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TCRP J-11/Task 29 | Final Report Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc. | 1 1 Report Overview PROJECT SUMMARY This research explores the use and effectiveness of strategic communications in building public support for transit-priority projects. Transit priority projects are efforts to improve transit service, particularly in terms of speed and reliability, by prioritizing the movement of transit vehicles over automobiles. This report analyzes the communication approaches used by cities and transit agencies in the delivery of transit-priority projects, and the factors that make certain methods more or less effective. The report and associated toolkit provide decision-makers and implementing staff the knowledge and tools to effectively implement strategic communications strategies in support of transit-priority projects. The report is structured around the presentation of a toolkit and the findings of research into strategic communications for transit-priority projects transit-priority projects. The toolkit, presented in Section 3, serves as a guide for cities and transit agencies to effectively implement strategic communications strategies for transit-priority projects, and is derived from the findings of project research. Research conducted for this report involved a survey and interviews regarding complete and ongoing strategic communications efforts related to transit-priority projects around the United States and Canada. BACKGROUND Cities and transit agencies recognize that giving priority in movement to transit service over private vehicles provides substantial reliability, service quality, and ridership benefits. However, opposition and misunderstanding from the general public can derail transit-priority projects. Often, cities and transit agencies fall short in coherently communicating the impacts and benefits of transit-priority projects, sowing the seeds for public distrust and dissatisfaction. Beyond the conventional approach of holding meetings in a city hall or school auditorium and posting sporadically to social media, an overall communications strategy can more effectively provide information, solicit input, and generate support. Each community and transit-priority project is unique, yet planners need not devise a strategic communications plan through trial and error. Transit agencies and communities across the nation have used strategic approaches to communicate the need, and obtain support for, reimagined transit services. The attributes of these successful communication efforts include: ï§ Strong leadership with a unified vision for the project (i.e., a project champion) ï§ Early introduction of a process to curate broad project goals ï§ A publicized timeline and framework for community input ï§ A diversified and branded outreach approach that makes online and in-person participation possible Strategic communications can benefit transit-priority projects. What can we learn from experience? Case-based research Guidelines for strategic communication
TCRP J-11/Task 29 | Final Report Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc. | 2 KEY TERMS The following key terms are relevant to this report, and are defined below. ï§ Strategic communications: A systematic approach to communicating key topics, principles, or other information in line with an overarching plan, schedule, and desired outcome. Strategic communications are recognizable by consistent branding, clear messaging, and a defined approach that clearly addresses the key questions. ï§ Communication strategies include individual communication methods such as social media posts, project websites, advertisements, and in-person communication. ï§ Transit-priority projects: Service, infrastructure, and/or policy projects that prioritize efficient transit service over private vehicle movement on roadways. Many of the following concepts fall within the subject of transit-priority projects: â Bus bulb-outs extend the sidewalk into the parking lane to narrow the roadway, and allow buses to stop and board passengers without leaving the travel lane. Bus bulb outs help buses move faster by eliminating the need to merge in and out of traffic. â Bus rapid transit (BRT) refers to fixed-route bus systems that operate at least 50 percent of the service on fixed guideway. These systems also have defined passenger stations, short headway bidirectional services for a substantial part of weekdays and weekend days, and low-floor vehicles or level-platform boarding. BRT services typically employ off-board fare collection as well.1 â Dedicated transit lanes restrict access to certain traffic lanes to transit, and in some cases other high occupancy vehicles.âPeak-only transit lanes are dedicated transit lanes that are in effect only during certain periods of the day, typically peak-commute hours. General traffic is permitted to travel in them at other times. â Queue jumps are short dedicated transit lanes at intersections that allow buses to bypass traffic waiting at a red signal. â Station and bus stop enhancements involve both operational and customer service improvements. Operational improvements at stations include bus-bulb outs and off- board fare payment infrastructure. Customer service improvements include real-time arrival signage, high-quality shelters and seating, comfortable lighting, bicycle parking, transit system maps, waste-disposal bins, and local wayfinding signage. â Transit malls are streets, or an area of streets, on which automobile access is prohibited or restricted to give priority to transit vehicles and active transportation modes. Transit malls are means of increasing transit speeds through areas such as downtown hubs with high transit service volumes. â Transit signal priority (TSP) consists of dedicated transit signals that give transit vehicles the priority movement at signalized intersections. Transit vehicles can wirelessly communicate with TSP signals to ensure that signals are held for approaching transit vehicles. 1 Glossary, Federal Transit Administration, https://www.transit.dot.gov/ntd/national-transit-database-ntd-glossary
TCRP J-11/Task 29 | Final Report Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc. | 3 PRIMARY FINDINGS The research conducted for this report leads to several broad conclusions about how cities and transit agencies have recently used strategic communications: ï§ Cities and transit agencies delivering transit-priority projects employ strategic communications very differently from one another, with divergent outcomes. ï§ They value targeted, engaging communication methods that help build support for transit priority measures, but often implement general, less-engaging forms of communication. ï§ Cities and transit agencies focus on building trust and delivering a clear message. The research also suggests that the following strategic communication practices are more likely to lead to successful project outcomes: ï§ Identification of key stakeholders early in the project planning process. ï§ Development of a coordinated strategic communications plan that, at least partly, targets identified stakeholder groups. ï§ Commitment to strategic communications throughout a project lifecycle, particularly through the direct dedication of staff and resources to communication efforts. ï§ Adaptation of communication practices according to audience contexts and observed efficacy. ï§ Meaningful engagement of key stakeholder groups, often in hyperlocal contexts. LIMITATIONS While the findings presented in this report are informative and valuable, the limitations of the research effort should be taken into account. The sample size of transit-priority projects examined by the research team was relatively small. Only 13 cities or transit agencies completed research surveys and only six participated in interviews, making it difficult to support broad conclusions on the role of strategic communications in transit-priority projects. This small sample size reflects the limited number of transit-priority projects completed or underway in North America. A lack of prior research on strategic communications for transit-priority projects limited researchersâ knowledge of such projects and their understanding of the key issues associated with strategic communications. Almost all of the information gathered, either through surveys or interviews, was in some way subject to the bias of the individual reporting it to researchers. In particular, agenciesâ evaluations of the success or failure of specific communication strategies were highly anecdotal, as few performed any sort of formal evaluation on strategic communications. The distance of researchers from the relevant projects also limited their ability to study forms of communication not easily recorded or displayed, such as door-to-door canvassing, and further forced reliance on the subjective reporting of individuals within cities or transit agencies.