How does that new @wsdot Twitter service work?

Posted 11 August 2009 by

Screenshot taken from KING5 website showing me in video

Since @KING5Seattle has made me the unofficial Joe Traffic Twitter for the Puget Sound region, I thought I would post how you get a specific report from the Washington Department of Transportation (@wsdot) using Twitter:

You must do the following before starting:

  • Follow @wsdot in Twitter.
  • Know how to send a direct message. For most, starting your message with the letter “d” works. See the examples below.

I created the following examples in Firefox using PowerTwitter.

Seattle area traffic time

After following @wsdot in Twitter, do the following:

  1. Create a direct message to @wsdot asking for travel time (“tt”) and location. For example, for the travel time from Everett to Seattle, type:
    d @wsdot tt Everett to Seattle
    Tweet to WSDOT for travel times
  2. Send the tweet.
  3. Wait for a minute or two for the return direct message.
    Return tweet of travel time

Mountain pass conditions (winter travel season only)

After following @wsdot in Twitter, do the following:

  1. Create a direct message to @wsdot asking for pass report (“pass”) and location. For example, when crossing Snoqualmie Pass when driving US 2 from Everett to Wenatchee, type:
    d @wsdot pass sno
    Tweet asking for the current pass conditions
  2. Send the tweet.
  3. Wait for a minute or two for the return direct message. (Actual pass information is available only during winter driving season.)
    Return tweet with the pass conditions

Canadian border wait times

After following @wsdot in Twitter, do the following

  1. Create a direct message to @wsdot asking for border wait time (“border”) and route number. For example, in order to go beyond Hope to visit the Canadian Rockies through Sumas, Washington, using State Route 9, type:
    d @wsdot border 9
    Tweet asking for border wait time
  2. Send the tweet.
  3. Wait for a minute or two for the return direct message.
    Return tweet with the border wait time

METAR weather information

After following @wsdot in Twitter, do the following

  1. Create a direct message to @wsdot asking for METAR weather conditions (“metar”) and 4-character airport code. For example, to see the conditions at Paine Field (Snohomish County Airport) in Everett, type:
    d @wsdot weather kpae
    Tweet asking for METAR information
  2. Send the tweet.
  3. Wait for a minute or two for the return direct message.
    Return tweet with METAR information

Wikipedia has information on translating a METAR report.

Other WSDOT products

The Washington DOT website has information on the web, by e-mail and telephone (5-1-1 information line) if you do not use Twitter.

Personal reaction

I have used the “old school” Twitter messages (@wsdot_traffic) frequently. Using Twitterberry on my BlackBerry, I could quickly scan the last half-hour or so to see if there were any traffic tie-ups that might affect where I was going.

Before Twitter, I used the web services available from the WSDOT to plan trips.

The effort to spread information that the WSDOT has on road conditions is commendable. Unfortunately, all traffic information is only accurate for the moment it is given. All it takes is an accident to happen 5 minutes after leaving home to change things.

Washington State has a strict law about cell phone and text messaging while driving. While a secondary offense (you must do something else wrong first in order to be ticketed), there is a good reason for following the law.

The 5-1-1 telephone service is good to find out what happened after getting in a traffic jam. Using hands-free tools on a cell phone, a driver can find out information. Unfortunately, this service cannot reach out to a lone driver to advise of a problem.

The 5-1-1 service presents problems when using it. I have handed my cell phone to a car passenger and said “Dial 5-1-1″ only to be asked “Now what do I do?” While I find the WSDOT call director easier to use than Oregon DOT’s 5-1-1 call director when visiting that state, it isn’t foolproof. Car noise can make the call director useless.

(Then there was the time 5-1-1 connected me to WSDOT instead of ODOT when I was at a rest area between the Idaho border and Baker City, Oregon, on a cold and snowy evening on I-84. But, that is another story.)

I appreciate WSDOT’s efforts at developing new tools and hope they continue. My reaction to this one is:

  • I question if the travel time tool will be of much use, especially after you leave home.
  • The pass condition and border wait time tools will be of much use.
  • The weather conditions will be of use if you learn how to read the reports.

What I would like to see is a Twitter tool for ferry wait times. When going to Bremerton from Everett, we have the choice of three ferries or driving around through Tacoma. To know which is fastest would be useful.

Related posts:

Post Details

Leave a Reply

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin

Writing on a VTX is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache

Better Tag Cloud