“High-caliber, informative, and interesting” The Transportation Research Board annual meeting

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Attendees stream into the exhibit hall at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting. (TPB)

Editor’s note: Every year TPB staff attend the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting where they share their work, learn about new research in transportation, attend working groups, and network with other transportation professionals. This year, 22 TPB staff members attended the meeting, Matthew Gaskin, a transportation planner, attended for the first time. This is his story.


I hadn’t even been at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) for a week, when I was informed I would be attending the 2018 TRB Annual Meeting, I was over the moon.

A “Bootcamp” for new attendees

The annual meeting kicked off for me on Sunday afternoon with TRB Bootcamp, a session catered to people like me who would be first-year attendees. Executive Director Neil Pedersen gave a very inspiring keynote address. He spoke about the mission and theme of this year’s annual meeting.

There were also 30 “Topic Tables,” staffed by TRB volunteers, experts in fields ranging from Asphalt Material, Data/Information Systems, Policy, Public Transportation, etc. Anything, associated with the world of transportation was represented at this session.

At a bootcamp for new attendees, topic tables were set up so attendees could gather and talk about their areas of interest. (TPB)

“Black Friday” for transportation professionals: the exhibit hall opens

Immediately after the bootcamp, the Exhibit Hall was set to open. When I arrived, the scene was reminiscent of the opening of a store on Black Friday, minus the fights. Attendees stood anxiously near the main door until given the “OK” from the security detail to enter.

Once inside I was blown away by the large and diverse number of vendors that were present. I was drawn to the multiple booths set up by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Another booth that caught my attention was one by the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory (CATT Lab) which conducts and applies research to support national, state, and local efforts to solve important transportation, safety, and security problems.

Later in the evening, I attended a reception for young professionals, this was an opportunity for me to network and meet with people from not only around the United States but also Europe and Asia. It was delightful to chat with other young working professionals who are equally as passionate about the importance of transportation as I am. If you only have a limited amount of time, I highly suggest attending the first day of the TRB Annual Meeting.

New ways to measure performance

Since my focus is on performance management and measurement most of my sessions involved this topic. An interesting session, “You Measure What?” took a look at the future of performance measures, such as innovative performance metrics like network connectivity. Network Connectivity in this instance referred to connecting bicycle lanes and trails. This could prove useful to understand and link travel behavior to urban form; or from a more public policy perspective establishing performance standards on current or new developments that could help organizations prioritize projects better.

Will self-driving cars run errands?

I also got a chance to attend a session examining the “Mobility of the Future.” What if 15 people could have total access to a self-driving car for two weeks? One researcher tested it out at his university. The experience revealed the average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for participants increased by 83 percent and 21 percent of those VMTs were “ghost trips,” trips where the vehicle would be running your errands, parking, or making deliveries, without you in the car.

He explained that he wanted to measure the impact that fully autonomous vehicles could have on human behavior in the future. The biggest challenge was the fact that currently there aren’t any fully autonomous vehicles. However, a very comparable substitute was that of a chauffeur-driven car.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from my first TRB Annual Meeting, I will say that it was an amazing experience. One could sense the energy entering the convention center. The sessions I attended were high-caliber, informative, and interesting. The TRB volunteers were knowledgeable and helpful. I’ve attended multiday conferences before, and often I’ve left thinking, “Well, at least I got a few days out of the office,” that was far from the case in this instance, the overall experience was definitely priceless and an excellent use of my time, and I am already looking forward to the 2019 TRB Annual Meeting.

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