On transportation (un)conferences and transportation un-gineers

If you love transportation, chances are you’ve heard of TransportationCamp. Sessions of TransportationCamp have been held in New York, D.C., and Vancouver to name a few. This year, TransportationCamp South touched down in Atlanta F.K.A. Terminus, Saturday, March 25 at Georgia Tech.

So what is TransportationCamp exactly? Is it when outdoorsy urbanists sleep on buses and roast marshmallows over the engine? Not exactly, though a mobile sleepover doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Workshops created by attendees of TransportationCamp

TransportationCamp is an (un)conference where transportation professionals and enthusiasts of all backgrounds come together to talk about the intersection of tech and transportation in an unconventional way. Unconventional meaning, rather than listening to an “expert” tell you things you already know while thinking about what you wish you could talk about, an (un)conference lets attendees come up with workshop topics they’re dying to discuss.

Workshops take shape in the form of pecha kuchas, lightning talks, and even some panels, for more traditional souls. At TransportationCamp South, intimate workshops with transportation heavyweights and curious students took place in seven rooms in four time blocks.

Of over 30 topics covered at the the (un)conference, including “Design your Own Bus Route,” “Nature ITP,” and “Disrupting Public Engagement in Transportation Planning,” the one about bicycles was bound to stand out among them. “Integrating Bike Share into Atlanta’s Civic Fabric,” led by Becky Katz, Atlanta’s first Chief Bicycle Officer, presented the success of Atlanta’s newest transportation system, Relay Bike Share.

Westside Atlanta Bike Champions explore the city using Atlanta’s premiere bike share program

Having pulled up to the conference on one of the Relay “blue bikes,” this session was one of my favorites. Not only did attendees have a chance to brainstorm with Katz about how to make bike share unique with gaming techniques, we learned about bike share’s break into Atlanta, its partnership with the City, and how the Atlanta Bike Champions are using bike share as a vehicle for community-building.

TransportationCamp South had a great turn out. If my mom asked me how it went, as she did for my countless first days of school, I would have said, “I learned a lot. I even made some new friends!” sans sarcasm, of course. However, I do wish I saw fewer engineers and more “ungineers.”

I define ungineers as people who operate with art, community, and design at the core of their principles – principles that are often overseen in the realms of technology and transportation ( engineers can be ungineers).

I’m a proponent for innovation in transportation. In fact, I crave it as a car-free person. But let’s face it: There’s only so much unconventional discussion that can happen in a room full of transportation and tech professionals who can afford to use car-share services when MARTA is late.  Just as a city’s transportation is more than cars and highways, conversations around the future of transportation must include groups other than the engineers and planners who facilitate them.

I would attend TransportationCamp again in a heartbeat. Especially if it were advertised more to professionals and lovers of art, community organizing, and urban design. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the stick that’s bound to stoke the next campfire. And when it does, I’d love to roast my marshmallow over that.

For a full list of topics covered at TransportationCamp South 2017, look here.