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The Power of Blogs and Social Media in Transportation Policy

11:15 AM EDT on October 27, 2011

Bike bloggers got a nice win when GM pulled an ad mocking cyclists a few weeks ago.

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Bike Portland was the first to call out GM. The League of American Bicyclists followed suit. Tweets started pouring in from all over the country. The next day -- boom -- GM promised to pull the ad and issued an apology.

In the scheme of things, it was a small victory. But hardly the only one.

Speaking to Streetsblog in July, attorney David Savoy gave bloggers credit for the granting of a retrial to his client, Raquel Nelson, who was charged with vehicular homicide after her four-year-old son was hit by a car as they attempted to cross a dangerous arterial road on foot. “I’ve never understood the power of the blogosphere," Savoy said, "and now I’m humbled.”

Bloggers Curt Ailes of Urban Indy and David Alpert and Matt Johnson of Greater Greater Washington had a chance to discuss this phenomenon at the recent Rail~Volution conference.

From Johnson's recap of the discussion:

As Curt explained, the urban conversation in Indianapolis hasn't come as far as it has here [in Washington]. As a result, Urban Indy plays a large role in introducing Indianans to planning concepts. Curt recounted an instance where the print media came to him about a bike path. He was able to help the reporter (and the readers) to get the terminology right and understand what was at stake.

And that's really how I see the role of Greater Greater Washington. Not as a way of bringing people over to our opinion, but as a way to give people the tools they need to be a productive participant in the conversation.

Now transit agencies themselves are harnessing these tools, Johnson reports.

[The Utah Transit Agency]'s representative, Tauni Everett, also talked about using Twitter to engage the public. A recent spate of hearings about a fare hike drew less than 20 attendees to the 7 meetings held in the six-county UTA service area. But an online public hearing using Twitter generated hundreds of comments, all of which were counted in the public record.

How far can social media and blogs take transportation reform? It's hard to say, but clearly, they're already linking decision makers more closely to constituents who care about sustainable transportation and livable streets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland looks at how rising transit fares and service cuts might affect bike ridership. Transit Miami upbraids city planners for investing millions in a new ballpark but making no effort to make it transit accessible. And Say Yes to the Honolulu Rail System shares the story of Norfolk, Virginia's new Tide rail system, which is outpacing ridership projections by 74 percent in the first weeks following its opening.

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