Twitter: Where transportation news moves fast

Can’t wait for the latest in transportation news?Hop on Twitter.The Kansas Department of Transportation is offering up-to-the-moment text updates about traffic problems, weather conditions and road projects at two accounts on, the free online networking site that allows users to deliver and receive information in 140-character snippets.It’s the same site where you can follow Wheel Genius, to keep up with bursts of transportation news and information affecting Lawrence and the surrounding area. Think of it as a short, quicker version of this online blog.(Instructions for checking out Wheel Genius, or the two KDOT accounts, using Twitter can be found at the end of this blog entry.)KDOT established its TopekaMetroKDOT account to distribute information covering Douglas County and the Topeka area. Updates are posted by Kimberly Qualls, public affairs manager for KDOT’s District One, which includes much of northeast Kansas.Qualls also has another department account, KansasCityKDOT, to provide information about highways in the Kansas City metro area.Since their launch last month, the two accounts have attracted 239 “followers,” who receive Qualls’ updates — known as “tweets” — on their computers, mobile phones and other handheld devices.To sign up for a Twitter account, visit other Twitter users have been known to send tweets about where they’re going for coffee, what they’re watching on TV or how they’re feeling at any particular moment, Qualls says she is careful to avoid transmitting relatively trivial matters using a KDOT account.Many of her followers, after all, receive messages from KDOT while driving on streets and highways, a task that does not hold up well to distractions.”We’re stressing to not use your cell phone while you’re driving, period, for anything,” Qualls said, during a phone interview. “Check your messages before you leave. Plan your trips before you leave.”Talking on cell phones, checking text messages and otherwise communicating wirelessly while driving generally is frowned upon in transportation circles. Kansas University researchers recently warned that texting while driving is among the biggest challenges facing transportation today, given the safety implications.That doesn’t mean you can’t use the services. Check before you depart the office. Log on before you start the car. If you sense a traffic jam up ahead on a state highway, pull over and check Twitter.Just take care not to become the subject of a Twitter message yourself.Time to Tweet?For those who have yet to enter the Twitterverse, here’s how to get an account and then sign on to receive transportation-related information through Twitter:1. Visit and, as a new user, sign up for an account by clicking on the “Join the conversation” tab. Establishing an account is free, and the process only takes a few minutes.2. Now that you’re in, find other accounts you want to follow by clicking on “Find People,” then “Find on Twitter.” For Wheel Genius, enter WheelGenius (one word), or Mark Fagan. For KDOT’s Topeka site, which includes Lawrence, enter TopekaMetroKDOT (again, all one word), or Kimberly Qualls. For the Kansas City area, it’s either KansasCityKDOT or KCMetroKDOT.3. To track these or any other accounts on Twitter, click on the desired account and then the “Follow” button. You’ll receive tweets from accounts that you’re following, and checking them online is free.4. To have tweets sent to your phone or other mobile devices, click on the “Settings” tab at the top of the page, then “Devices.” Just follow the instructions (again, it only takes a minute or two), and then you can choose which accounts can send tweets to your device. Remember that while Twitter doesn’t charge for the service, your phone company likely does. Be sure to check your plan.