2015: Communicating Transportation Needs and Issues to Targeted Populations

Why don’t they understand? Transportation professionals often find it challenging to communicate critical transportation concepts to a non-technical audience. While some have found tools, graphics, or just the right words to convey their message, research tells us that transportation professionals still face a largely uninformed public.

In 2007, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Planning and Environment Group launched a new competition looking for fresh and creative methods for communicating technical transportation issues with “John and Jane Q. Public” to share with others within the profession. For 2015, the competition theme focused on communicating transportation needs and issues to targeted populations.

Today’s transportation system is a complex network of roads, bridges, railroads, ports and airports, transit systems, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and more, affecting everything from the economy to our quality of life. Federal transportation laws and regulations require organizations to consult with and involve a variety of stakeholders in transportation decision-making. Successfully engaging stakeholders requires the effective communication of a myriad of issues and relationships throughout the decision-making process—from the initiation of a long-range transportation plan to project construction, to system operations and maintenance.

The public’s level of awareness and engagement in transportation issues varies widely. Effectively reaching targeted populations can prove even more challenging, requiring succinct outreach efforts and messaging to engage and connect with these populations and ensure that they understand and are able to provide meaningful input into transportation decisions and projects.

Five recipients were selected for the competition showcase for their successful communication efforts. The communications tools and techniques they used epitomize the spirit of communicating complex information in an uncomplicated manner.

Runners Up

Outer Powell Transportation Safety Project

Oregon Department of Transportation / HDR, Inc.

Outer Powell Boulevard (US Hwy. 26) in East Portland, Oregon, is a busy state highway running through one of the most diverse, lower income areas of the city. The lack of needed amenities, such as sidewalks and turning lanes, makes traveling the corridor hazardous for neighbors and road users. ODOT is conducting planning, environmental and initial design work to make safety improvements to this 4-mile stretch. Involving hard-to-reach and under-served populations in a public process is usually very challenging.  However, ODOT found a formula for success in multi-cultural engagement. Through the use of faith-based outreach, paid community organizers, translated corridor walks and incentivized cultural participation, ODOT is moving a difficult highway project forward, while establishing new community relationships and goodwill.



Spare the Air Youth Program:  Climate Initiatives for School and Youth Outreach

Metropolitan Transportation Commission / Bay Area Air Quality Management District / Alta Planning and Design

The Spare the Air Youth Program is a regional effort to educate children and teens about the harmful effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation sources. The program is part of a broader effort to find strategies that reduce GHG emissions to help meet California’s state-mandated GHG reduction targets. Through the use of various communication techniques, ranging from hands-on workshops to online guidebooks, the program seeks to encourage and empower youth and their families in the San Francisco Bay Area to walk, bicycle, carpool and take transit as their primary modes of transportation. Key elements of the program include: a website for students, parents, and teachers; a mixed social media strategy; and an award-winning conference:  Youth for the Environment and Sustainability (YES).


Honorable Mentions

LTRP Sustainable Choices:  2040 Public Outreach Campaign

Champaign County Regional Planning Commission

The Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study (CUUATS), an entity of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, designed and carried out an ambitious public outreach campaign for the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP): Sustainable Choices 2040. To garner local support, CUUATS staff redefined traditional public involvement techniques by meeting people on their own terms and providing a variety of input methods to engage different participants. Planners connected with more than 1,500 people through more than 30 different outreach events, meetings, and presentations over the course of the planning process. The most prominent tool in the outreach campaign was the LRTP 2040 Community Conversations Bus, a decommissioned transit bus that was retrofitted with laptops, a video projector, information displays, and a kids table.



Outreach and Educational Materials to Support Florida’s Aging Road Users

Florida Department of Transportation / Florida State University

The Florida Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy at Florida State University, formed a statewide coalition to address the safety, access and mobility needs of Florida's aging population. The Safe Mobility for Life Coalition uses a positive, innovative approach to strike a balance between safety and mobility to help Florida's aging road users maintain independence and remain active in their community even after they transition from driving. This approach carries through in the development of outreach and educational materials that support a broad Aging Road User Strategic Safety Plan. This helps ensure that safety messages are delivered in the most effective way to Florida’s aging population through a positive, empowering message: “You hold the keys to your transportation future.”


Competition Winner

Teens in the Driver Seat

Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Teens in the Driver Seat® is the first peer-to-peer program for teens that focuses solely on the leading cause of injury and death for this age group – car crashes. Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) provides the science, guidance, technical support and a portion of the programmatic materials, but teens are fundamentally involved in a variety of ways to constantly help shape the program content and delivery for this difficult target audience. Teens also are responsible for implementation/outreach and the education of their peers and parents in their schools and communities. Designed since its inception as a grassroots, community-driven supplement to good graduated driver license policy, the program has spread to over 1,000 schools and 35 states in the United States, and has directly reached more than 1 million teens.  The program has received more than 20 awards for program quality and impact and has been recognized as a national best practice for teen safety.


Stephanie Camay,
May 27, 2015, 11:49 AM