Saturday, December 29, 2012

TRB Committee involvement advice

I often get asked by young professionals about what I have done to be involved with TRB. I began my involvement in the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting as an employee at Kittelson & Associates, Inc. (KAI) with activity surrounding the firm's work on research mostly related to the Highway Capacity Manual. The Committee on Highway Capacity and Quality of Service is a great model to watch because of the success they have had with attracting research to the topic, expanding the scope of their efforts over time, and how they use a wide range of Subcommittee meetings to get work done. The exposure to that group was a solid base to start branching out to get involved in activities that were more diverse than what KAI was involved. The firm valued people that followed their interests and worked to develop expertise that would compliment the existing skills, so it was a cognizant choice to follow my interests in Traffic Signal Systems and what I saw of as a need for the firm. By getting engaged in this work, it would allow diversity of the "Kittelson brand" (that term wasn't ever used) and professional growth of the staff involved (me and others that I could include later). There was another person with the firm involved in this sort of work at the time, so it wasn't entirely a jump to a new topic; it allowed me to fill a need that would result in growth for the firm.

Looking back, the combination of a new business line or one that could be enhanced by even more dedication to the effort, I found that the chances to lead for a young professional were ample and while from a financial standpoint did not make the most sense; the company was exceptional in its interest and dedication where they would follow people that had a passion for a particular topic. Blending the expertise in KAI's core Traffic Operations (Highway Capacity Manual) business and complimentary topics was a recipe for success provided that both parties are willing to make the investment.

Back to the TRB story...(how to get involved)

The Traffic Signal Systems Committee added me as a younger member after showing up and volunteering to serve in a variety of capacities. My first activity was to summarize our Sunday Workshop in a newsletter format that was emailed out to the Committee and some of our partner agencies. Being named as a Younger Member was a great entry into the inner circle, sitting at the "Big Kids table" at the formal meetings. The experience was daunting at the start, but slowly by volunteering time and organizing efforts (more involvement in getting speakers for the workshops on Sunday, paper reviews, editing of the Triennial Strategic Plan, etc) it lead to greater exposure and an understanding of teaming arrangements both in the research community and for local projects. It lead to a payback over the long term, not often something that a corporate quarterly financial report would highlight.

Once you have initially started with a Committee, coordination with other people across TRB is of interest to diversify the range of topics that you can get involved with. In the private sector, this can help build that next group of professionals that would continue to grow the market. Examples of the how that early work and investment on the Transit Signal Priority Workshop resulted in follow up work can be seen on the KAI website and at work completed for the Federal Transit Administration.

Tips for getting more involved in a Committee

1. Analyze the activities they are doing and think about how well they are doing them and if you can help (website, social media - who is in charge of this? - perhaps no one, newsletter - is there one?)
2. Email the Committee chair and or Secretary and start a dialogue before the meeting
3. Sign up to develop a Research Problem Statement, joint with another Committee. The other Committee may not know your experience level and your technical understanding in your topic may be higher than theirs. If you are new to the profession this is difficult, but you certainly add value in places.

Updated Tips (12/28/12): 

Now that I am a Committee Chair, a few more tips:
1. Go meet the Chair, but don't ask to be a Member upon the first handshake. This happens occasionally and while membership is not exclusive, it is something that is done to acknowledge the service of friends of the Committee. The list of friends to the Committee is often long, so dedicated volunteers are appreciated and first to be named as Members.
2. Get involved with a Subcommittee. You don't have to be a Member to have a significant contribution. Subcommittees are where the real work gets done in the larger Committees. Traffic Signal Systems just added two Subcommittees (Multimodal focus and Asset Management) and often the Subcommittee Chair anticipates capturing meeting minutes as a part of their duties. Volunteering at the start of meeting to capture notes on your laptop during the meeting can be a nice way to start.
3. Volunteer to present at a Subcommittee meeting. This is another thing to do in advance of the meeting as opposed to 15 minutes before it starts. It is important that you have something relevant to the group, but it is another potential way to get engaged.

Top Posts from my Blog

It's that time of year when you start getting the Best of 2012 lists, so here's my contribution to the end of the year tradition. three out of the top 5 are associated with my trips to the Netherlands with Portland State.

Post about IKEA renting cargo bikes in Delft
Summary of presentation by town planner in Delft
Rebuttal to Vehicular cyclist concepts
Dutch traffic controller cabinet
Portland's work to count bicycles in an automated fashion
Summary of 4 to 3 lane conversion (cites Bike Portland articles)
How Traffic Signals fit in an urban context
Simple post about Vancouver BC's bicycle signals

Traffic Data Collection Tools - Bluetooth, GPS, & Cameras

The Green Lane Project asked its resident blogger to ask me about my efforts on our recent cycletrack project on NE Multnomah. The focus of the blog post from Michael Andersen was on the work we're doing on NE Multnomah to monitor traffic conditions, optimize movement on the corridor, and be responsive to the public comments. The tools we're using include Bluetooth data collection for estimating arterial travel times, a GPS to get data from individuals, and video cameras so we can observe the experience on the corridor, especially if we're called from the field. This article scratched the surface of some of the work to harness data to make decisions.

We have been working closely with the PORTAL group at Portland State University for establishing permanent locations for Bluetooth devices that we can use to measure arterial performance and use the information for monitoring. On Multnomah Blvd, we used temporary devices and it was helpful to understand whether there was any specific issues we should address.

I recognized this is an area I haven't written a lot about, so here's a little more background on Bluetooth travel time analysis we have completed. The first example was some research conducted on comparing vehicle travel times with bus Automatic Vehicle Location data. The initial work I did on this topic was with Kittelson & Associates on Bluetooth data with vehicle travel times, which was also published at the 2010 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Most of this work has to be attributed to the brilliant minds at Purdue University, specifically Darcy Bullock who shared the concept with the Transportation Research Board meeting in 2009?

Back to Portland, we have rolled out these devices where we have had something new going on and resources to spare. The Federal Highway Administration acknowledged the robust nature of the data we have created by awarding us a grant to document the extensive data as a Model for others to follow. The report on this can be found here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Are You Strong Enough to Handle Critics?

This is a quote that I have had at my desk throughout my career. Nothing has happened to make me want to type this, it just came up as I was organizing and it is a statement that I have enjoyed observing over the years: (one could also exchange the man for person)

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
 -- Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bicycle Signal commentary and TRB 2013

On the APBP listserv, someone inquired about why Bicycle Signals are not covered in the MUTCD. I am not going to defend the folks on the National Committee other than to acknowledge that they tend toward state DOT issues (higher speed facilities, less multimodal, etc).  The MUTCD will always be important to us, but the NACTO Bike Guide does a reasonable job on the topic, so one could pose the question of whether we need a state DOT focused manual to cover the topic.  

Our bike signals in Portland (we have 16) are varied and diverse, so there's a bit of science to it and our colleagues at PSU are doing some research with us that will be presented at TRB.

There are some details that need to be sorted out and there is a lot we can learn from Europe. Here's one blog post that I raise a few questions about variations of the displays you see in the Netherlands.