Why are they useful?
A video is worth a thousand words. An easily-understood video is more useful to some people than reading or hearing about transportation. With the nearly universal availability of television and the emphasis on visuals in today’s society, videos have a role in transportation planning and project development that has yet to be fully explored.
Videotapes provide an additional medium for reaching people. Although videotapes are widely used in this country for entertainment, they are also used for education and the dissemination of information about transportation. Videos can describe the steps in a process. They are geared to a group or an individual, depending on an agency’s purposes, and enliven the presentation of a potentially dull subject. The Connecticut DOT, for example, prepared videos to enhance public understanding of incident management on an interstate highway. Agencies make videos available through local television stations, public libraries, and video stores or distribute them door-to-door, as has been done in recent political campaigns. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA) produced a short video at each major milestone during development of its regional transit ballot proposal and sent it to public libraries as well as interest groups.
Videos are used to introduce people to meetings and hearings. Set to replay endlessly, videos present the same message each time without variation. Because these repeated messages are "canned," they should be presented in an informative, lively, and friendly manner. This may be extremely important when used with, say, a formal public hearing. (See Public Meetings/Hearings; Open Houses/Open Forum Meetings) The Virginia DOT, for example, used videotapes to introduce and describe an open house public hearing process.
Agencies use videos to document a planning process. They can document proceedings of events in a public participation process. Viewers are thus exposed to a wide range of participants and their concerns. Focus group proceedings are frequently recorded on video for later replay and analysis.
Videos illustrate different planning scenarios or project alternatives and help people visualize a situation before, during, and after construction. Many incorporate computer simulations, such as a ride on a transportation facility before it is built. (See Visualization Techniques) For example, a New York State DOT video illustrating the impacts of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes was shown to elected officials, the business community, and the general public. A separate video simulated the experience of driving a car on both 10- and 12-foot-wide HOV lanes.
Videos help ensure that a consistent message is conveyed during a series of meetings or other events, particularly when different staff members are in charge. San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Regional Planning Commission both produced videos on their long-range plans and showed them at meetings to make sure the same information was provided to all participants.
How do agencies use the output?
Videotapes reach a broad audience for participation. People who cannot be reached in any other way often respond to videotapes. Presentation software is now available to provide viewers with information they can play on their VCRs. Currently, this technique often uses stationary images similar to slides, but in the near future video presentations for television will include live action as well as stationary and animated material.
Dry runs of presentations are often videotaped. Presenters rehearse a presentation, review it on tape, critique elements such as substance, voice modulation, posture, body language, jargon, and use of visual materials, then make changes accordingly.
Agencies often distribute videotapes over a large geographic area and in more than one language. They frequently clarify a complex process to supplement an oral presentation. For example, Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel project uses videos to simulate driving through a tunnel and along a surface street during various stages of the project. Videos also update the community on construction staging plans and mitigation proposals.
What do video techniques cost?
Costs of producing videotapes vary. Simple videos produced in-house are inexpensive but may not be successful in reaching the target audience with the right message. An amateurish production may alienate people from an agency's approach or goals, because its unprofessional quality reflects on the caliber of the project itself. A more professional production is expensive initially but more cost-effective in the long run. Reproduction of tapes is relatively cheap.
Length varies in accordance with the message to be delivered: videotapes are prepared with a brief message or with more substantive content. For example, in Missoula, Montana, a four-minute videotape was used to introduce people to the principal issue of a meeting—the improvement of a single, complicated intersection.
Video production demands a high level of staff expertise. Even with donated video equipment, it is often difficult for agency staff to produce a good video. Staff may be available to record highway or transit rights-of-way, but these rudimentary skills fall short when a video must be credible and informative about complex issues. If the in-house staff does not have sophisticated production skills, outside assistance is required to produce a high-quality, cost-effective videotape.
Who develops these techniques?
Video usage requires a lead person within an agency—a creative and adventuresome person interested in trying new techniques for involving the public in transportation. This can be an existing staff person or a staffer hired for the purpose. Agency staff people are the best resource to draft a video script and ensure that it is consistent with written materials and the particular goals the agency is aiming to achieve.
