FHWA promotes virtual public involvement and innovative public engagement strategies through its Every Day Counts (EDC-6) innovations. The FHWA's EDC Newsletter of March 3, 2022 featured the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority's creative efforts to engage youth in the transportation planning process in the development of the MPO's Long Range Plan that were conducted in partnership with the Rutgers University's Public Engagement and Outreach Team (POET). Below is a reprint of the newsletter article that recognizes these efforts as its Virtual Public Involvement (VPI) Innovation of the Month.
Because engaging youth in the transportation planning process is notoriously difficult, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) used a broad range of engagement tools when developing its long-range transportation plan, Plan 2050. They held focus groups with traditionally underserved demographic groups, created a young adult advisory group, and held online meetings to engage broad audiences. NJTPA also held an innovative online contest for children ages 5 - 15, the OnAir Future of Transportation contest, which allowed children to be creative, while also participating in the planning process.
The NJTPA promoted the contest through its email and social media channels. It also partnered with the Rutgers University Public Outreach and Engagement Team to promote the contest with community-based organizations, elementary and middle school teachers, community websites that promote children’s activities, and programs for youth with disabilities.
Participants submitted drawings, animated videos, poems, short stories, and more, describing their visions for transportation in 2050. Responses were collected via email, physical mail, and voicemail. Entries were divided by age groups, with winners selected in each group.
Contest submissions included some highly futuristic visions of flying cars, hover chairs, and teleportation, which the NJTPA considered to be a bit out of reach for its 2050 planning timeframe. However, several themes emerged in the contest submissions that mirrored public input from adults. Contest submissions showed that kids have a desire for faster, more reliable transportation options that are comfortable and convenient, and a future that uses technology to make life easier, safer, more equitable, sustainable, and fun.
Recommendations for autonomous vehicles, micromobility, and sustainability were incorporated into Plan 2050 based on the adults’ and children’s input. The On Air Future of Transportation contest raised awareness of the NJTPA and their work, especially to parents, teachers, and other adults involved in outreach, and provides an innovative example of using virtual public involvement (VPI) techniques to engage a difficult-to-reach segment of the population.
To learn more about VPI and other innovative examples of its use, please contact Lana Lau, FHWA Office of Project Development & Environmental Review, or Jill Stark, FHWA Office of Planning, Stewardship & Oversight.