In a social media-driven era, when a smart messaging campaign can hook an audience to sell an idea and be amplified by tweets and likes, two examples stand out for transportation. In both Texas and Michigan, key officials cut videos that highlighted failings in their transportation infrastructure to advocate for more investment.
In Texas, during a gubernatorial election in which he was already leading his opponent, Greg Abbott cut a 30-second TV ad showing him rolling in his wheelchair past stalled highway traffic.
“A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas,” said Abbott, who promised to redirect more state funds to transportation investment. He won handily, and can soon try to implement his investment strategy. Meanwhile, that ad and a radio version got plenty of media attention, and the YouTube video has run up nearly 10,000 views.
In Michigan, fresh off his own re-election Gov. Rick Snyder and Transportation Director Kirk Steudle launched a major effort on Dec. 1 to get a new road improvements plan through the lame-duck legislature. At the heart of the effort was a no-holds-barred video detailing all sorts of problems with state roads and bridges, driving home the point that the state could only fix some of the problems by finding more revenue.
The following weeks included more attention-getting efforts and tough negotiations with legislative leaders, before the state House and Senate passed a number of revenue actions that will take effect if voters next May approve a ballot measure that raises sales taxes.
Getting voters to agree will take another sales job, but the Dec. 1 video could help point the way. It’s had nearly 1,500 YouTube views.
Those are reminders that a well-crafted video can convey a message in ways that simple speeches and press releases cannot. By imprinting images in the public mind, they let pictures make the case that the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs investment to keep from deteriorating further, to get ahead of traffic growth and to support economic development.
At the federal level, a standout example was the effective whiteboard video in 2013 that came from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as it tried to build support for the first new water projects legislation since 2007. Narrated by Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the film became a favorite of the Washington transportation policy community, with its entertaining sketches and background music that helped keep viewers’ attention while Shuster spoke of the links between port projects and the Main Street economy.
A number of state transportation agencies have also used videos in other ways, from technical training to public messaging about specific themes or projects.
In recent months, the weekly AASHTO Journal online magazine has shown some of these, from a students-produced award winner in Massachusetts’ “Safe Streets – Smart Trips” contest to a music video from Akron, Ohio’s transit agency that used altered lyrics for a popular song to entice area residents to try using the bus.
And AASHTO has its own Transportation TV service that runs videos ranging from shorts on the latest news to long-form events like the speech that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx gave to the association’s annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C., in November. In it, Foxx called on state officials to help convince Congress to produce a long-term highway and transit bill so states can plan their projects with some certainty about the federal funding share.
Look for more transportation videos to show up on TTV, in AASHTO Journal and of course on this blog site.