Several TPB staff 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. Plus, we won some awards!
The Ronald F. Kirby National Award for Outstanding Individual Leadership
This year, one current and one former member of the staff received AMPO awards. Ron Milone was awarded the Ron Kirby Award for Outstanding MPO Leadership for his work on travel forecasting and modeling. The award, named after TPB’s late staff director Ron Kirby, is given to professionals who can be counted on to continue Ron’s legacy and tradition of professionalism and commitment to excellence. It was a special award to someone who had worked closely with Ron Kirby. It also provided an opportunity to honor Ron Milone on the cusp of his retirement.
Former member of the TPB staff, Bob Griffiths was also awarded the National Award for Excellence in MPO Staff Achievement. Since his retirement, Bob Griffiths has continued to work with TPB staff as a consultant.
We got to share our work and learn from others
One of the most valuable aspects of the AMPO conference is meeting and learning from MPOs from all over the country. The TPB is one of the larger MPOs and even though all MPOs need to follow the same regulations, the way they do so can vary depending on size and location.
We participated on two panels. One focused on public involvement activities and the other on MPO operations. As part of a session focused on public involvement, TPB’s communications specialist, Abigail Zenner, presented on the importance of using plain language and avoiding jargon when communicating with almost any audience. The session was designed as a game show in which the audience helped contestants define jargon, acronyms, and technical concepts. A bicycle horn would sound anytime a contestant used jargon or acronyms. To avoid the, “horn of jargon” participants needed to use plain language as if talking with a friend or family member.
Plan Development and Program Coordination Director Lyn Erickson told the story of how the TPB changed its long-range plan and the story of the TPB’s Long-Range Plan Task Force. The session focused on the challenges of changing how the TPB had approached long-range planning in the past and the complexities of the Long-Range Plan Task Force process.
TPB staff also attended sessions on a wide range of topics for MPOs. These sessions covered freight planning, resiliency, technology, public involvement, complete streets, environmental justice, and more. The following are a few key takeaways from some of those sessions.
In a technology focused session, the City of San Antonio and San Antonio’s transit provider highlighted their use of smart phone applications. Using Smart City infrastructure and smart phone applications like 311 services, the city has been able to improve city services. The city has also hosted “hackathons” to encourage fresh ideas and involve the public.
We learned about how MPOs are looking into autonomous vehicles (AVs) and how they might change planning in the future. The session also previewed a pending FHWA guidebook designed to help planners use scenario planning methods to assist in long range planning.
Two sessions on resilience focused not only on planning for a disaster response but also recovering after a disaster. MPOs play an important role in in the months-long or years-long process of communities, infrastructure, and economies coming back/rebuilding from disasters. The second session focused on how to integrate resiliency into transportation planning.
In sessions focused on public involvement, MPO staff talked about the importance of heading out into communities that are traditionally underserved. Many MPOs regularly visit groups who represent these communities so the people in the region get to know the MPO. The use of video is also a great way to help catch and keep the public’s interest in long-range planning.
There were many sessions focused on Performance Based Planning and Programming (PBPP), as this is a new requirement for all MPOs. While our federal partners have attempted to guide everyone through the process, there are many facets and details that are still unclear and untested, and our federal partners have encouraged everyone to continue to “do the best you can.”
We learned that there is an internal federal document called a “PBPP Implementation Roadmap” that will help to enable the 52 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) division offices to try to interpret the regulations in a similar manner. There are some real-world challenges to PBPP implementation, especially board discussions of funding impacts, lack of data/lack of access to data, and lack of resources. The dilemma of aspirational (e.g. Vision Zero) versus trend-based safety targets (which currently could be trending worse, not better) was also discussed.
We participated in AMPO committees and peer exchanges
In addition to the sessions focused on various topic areas TPB staff also participated in peer exchanges and AMPO committee meetings.
TPB is a member of AMPO’s policy committee. In the committee meeting staff learned about the federal appropriations for FY 2019 and the reauthorization of Fast Act which is set to expire end of federal FY 2020. The committee will be developing a set of reauthorization principles and priorities from the MPO perspective.
TPB is also a member of the AMPO technical committee. That committee focused on identifying research topics and how their work could better compliment the policy committee’s work. TPB has many issues that are common with other large MPOs that were suggested for further research. Equity, ride-hailing companies, consistency and ease of data availability, innovative means to raise funds were some of the common issues.
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.