What are Transportation Planners Talking About?

Last week, the Transportation Research Board held its annual conference with < 10,000 people in attendance. We analyzed the tweets to generate a list of the hottest topics, links to transportation resources, and most influential people.

January 20, 2014, 6:50 AM PST

By Jennifer Evans… @EvansCowley

Tech Cocktail's Startup Mixology Conference, June 2011 Washington DC

Tech Cocktail / Flickr

With more than 10,000 transportation professionals attending the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting, it is a great opportunity to understand what topics are receiving the most attention. Todd Litman recently posted his update from the Transportation Research Board conference here on Planetizen.

Brittany Kubinski @b_kubinski and I @evanscowley have analyzed the tweets from the TRB Conference, from the hashtag #TRBAM. We excluded all of the tweets announcing events and focused on the substantive tweets. The attendees at TRB were active tweeting throughout the conference generating 4,093 tweets from 1,061 people. Most were attending the conference, but several were following along from a distance, including me. Of the more than 10,000 people attending 10 percent were tweeting.

Sharing pictures of slides was popular, for example this slide on comfort ratings by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. A favorite was this great slide explaining how an LED signal would work for cyclists.  My favorites include this slide explaining why cities matter and bad presentation bingo.

Topics of Conversation

There were several topics that were greatly discussed, the Wordle shares the most common words uses. The top 20 topics are listed below.


# of Tweets







Secretary Foxx












Exhibit Hall


Mobile Apps










Street Design






Transit Agency




Below are the 25 most retweeted tweets of the conference (excluding retweets about announcing an event or session). For Twitter newbies, retweeting is like forwarding an email to people you know. RT @evanscowley means that you are forwarding a Tweet from a user, in this example me. Forty-three percent of the total #TRBAM tweets were retweets (so interesting that someone decided to forward it on). For example, one great quote was circulated frequently "Transportation shouldn’t just get us places better – it should make places better – and lives, too."  And I think my favorite of the conference from @BicycleLobby: “Biking is the ultimate weight loss plan. Ditch your car and lose 7,000 pounds instantly.”


Number of Times Retweeted

RT @NACTO: In cities, we should design for pedestrians. Intersections should prioritize and protect people walking. [email protected] #TRBAM


RT @transportdata: The dangerous, wasteful street design spreading through US suburbs: @AtlanticCities http://t.co/J2L8YbNrHZ #CPlan #TRBAM


RT @urbandata: How London is using pavement sensors to eliminate the search for parking spots http://t.co/sHgl2RUPXA #technicity #cplan #tr…


RT @FTA_DOT: 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act, which created a federal role to support #transit #TRBAM


RT @TRBofNA: More than 4,500 papers and presentations in over 800 sessions and workshops. You cannot see it all. Bring friends. #TRBAM


RT @bikepedantic: Research by @rebeccalsanders at #trbam: bicyclists &amp; DRIVERS both more comfortable with protected lanes w no parking http…


RT @NACTO: Janet Attarian of @ChicagoDOT: streets that flood are not complete streets. Stormwater management is a crucial part of street de…


RT @USDOT: Most harmful deficit in America? It might not be what you think. Hear more from @SecretaryFoxx this week at #TRBAM


RT @USDOT: "Transportation shouldn’t just get us places better – it should make places better – and lives, too." #TRBAM


RT @bikepedantic: Neat experiment planned on Seattle cycletrack: Active LED detects bikes, flashes right hook warning to drivers #trbam htt…


RT @urbandata: The Best #UrbanPlanning Apps for 2014: http://www.planetizen.com/node/66853@EvansCowley


RT @urbandata: Why transportation &amp; land use may be the USA's most critical #CivilRights issue: http://t.co/nFdr3wrVD9 #trbam #healthequity…


RT @USDOT: "If you aggregated it, every year Americans spend roughly 600,000 years stuck in traffic." #TRBAM


RT @USDOT: We will post on web how much money Highway Trust Fund has left &amp; update every month until fund runs out or can sustain itself. #…


