A camp that does not require or supply duffel bags, trunks, bunks, tents, swim instruction, or counselors, Transportation Camp is an unconference - no pre-planned sessions or experts - with transit, alternative mode, planner and data, self-described geeks gathering for a day of exchanging ideas and learning.
I met friends from the worlds of transit technical assistance, mobility management, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). I also ran into people whom I had not met before, but have been in contact with through twitter and blogs. Two surprises were meeting TransitWire (Susan Bregman, who started the blog/twitter service as a Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) project) (I felt like I was meeting a transit celebrity) and someone from Austria who knows all about mobility management in the European Union and pointed me to performance measures developed in Sweden. There were even a couple of people from my neighborhood who are involved in local transit and alternative mode issues.
Designing Your Own Unconference
Because there were so many sessions, maybe 10 at a time, everyone's experience was different. I attended a mix of sessions on topics I know something about and others about which I acknowledge total ignorance. So, on the ignorant side, I went to a demonstration of an open trip planner that provides route information for walkers, bikers, wheelchair users and transit riders. Incredibly impressive, especially for bikers because the program allows for input of preferences, but not on a real-time level. For example, for wheelchair users, the program has data about accessible streets and transit entrances and exits, but it does not collect or transmit data that an elevator just went out of service at a particular station. I do not doubt, however, that the techie folks will get there.
I also went to Greening the Suburbs, which connected two DC-exurban planners from far outside different circumference points on the Beltway, to discuss common issues of residents who drove til they qualified for a mortgage and others who want a country-like lifestyle. The question is not preference as the idea of green is popular (where would we be without Kermit?), but how to make green convenient, particularly in relation to travel habits, as that is a prime consideration of people with long commutes and no infrastructure to walk or bike to a convenience or grocery store even if it is only a few blocks away. Arlington's decades-long effort to be a green city/suburb and Houston's decentralized employment nodes were examples discussed. A Houston native said that high energy prices would soon green the suburbs whatever the preferences of their residents, while another decried the huge expenditures to support the expense and costs of the auto-centric lifestyle.
I also went to a session in which a rural Virginia transit employee asked for ideas about promoting and improving transit, particularly for young professionals. Though, like many sessions, conversation veered off course at times, he walked away with suggestions about how to engage transit leadership, market transit and make low-cost improvements that will attract riders.
For a wonderful synopsis of the energy and connections made at Transportation Camp, read today's TransitWire.