Greetings from TRB!

Todd Litman's picture
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Greetings from Washington DC where this week I attend the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting, held here each January. It is an exciting, productive, and often stressful event; a tribal gathering that attracts more than 10,000 transportation professionals from around the world. This is my 19th year! Here are some personal highlights.

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Thursday & Friday

While preparing to leave my main computer failed. Disaster! Two days of frustration and distraction as I struggled to finalize my presentations and meet consulting project deadlines.

Saturday

Departed early in the morning. Jet had mechanical problems. Flight canceled. More frustration and stress! Revised routing had tight connections, including a sprint through the Chicago airport. Arrived late to Washington DC. Checked luggage lost. Got to my hotel after midnight.

Sunday

I gave a presentation at a workshop on autonomous (self-driving) cars, based on my study,  Autonomous Vehicle Implementation Projections. This lead to a debate with advocates who only recognize the advantages and ignore likely problems of automated driving, such as new types of crashes and increased vehicle travel. An MIT professor claims that autonomous taxis will be 90% cheaper than human-powered taxis, revolutionizing the market; my analysis suggestions that 20-50% cost reductions are more realistic. Late dinner with fellow Sustainable Transportation Committee members.    

Monday

Sustainable Transportation Committee meeting all morning, followed by Sustainable Transportation Indicators Subcommittee, which I chair. Last year we organized some very successful presentations, but our recommendations have gained little traction within the larger organization so far. Data quality is a critical issue, but TRB is showing little leadership or support for more international coordintion of data collection, which is particularly important for research purposes.

Countless discussions with friends and colleagues in the hallways and coffee shops. Rush across town for a long meeting on the development of SLoCaT (Sustainable Low Carbon Transportation), an important new international organizations coordinating efforts to develop more sustainable transport systems, and related data collection and performance evaluation; unfortunately, no major U.S. organization is involved. Late night reception with colleagues from around the world.

Tuesday

I spent the morning at TRB’s Special Task Force on Data for Decisions and Performance Measures, which is working to develop a U.S. government strategic vision for transport system performance evaluation. I make myself unpopular by expressing my frustration with our slow progress – this is our third year and we have yet to produce a workplan or any reports. I then spent the afternoon participating in the Environmental Justice in Transportation Committee, of which I am also a member, based on a report I co-write with Marc Bernman, New Social Equity Agenda for Transportation. We struggle over the Committee’s scope and emphasis; I argue that equitable transportation requires planning reforms that lead to a more diverse and affordable, and therefore less automobile-dependent, transportation systems, rather than a purely programmatic approach that involves special policies and programs to help specifically-defined disadvantaged groups.

Ended the day at the ITDP Sustainable Transportation Awards ceremony, held at one of the TRB hotels. A great celebration attracting people from around the world. Buenos Aries won this year, among a very competitive field. Congratulations! Another late night of eating and drinking.

Wednesday

More early meetings. I gave a presentation on freight transport economic evaluation which emphasized the importance of comprehensive evaluation of benefits and costs, and the value to shippers of congestion pricing as a way to give high-value vehicles priority in traffic. Good discussion.

I spent the afternoon helping SLoCat develop global sustainable performance indicators and targets to incorporate into UN International Development Goals – a huge challenge but somebody has to do it! More late eating and drinking, including the World Congress for Transportation Research reception, which had free food but not drinks, and the EMBARQ/ITDP reception, which had free drinks but no food.

Thursday

Today I will participate in the Accessible Transportation Roundtable, organized by Access Exchange International, a truly wonderful organization which works to insure that public transit systems around the world accommodate people with disabilities. It accomplishes a tremendous amount on a very think budget. Well done! This morning I’ll give a presentation on evaluating complete streets.

This afternoon I’ll participate in Transforming Transportation, a major conference held at the World Bank headquarters, which explores and showcases efforts by major international organizations to support more sustainable transportation policies. When I first started on this work two decades ago we were criticizing the development bank’s policies, now we are working with them to implement structural reforms – we’ve come a long way in twenty years!        

Friday

I fly home after a very full, very busy and often exhausting week with my tribe in Washington DC.

The Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting is just one of my regular events which allows planners to learn about our issues and contribute to our profession. If encourage you to find the organizations and events that fit into your personal career path.  

Todd Litman is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

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