A few takeaways from the AMPO annual conference

We loved meeting staff from other MPOs from across the country. Here is the public involvement group getting to know each other. (Anthea Thomas)

Several TPB staff—including the TPB News team attended the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations’ (AMPO) Annual Conference. We loved meeting other MPO staff from all over the country to swap ideas and be inspired. Here are a few things we took away from the conference.

We got to share our work and learn from others

We participated in two panel discussions. One focused on how MPOs meet federal Environmental Justice requirements aimed at assessing the impact of regional transportation plans and programs on low-income and minority communities.

TPB transportation planner Sergio Ritacco showcased the TPB’s work on identifying “Equity Emphasis Areas” as a tool for assessing the impacts of the TPB’s long-range plan. Sergio’s presentation included information on the technical methodology for identifying Equity Emphasis Areas as well as the process for gaining buy-in from regional stakeholders.

Sergio said his biggest takeaway was the importance of having an open conversation. “Environmental justice is more than just studies and analyses. Whether it’s a simple sidewalk improvement or a mega project, openly engaging in earnest conversations of equity ensures a more vibrant region,” he said.

The other panel featuring TPB staff focused on MPO public involvement strategies, including developing and carrying out communications and outreach activities. Ben Hampton and Abigail Zenner, who make up the TPB communications team highlighted the TPB’s efforts to use the internet and social media to share and explain its work with stakeholders and the public.

Ben Hampton and Abigail Zenner spoke about the TPB’s communications work at the AMPO conference. (TPB)

Other panelists shared how they have used other outreach and public involvement tools to reach more of their regions’ public. Two other MPOs highlighted surveys like our Visualize 2045 public input survey as ways to gather public opinions on regional transportation issues.

We were inspired by Metro, the MPO for Portland, OR. Metro staff has worked on telling real stories about the people who are impacted by their work.  They not only write stories about their research or plans but also add videos and first-person accounts to bring a greater depth to their work. They shared their transportation snapshot website to show how they share data as a way to tell Portland’s transportation story.

MORE: Check out Metro’s cool website

Health and transportation was a theme

Health and transportation was a major theme of the conference. The keynote speaker was Mark Fenton a national public health, planning, and transportation consultant. As an advocate for active transportation, he highlighted the ways that MPOs can help curb the obesity epidemic through planning streets that inspire more walking and biking. When the built environment encourages more physical activity, people respond. He also talked about the importance of Safe Routes to School programs and allowing children to walk and bike on their own.

On the heels of the keynote speech, a panel convened to present different ways MPOs incorporate health considerations into the transportation planning process. Representatives from MPOs in Orlando, Nashville, and Puget Sound have used health indicators to assess where complete streets, or better places for walking or biking would be most needed.

Another panel focused on active transportation and how bicycle and pedestrian planning fits into regional transportation planning.  Planners from Boston’s MPO provided copies of the score sheets they use to assess the state of infrastructure for biking and walking. The score sheets help identify and prioritize areas that need better sidewalks or bike lanes. In Los Angeles, planners are using new technology to enhance bike counts and make it easier to assess where people are biking and what they may need. Smart phone apps make it easier for people to see and count cyclists and cyclist behavior along studied routes.

The Ronald F. Kirby National Award for Outstanding Individual Leadership

AMPO was founded in 1994, partly through the efforts of longtime TPB staff director Ron Kirby, who died unexpectedly in November 2013. To honor his memory, AMPO established the Ronald F. Kirby Award for Outstanding Individual Leadership. It is awarded to professionals who can be counted on to continue Ron’s legacy and tradition of professionalism and commitment to excellence.

Alan Clark of the Houston-Galveston Area Council accepts the Ronald F. Kirby National Award for Outstanding Individual Leadership. (AMPO)

This year’s recipient was Alan Clark who has served as the Executive Director of the Houston-Galveston Area Council since 1983. He was honored for his innovative work and his dedication to professionalism. His long list of accomplishments includes establishing a regional transportation and emergency management system, and coordinating an improvement plan for hurricane evacuations. His many accomplishments and achievements honor Ron Kirby’s memory.

AMPO continues to be an important advocate and resource for MPOs. We were inspired by the ideas presented at the conference and look forward to learning more from our MPO colleagues. One of the best aspects of the gathering was having the chance to ask questions and learn from the different approaches MPO staff have taken. These lessons give us new ways to approach our work.

Editor’s note: TPB Communications Manager Ben Hampton is leaving COG to move on to a communications and public engagement position for Arlington County in the County Manager’s office. Ben was instrumental in enhancing the TPB’s communications by adding social media channels and shepherding the TPB News from a print publication to an online news source and email newsletter. While we’re sorry to see him go, we know he will make great contributions to Arlington County. Congratulations, Ben!

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