Transportationcamp DC 2014: the “unconference” of the year

Conference Presentations, Northeast

by Sam Piper, Designer, Alta Planning + Design, Boston, MA

TransportationCamp DC 2014-3192

What if we approached transportation the way techies approach start ups? The result would be Transportationcamp: open, collaborative, discussion-oriented, and result driven. This is not your typical conference, where presenters submit panel discussions that must be vetted by a conference committee months in advance. Rather, Transportationcamp is an unconference. Attendees show up the day of the event and submit panel ideas by writing them down on a piece of paper and sticking them on a wall. To get a presentation selected, the person must think how they can articulate, illustrate, and convey their ideas on a 8″ X 5.5″ piece of paper the most compelling way possible. Stickers are encouraged, as are pictures, buzzwords, and bright colors.

© Aimee Custis 2014

© Aimee Custis 2014

© Aimee Custis 2014

© Aimee Custis 2014

The unconference begins with the attendees introducing themselves. Yes, all 400 of the #transportationnerdherd: their name, their job, and three spontaneous words. The next 30 minutes are then taken to brainstorm session ideas with others and to form on-the-fly panels. Groups and individuals submit their ideas to the wall, and the energetic conference organizers begin selecting the first two sessions of the day by choosing sessions that complement one another. All sessions are live posted on the Transportationcamp website, and attendees choose from a variety of sessions for each time slot. Session numbers 1 and 2 take place in the morning, and afterwards a delectable lunch is served on the house. While people are busy eating, networking, and having a generally good time, the final two sessions of the day are selected. Sessions 3 and 4 occur after lunch, and the unconference ends…well sort of. Attendees were given a free drink ticket when they arrived around 8:00 AM. Most of the herd goes over to a local watering hole afterwards to reflect on the day’s events, highlights, and key lessons learned. 12 hours of my life, at least at a conference, have never gone by so fast.

© Aimee Custis 2014

© Aimee Custis 2014

The topics and the presentations, despite the informal selection process, were excellent. Panel attendees did not sit in their chairs, heads resting on their hand, fighting eyelids from dropping. Instead, people were wide eyed and engaged. If you didn’t like the session, you were told to get up and go to a new one. The presenters were obvious experts in their fields, self-selected by their shared enthusiasm in sharing their knowledge with the group. The format of the unconference resulted in a collaborative atmosphere that fostered discussion and created a rich learning environment. It was totally worth $20, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 1 beer included.

© Aimee Custis 2014

© Aimee Custis 2014

So what did we talk about? Well, as you might have guessed, highways were definitely out, and bikes, peds, and transit were in. Fionnuala Quinn of Alta Planning + Design’s DC office jumped into the mix by leading a session that discussed the necessity to apply the progress we are making improving multi-modal transportation in cities to the suburbs. The session, titled ‘Quidditch Mom-Soccer Mom Smackdown: 90 years after “The Road to Happiness” and Re-engineering Suburban Streets,’ was a great success. People related to Fionnuala’s position that as a profession, we must not only focus on cities. Millions of people live in burbs, and we need to ensure that they have a choice of transportation options, despite the difficulties presented planning for all modes in low density, sprawling locals. Change is a-happenin’, and Alta’s commitment to helping every community have more transportation options is leading the charge.

Fionnoula's presentation card

Fionnoula’s presentation card

Most of the sessions focused on some component of multi-modal transportation—how to leverage data to make smarter transportation decisions or how to reduce the necessity to drive single occupancy vehicles. Overall, Transportationcamp is a positive reflection of an industry making a monumental shift, and which is beginning to unanimously adopt multi-modalism as its MO. The organization of the unconference is also a reflection of the changing structure of the industry. Transportationcamp is run just like government decisions for transportation should take place: open, with industry experts collaborating from public, private and non-profits agencies to help people move better, with the least impact on the environment, the most positive health benefits, and with an equitable distribution of options, all while being economically viable.

These are high times for our profession, and lets use this momentum to create more active communities across the county where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities. Big shout out to Mobility Lab and Young Professionals in Transportation for making this an awesome, affordable, inspiring event. See you next year, #Transportationcamp DC.

To check out if Transportationcamp is coming to a town near you, visit their website.

© Aimee Custis 2014

© Aimee Custis 2014

Photos courtesy of Aimee Custis (http://aimeecustis.zenfolio.com/transpo2014)

Nicole Guernsey

About Nicole Guernsey

Nicole studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara and received her B.A. in both English and History in 2009. After taking a couple of years off from school to ruminate on her future (and deciding not to teach) she got accepted to Portland State University’s Book Publishing program. She completed her MA in Writing: Book Publishing in June of 2013. During her time in the program, Nicole interned with Ooligan Press as a Project Manager for Write to Publish, and has since been hired as Alta Planning + Design’s Marketing and Production Coordinator.
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