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Dr. Deb Niemeier, University of Maryland

Vernon L. Snoeyink Distinguished Lecture | The Bike Lane Wars: Civic Engagement and Social Media in Urban Design

Event Type
CEE - Environmental Engineering & Science
Levis Faculty Center, 919 W Illinois St., Urbana, IL 61801
Apr 25, 2024   4:30 - 6:00 pm  
Dr. Deb Niemeier
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CEE Seminars and Conferences

Most research agrees that while social media promotes community engagement, it can also increase the spread of misinformation. There is less consensus in the literature on how much, and under what circumstances, misinformation spreads. To examine the role of social media in urban design, I use recent dialogue on the addition of a bike lane in Washington DC. Like many other places considering bike lane additions, social media has helped to air the pros and cons of the proposed design change. The anti-bike lane complaints usually revolve around the economic impacts to adjacent businesses, increased safety hazards, and the loss of parking. The pro-bike lane contingents argue that bike lanes bring improvements in safety, significant beneficial health effects, and help with decarbonization. Nationally, the increasingly incendiary rhetoric over bike lanes signals more than a simple dispute over design benefits and suggests that opinions are deeply rooted in culture and ideology. In this talk, I will explore how the use of a moderated listserv amplified differences in opinion and increased misinformation about the design features of a proposed bike lane project in a wealthy, white, and almost exclusively Democratic community. More fundamentally, this talk will show that while the use of social media promotes civic engagement, it can also increase the spread of misinformation even in a largely homogeneous community. This has important implications for designing a more equitable, resilient, and decarbonized built environment. Register Here

Speaker Bio

Deb Niemeier is the Clark Distinguished Chair in Energy and Sustainability at the University of Maryland, College Park; she serves as a professor in the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an affiliate professor in the College of Information Studies and the Dept of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science. Her research focuses on the identification of vulnerable populations and environmental health disparities in the built environment. She studies risks associated with outcomes in the intersection of social and demographic characteristics, housing, and infrastructure with environmental hazards such as air quality, disasters, and more broadly climate change. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for “distinguished contributions to energy and environmental science study and policy development;” a Guggenheim Fellow for foundational work on pro bono service in engineering and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. She was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2020. She recently received the Perry L. McCarty Founders Award (2022) and 2023 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science.

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