation networks.

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