[WEBINAR] A Recipe for Award-Winning Online Community Engagement with COTA

Columbus, OH skyline

This highly visual webinar presents research findings, proven best practices, practical tips and award-winning case studies to guide agencies towards the successful application of online community engagement for planning projects. Viewers will walk away with an understanding about how to leverage digital engagement to achieve unprecedented results using cost-effective tools.

The webinar showcases a wide range of outstanding planning projects throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and the Northeastern US. Our special guests from the Central Ohio Transit Authority join us to talk about NextGen, one of the most innovative and successful outreach efforts we’ve ever seen. They discuss the innovative ways they combined online and targeted face to face community engagement to involve an unprecedented number and diversity of community members to help define the transit needs for the region. They also share advice for agencies seeking to improve the breadth and effectiveness of their community engagement efforts and talk about the positive difference that broad community support is making as they move forward.

Watch Recording


AICP CM Credits

Here is the direct link to claim your AICP credits from the APA. Note that the date trips people up. This webinar is part of a series so they instructed us to set it up as an “on-demand” session so you’ll notice that the start and end are a year apart.

COTA’s video from the presentation (the one that didn’t play well)

Bonus Case Study: NashvilleNext


Here are the questions that were raised by participants following the presentations with answers provided by the presenters.

Questions for Dave

Q: MetroQuest looks like useful software. What is the best way to get more information about it?
A: [From Dave] I apologize for not being able to provide more in-depth information about MetroQuest due to the nature of this session. The best place to start would be to connect with Derek Warburton at MetroQuest (by email to derek.warburton@metroquest.com, or toll free phone:1 855-215-0186. Derek will be pleased to make sure you get the information you need. In the meantime, here is a quick video to give you a better sense of the software.

Q: Do you have any bike/ped examples where MetroQuest was used for public involvement?
A: [From Dave] MetroQuest is frequently used for bike/ped projects. Here are a few examples to play around with:

Northern Virginia Regional Bikeway and Trail Network Study, VA – https://novabikedemo1.metroquest.com/

HEPMPO, MD – https://bikehepmpodemo1.metroquest.com/

Eastside Greenway, OH – https://esgdemo1.metroquest.com/

Midway Cycle Track, OH – https://midway-demo.metroquest.com/

Rim of the World, CA Rim Rec & Parks District – https://rimrecatp-demo.metroquest.com/

Q: Is MetroQuest affordable for smaller communities?
A: [From Dave] MetroQuest has recently launched an annual subscription which allows for use of MetroQuest on as many projects as you wish. The cost of the subscription scales based on the size of the organization to ensure that it remains affordable for smaller agencies. Here’s how to learn more. https://metroquest.com/contact/

Q: I was curious as to whether by using the Metroquest software, if you do reach out to a larger demographic, do communities see things coming through that the staff may not have thought of.
A: [From Dave] This certainly seems to be the case since we hear this comment frequently. The reality is that the types of people who agencies are used to hearing from represent a very narrow cross section of the community. MetroQuest clients report that the feedback that is received online is more positive and constructive than what generally comes out at public meetings. I think this is due to the fact that many who attend public meetings are fired up about the project, often not in a good way.

Secondly, new information tends to emerge about community preferences since MetroQuest is specifically well-suited to reach a broader demographic that, in the past, has not been represented at all.

A good example that comes to mind is a recent project about cycling. The voice that was missing in previous bike planning efforts in this community was the large group of people who do not currently bike but would be willing to start if certain changes were made. In the past they were missing because they did not identify as cyclists and were not passionate about the topic. It turned out that this missing demographic was uniquely suited to identify what changes would encourage the largest mode shift towards biking. By making is very easy to participate and getting the benefit of social media sharing this project was able to hear from over 7,000 people and they received over 50,000 inputs from the community including some valuable new insights for the bike plan. [Editorial comment: It’s case studies like these that make it all worthwhile.]

Questions for Doug and Elliot from COTA

Q: Did COTA’s public involvement process ask people about using Uber/Lyft type organizations for first mile/last mile services?
A: [From COTA] COTA did not specifically ask about ridesharing companies in this phase. However, we did receive comments regarding these services. We asked the public what type of non-high capacity service improvements and investments the region should make using fairly broad categories without identifying the actual mode/vehicle. Modes and vehicles will be discussed in the spring of 2017 as part of finishing Phase 2 (out of 3) of the project.

Q: Did COTA’s public involvement process/planning process ask/consider about the impact of driverless vehicles on their service?
A: [From COTA] NextGen will consider driveless vehicles as part of the Vision 2050 plan; however, we did not specifically ask about these services during our Phase 2 outreach last year. Of note, the City of Columbus was recently awarded the FTA Smart City Challenge grant, of which driverless vehicles is a significant aspect. We anticipate our Phase 3 outreach will attract a robust conversation about this technology.

As of now, our consultant team does not believe the impact will be too great as driverless cars will offer the most benefits in less dense areas, due to traditionally longer trip times to work locations and more time spent in congestion.

This is under the assumption that work trips take place to/from the major employment centers in Columbus, that is Downtown and Ohio State University, and suburban locations.

Dense, urban areas, will benefit from driverless vehicles, but there will be a question of physical geometry and street capacity, particularly with the desire to narrow thoroughfares and implementation of complete streets policy in the region. Driverless vehicles will improve street capacity, which, I suspect at least, the public will claim the excess capacity for amenities such as more parking, bike lanes and expanded sidewalks. That is increasingly becoming the practice of the City of Columbus and its neighborhoods.

These assumptions are not set in stone as of yet and will be further fleshed out.

Q: How long did it take for COTA to get the data in place?
A: [From COTA] Our demographic and traffic projections came from our MPO, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC). MORPC was updating their long-range Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) at the same time we were launching NextGen, which required employment, population and travel demand data be projected out to 2040. Being an MPO partner, MORPC adjusted their projections for us to include 2025 and 2050.

Another initiative that MORPC was leading along with ULI, was insight2050, which looked at various growth scenarios for the entire central Ohio region through 2050. MORPC also prepared data for this initiative.

All in all, we were fortunate that MORPC was able to respond to our requests quite easily, providing us with data within weeks of asking, tied to TAZ’s and ¼ mi. grids.

Q: How long did the public participation outreach take?
A: [From COTA] The public meetings occurred over the course of three days (September 28-30). The survey was available for 35 days (September 28 – November 2).

Thanks again for your interest and participation in this webinar.

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