Being a first time attendee at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting from 7-11 January 2018 in Washington, D.C. the first thing that strikes you, aside from the frigid temperatures of a northern hemisphere winter, is the sheer scale of this event. The venue is an enormous 4-level conference centre that spans over two city blocks and includes a major hotel adjacent to the conference centre. A facility of this scale is needed to accommodate the 13,000+ delegates attending the five day conference.
This year’s event marked the 97th annual meeting of the TRB, which is a branch of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Unlike transportation conferences in Australasia, the TRB has a broad focus on land, sea and air transport – although land transport is the dominant mode discussed.
Being an academic conference, papers and presentations are heavily structured around new areas of research, much of which is completed by post-doctoral students at universities. What soon became apparent to me, was the massive gulf between the research and its practical application in the ‘real world’. Practitioners that are tasked with delivering road safety, at least in Australasia, aren’t interested in complex statistical analyses to understand the statistical significance of each possible factor that may influence safety outcomes. Sure they want evidence-based solutions, but the microscopic details are not required. The presentations that were most engaging built off research and demonstrated its application in practice.
So, what did I learn? My main takeaway is that New Zealand, Australia and much of Europe have considerably more advanced methods for managing transport systems. I was somewhat shocked to find out that all the traffic signals in Washington DC operate with fixed times. The concept of dynamic or actuated traffic control seemed a foreign concept, and was actually investigated by multiple researchers. That’s another thing I noticed...it seems that North American organisations rarely look outside of their own country for solutions. Take the dynamic management of traffic signals as an example, that’s been operating in Australia for more than 30 years! In the road safety space, the US has some appalling statistics. Around 100 people die on America’s roads every day. Concerted effort is being directed to reverse the upward trend that is happening across the globe, but the challenge is immense. At Abley, we’re currently working in partnership with Esri to introduce some network level analytical methods to State transportation departments.
A long flight awaits...while taking in the sights and sounds of cities such as Washington, D.C. are fantastic, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to the comforts and warmth of home.
Images above: The frozen Potomac River, Paul at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, in front of the Washington Monument
Blog written by Paul Durdin, Director at Abley Transportation Consultants