Street tweets through rough routesInformative tweets or invitations for danger?
Informative tweets or invitations for danger?
Embracing the social-networking surge, Washington County transportation officials are trying something new: They have provided updates to the Radio Drive road construction project on Twitter, the short-message Internet communication tool.
The county promoted the website by posting two road signs near the construction zone in Woodbury. The signs feature the Twitter logo and the username “CountyRoad13.”
It is a new approach to informing people of road construction. County and state officials were not aware of similar signs anywhere else in Minnesota.
The county’s embrace of the social media tool impressed some Twitter users over the past month of construction.
“Such a good idea!” tweeted one Woodbury resident.
“Pretty handy for residents,” added another.
But one “tweeter” whistled foul.
“They were encouraging illegal operation of a motor vehicle,” said a frustrated John Lavers of Woodbury, who complained to the county about the signs.
The Woodbury resident and Twitter user said he could not believe county officials would promote the Twitter site because motorists are likely to shift their eyes from the roadway to the screen of their mobile phones to check for updates.
“I was driving,” the 78-year-old Lavers recalled, “and I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, what in the hell are they doing that for? Aren’t there enough idiots on the road?’”
It is against state law to electronically communicate on a mobile device while driving.
The Twitter updates were meant to inform drivers of traffic changes that could affect their commuting, said Joe Gustafson, a county transportation engineer. The theory is that drivers would check for updates before driving.
The signs are not a safety hazard, Gustafson said. Besides, he added, not only is it illegal to surf Twitter while driving, but checking the Twitter feed from the road after seeing the sign promoting it will not do much good.
“The project’s right there in front of them at that point,” he said.
Washington County used Twitter updates and signs for two projects this season – the County Road 13 pavement upgrade and similar improvements to County Road 8 in Hugo.
Sixty-five people are following the county’s updates on the Woodbury project, though more people may have checked it out because Twitter users can view the updates without formally following them.
Only two people have complained, Gustafson said, and one of the complaints was a comment about how the Twitter handle appears on the signs, not about the signs themselves. Lavers lodged the other complaint.
A federal manual regulates content on traffic signs. It prohibits the use of Internet addresses on official traffic signs, but county and state officials have interpreted that differently.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation provides construction project and traffic updates on its website and sends e-mail alerts on the projects. The Transportation Department has a Twitter feed for agency information, but does not use it to update specific projects because of the federal guidelines, said spokeswoman Mary McFarland Brooks.
“They’re taking a fairly strict interpretation so far,” Gustafson said of MnDOT. “We’re taking kind of a loose interpretation (by) saying a Twitter handle is not an Internet address.”
Gustafson said the signs are not an incentive for motorists to break the law by using their mobile phones to check the Internet-based application.
This is a test, he said, but the county may use similar signs for other projects in the future. Since the signs can be reused simply by changing the name of the project, the expense is minimal, he said.
“There’s certainly some benefit to providing people with the information,” he said.