RT @FakeTRB: At a happy hour with bus bros, rail bros, bike bros. Someone should really let this diverse group of white men decide some shi…


RT @DowntownDCBID: 145 new bike racks and more to come in #DowntownDC : http://t.co/uhv9ZG1bko @DDOTDC @WABADC #TRBAM


RT @transportdata: Low-hanging #walkability fruit MT @NACTO: Analyze "desire lines" &amp; place crosswalks where pedestrians want to walk. @twe…


RT @leahtreat: Pedestrians must be considered first in any street design. #NACTO  #TRBAM


RT @oaktrans: [email protected] tells how cities are driving transportation innovation, not feds or state DOTs. #TRBAM http://t.co/mtVbRsP6RG


RT @PhxDowntowner: "Everyone buys an SUV for that one trip they're going to make to Costco, but can we do this more efficiently?" #carshari…


RT @PhxDowntowner: RT @NACTO "In cities, we should design for pedestrians. Intersections should prioritize and protect people walking." @tw…


RT @tranlib: I love #TRBAM because we get that culture clash between academia, government, and industry. #defineeverything


RT @USDOT: We have to be connecting all Americans with better schools &amp; better jobs &amp; build what the President calls “ladders of opportunit…


RT @FakeTRB: I'm here for the session on tax increment financed bike lanes #TRBAM


RT @justupthepike: "34000 people die on US highways each year. That's not just a transportation issue, but a public health issue."—Michael …



The Meaning of TRBAM Tweets

Sentiment analysis helps us to understand the meaning conveyed in a large group of tweets. To learn more about sentiment analysis I have a publicly available article on the topic. What are the sentiments that transportation professionals are expressing when tweeting about the conference? Are we angry, happy, or something totally different? We found that we are a positive bunch, with 48% expressing positive sentiment. Our analysis of all tweets from the conference, using a language analysis software, expressed key sentiments. We are excited and relaxed (not surprising for a conference). Our tweets express positive emotions. This is exactly what one would hope to see at a conference where the use of Twitter is meant to support social interaction between unknown people with shared interests.

Who Participated?

A total of 1,061 different transportation professionals tweeted during the conference which is a wonderful number of participants, but what was the level of equality in participations. How many people were heavy Tweeters and how many were light users? Similar to other research about the use of social media a small number of people dominate the conversations with 3.1 percent of the users sending out 35 percent of the tweets. BUT, we can also see that we had a wide array of users with many participating one or a few times. For example, 37 percent of the tweets came from the 86 percent of participants who tweeted five or fewer times.

There were clearly key influencers at the conference whose tweets were frequently retweeted. The top 15 influencers at the conference included: @transportgooru, @JosephKopser, @TRBofNA, @transsafe, @Diplomacy_Notes, @EDRGroup, @Micah_Himmel, @l_zilinski, @manhattanriss, @MilliganPartnrs, @pkoonce, @vabike, @FehrAndPeers, @LloydBrown, and @mamakoid. A number of these people are not just influencers at the conference, but are influencers all year round with more than 1,000 followers on Twitter. @transportgooru, @TRBofNA, @pkoonce, @LloydBrown (tweeting on transportation), @Diplomacy_Notes (tweeting on meaningful dialogue), @vabike (tweeting on bicycle advocacy), and @mamakoid (tweeting environmental planning).

Resources from the Conference

Conference attendees did a great job sharing links to all kinds of content. The volume of links was overwhelming, so we took those that were retweeted and have grouped the various links by topic below.



Mobile Apps


Public Participation


Street Design


General Transportation Issues

So are there any transportation trends that surprised–either by being here or by not being here? Let me know in the comments.

My takeaway from the use of Twitter at the conference is that a significant number of people were able to use this medium to share and engage in conversations around transportation topics that resonate with them. It provided a platform to engage in social conversations that helped people meet each other both on and off line. What more could we ask for from social media in a conference?

Jennifer Evans…

Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD, FAICP, is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at th eUniversity of North Texas. Dr. Evans-Cowley regularly teaches courses to prepare candidates to take the AICP exam.


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