Disappearing Traffic

Welcome to the website/blog for Disappearing Traffic.  The purpose of this site is to keep the whole ‘Disappearing Traffic’ body of work in one place, with occasional updates on progress, so that supporters can follow the action as well as look back on what has been achieved.  It is for people who wish ‘someone would do something about the traffic’.

Paul Minett with Auckland Traffic

My name is Paul Minett, and I am in the middle of a journey that for me began in the late 1990’s.  Disappearing Traffic begins as my perspective on the challenge of reducing traffic congestion – that started with inventing a solution, and has morphed into an enquiry into why traffic congestion is so persistent in the face of so many solutions.  Many others are involved in the journey, and might at some point contribute to this Disappearing Traffic dialogue.  For many, the journey began well before I joined.

As we go forward, I will tell you about progress on the battlegrounds that I am involved in, in sort-of real-time.  I will also create posts about the battles that have gone before, and the people who fought those battles.  You can follow the blog so that you get each update as I post it; or you can bookmark the site and come back and look whenever you like; or both.  Please drop me the occasional comment or message to let me know if you would like to know more, or if you have questions about the work we are doing.

Screenshot 2014-11-06 10.01.45The timing for starting this site coincides with a ‘Spark My Potential‘ fund-raising activity that I used to enable me to go to the International Road Federation Asian Regional Congress in mid November 2014.  I have been very humbled by the response of people both inside and outside my network to support this work.  As I start this site, over 60 people have put their own money on the table to make a statement that they want someone to do something about the traffic, and to support the ongoing development of this body of work.

Why ‘Disappearing Traffic’?  A quick look at Wikipedia shows: Disappearing traffic, also sometimes referred to as suppressed traffic or traffic evaporation, relates to the observation that when highway capacity is reduced (typically due to provision of lanes for buses, street-running trams or bicycles, wider pavements (sidewalks), pedestrianisation, closures for road maintenance, or natural disasters) some proportion of the traffic disappears, resulting in fewer problems of congestion than had been expected.  A key purpose of this body of work is figuring out how to get ‘disappearing traffic’ without having to reduce highway capacity.  My focus is ‘bad’ traffic, the sort of stop-and-start traffic that causes so much waste and other negative externalities for urban populations.  My thesis is that travellers and communities could do more to help manage vehicle trip demand, and we need to figure out how to make that happen.

I hope you will enjoy watching this body of work grow.  If you have colleagues or friends who might also wish ‘someone should do something about the traffic’, please pass along the link.

Paul Minett, Auckland, November 2014

Crowd Funding

Crowd-funding is a current buzzword, though often referred to as ‘Kickstarter’, as in “How should we fund the Road Decongestion Lab?”  “You should use Kickstarter.”

It was a mystery to me how these types of funding systems work, and when I had the opportunity to go to the IRF Congress, but no money for the trip, it seemed like a good idea to find out.

The main questions for me were:  who funds these things, and how are those people reached?  How do we generate interest?  Is there a whole crowd of people out there looking for new ideas to fund?

In New Zealand our major Telecoms provider is called ‘Spark’ and they have a foundation called ‘Spark Foundation’.  (They used to be called Telecom, and it was the Telecom Foundation.  They have recently done a pretty successful rebrand, but that is a different story).  The reason for mentioning Spark Foundation is that they fund a website called ‘Give a Little‘ that is for crowd-funding, and they charge no fees.  They also fund a website called ‘Spark My Potential‘ that is invitation-only for projects they think should get a boost.

So my experience is this:

  1. I made a Give a Little page for Disappearing Traffic, and sent out a couple of emails asking friends for support.
  2. I got an email from Spark My Potential (SMP) inviting me to switch the page to SMP, and they would provide:
    1. A coach to help me get it set up;
    2. Matching funding (subject to final approval depending on how hard I worked on it), but an ‘all or nothing’ campaign that relied on the crowd (with matching) funding the full target amount (unlike Give a Little, which took straight donations);
    3. A guide that I could use to have a greater chance at success.
  3. Of course I agreed; a conference call was set up with the coach; and I was sent the guides.
  4. I did what the coach suggested: mainly making the video (there was some back-and-forth work on the script); thinking about what to offer as a ‘supporters journey’, creating lists of all my contacts (depending on the nature of the relationship, people were put on different lists) to send asking for support; and using the guide to create emails that made the right ask; and planning a campaign of activity with predesigned updates and further communications for once the campaign was underway.  I got a fantastic result, achieving 170% of the target, including over $700 of matched funding from Spark Foundation, and over 60 backers.Screenshot 2014-11-06 10.01.45
  5. Here is what I learned:
    1. The main thing is that the crowd is ‘my crowd’.  The vast majority of people who supported me (about 98%) were people whom I emailed, so had an existing relationship with.  There was very little ‘snowball effect’.  This might be because we met the target so quickly (it took 12 hours) that any one who happened on the campaign would see it was fully funded and would conclude that it did not need their support.  Also, we didn’t have time to do any of the broader marketing actions that we had in mind, because the target was met so quickly.  But I think this is also likely true for other projects – that it is the people who already know about the matter at hand who are likely to support it.
    2. My network is very generous.  Even though I suggested small contributions many people donated larger amounts.  This makes me feel very loved.  I was very surprised and humbled by the response.
    3. The focus of the preparation for the first couple of weeks was the video, but the main effort that delivered the result (I think) was the preparation of the email lists, and the careful wording of the emails.
    4. The crowd-funding system is a very streamlined way for people to show support, both with money and with comments.
  6. Here is what I am left wanting to learn:
    1. How do we get the snowball effect?
    2. Will the broader community of potential funders engage with this particular issue and support it?

In the longer run, to keep our work independent and to keep moving forward, crowd-funding seems like a very viable approach. But there is a big difference between getting a single trip to an event funded, and getting an ongoing program of work funded.  We would need to get a larger number of people on-board, which suggests that we need to engage the snowball effect: or access much larger existing networks.

Your thoughts?