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The first decade of the 21st Century has witnessed the explosion of wireless communications and highspeed internet. New forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, among others have emerged and quickly gained popularity. As history has clearly shown, major technological advances usually transform some of the way people and society behave and interact (e.g., online shopping enabled by Internet). Such transformations, however, may take a long time to happen: in essence, technology is just the enabler; it is us, the human beings, who need to take the final step to make the transformation happen. This sometimes requires dramatic behavioral or even philosophical changes. Therefore, there is always a need to expedite and accelerate such transformation in a positive manner.

Social media is rapidly becoming an integral part of modern society. People use social media as a channel of communications with each other, a targeted group or the general public. Concurrently, researchers are studying this channel of communications in an attempt to link the characteristics of the message, such as content, sender-receiver, etc. to behavior of those using this media. At present, social media is not used universally as an official channel of communication, especially by the government. There is still no clear consensus among transportation managers on how social media can be utilized to collect and disseminate warnings to the public. The first step is to understand people’s behaviors on social media in response to actionable information during non-routine events. In order to understand people’s behaviors on social media we need to understand the content of their messages and how the messages travel through social media.

The research team will investigate best practices of using social media for transportation operations and will collect and analyze real social media data. Based on the lessons learned guidance will be provided to transportation agencies in how to best use social media to support traffic operations for non-routine events, such as incidents or planned special events. The proposed outside-the-box research is of significant importance to the region. Working closely with the New York State Department of Transportation, the research team will develop guidelines for using social media to support traffic operations. This research closely aligns with UTRC’s Focus Area #3: System modernization through implementation of advanced and information technologies as described in the RFP and would improve traffic congestion and safety of the highway system.