Production frequently requires outside assistance. Although personal recorders are widely used, videotapes to portray public activities should be professionally and competently produced, using professional-quality equipment.
How do they relate to other techniques?
Video techniques are often part of a media strategy. A video can be released for use on television as camera-ready copy. An agency thus provides the news media with an accurate portrayal of a process or project to be shown as part of regular programming. Videos are a good means of providing information about meetings or ongoing planning processes. (See Media Strategies) Seattle’s Regional Transit Project, for example, used videotapes for 30-second advertising spots broadcast more than 300 times on five local television stations.
Videos reach people who would not otherwise participate in transportation processes, including people with disabilities. Special efforts should be made to accommodate hearing disabilities. TDD (Telephone Devices for the Deaf) phones are available with small screens and keyboards to aid people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities. A video is always part of a larger process and closely related to other techniques. Because a videotape is a one-way device, suitable for disseminating information, it has many potential applications. It can be an element for discussion in a focus group or charrette. (See Focus Groups; Charrettes) It can record the points of view expressed at public meetings and hearings. (See Public Meetings/Hearings) It can document positions established at civic advisory committee meetings. (See Civic Advisory Committees) It can report on agency progress at a transportation fair. (See Transportation Fairs) A video should not be used in isolation from other techniques. It cannot replace face-to-face encounters with other participants and agency staff. Public involvement participants should always be fully informed if they are being recorded.
Videotapes can substitute for field trips. A video can illustrate the characteristics of a region or a corridor, alternative modes of transportation, alignments and adjacent neighborhoods, potential impacts, mitigating measures, and methods of participation. (See Site Visits)
How are they produced?
Videotapes incorporate a variety of technologies such as live action, computer images, graphics, maps, and charts. They can be produced incrementally. Slide shows can be augmented by scripts. Scripts can be recorded and slides shown at pre-determined intervals. A finished script and storyboard (picture sequence) can be developed and turned into a video. Special equipment and processes are required to transfer computer information onto tapes, and the level of quality varies.
Who participates? And how?
Any community member can use videotapes. The only requirements are a television set and a playback machine. Printed materials such as brochures often complement the information presented graphically in a video. It is also important to provide telephone contacts for access to agency personnel for further information.
What are the drawbacks?
Videotapes are not two-way. Unless special provision is made for an individual to respond, the viewer watches a message without being able to give feedback and without hearing opposing views. Thus, a tape should include a means of contacting staff or obtaining additional information. Some cable television stations use interactive techniques, including playing a video and allowing responses from viewers by telephone. (See Interactive Television; Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks)
Video viewers are basically self-selected. Access is limited to viewers with a playback machine. Special attention should be given to the needs of people with disabilities. Interpreters may be needed to make the information available to individuals with hearing disabilities. Text must be sufficiently large so people with sight disabilities are able to read it. For the blind, narration should be sufficient to explain the material even though it cannot be seen.
Video techniques are rapidly changing. While videos are available now principally via home rentals or scheduled programming, in some localities it is already feasible for viewers to call in to view non-scheduled material immediately or at a viewer-chosen hour on a specific channel. Increasingly interactive techniques are being developed in the media. For example, in a few years, it will be possible for agencies to compose videotapes with information about specific processes to be broadcast on television, with community residents able to register opinions in a poll immediately following the presentation.
Agencies sometimes over-estimate viewers’ attention spans, making videos too detailed or too long. A good norm is probably 5 to 15 minutes. Agencies should seek sound professional advice about how to define their message succinctly and with an appropriate level of detail. For easy comprehension and retention, a good video strikes a balance between substantive information and simplicity.
For further information:
Central Artery/Tunnel Project, Boston, Massachusetts
Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, Seattle, Washington
Missoula, Montana, Department of Transportation
New Jersey Department of Transportation Long-Range Plan
New York Department of Transportation Region 10
Puget Sound Regional Council, Seattle, Washington