January 28, 2020

The 99th TRB Annual Meeting: Insider Insights

Washington, D.C.

This year I was welcomed to present at the 99th Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington DC.*

As a result, I was privileged to be able to sit in on some fantastic presentations on a wide range of topics such as emerging technologies and services for the movement of both people and goods, and the importance of centering a lens of equity in planning and decision-making processes.

With that said, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and key takeaways from the conference. For more information on any of the topics below, please feel free to comment and I would be happy to discuss in greater detail!

Urban Freight: Sustainable and Innovative Last Mile Delivery Systems

In an effort to become more environmentally sustainable, as well as to minimize and manage the disruption urban freight is having on cities, last mile delivery systems (AKA urban freight systems) across the globe are changing both technologically and logistically.  Some of the recent trends in last mile delivery technology and logistics include the following:

Pick-up points and shared delivery lockers

Designated pick-up points and delivery locker systems that enable a reduction in deliveries to individual households are possible. Reducing the amount of deliveries to individual households helps to improve traffic and curb side congestion, while also resolving concerns related to parcel theft.

In Vancouver, TransLink will be piloting “smart lockers” at Joyce-Collingwood, Stadium-Chinatown and Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station in the spring.

Urban Fulfillment Centres / Warehouses

In Paris, Amazon prime has an urban warehouse with a fully electrified fleet of vehicles used for distribution. The fleet is charged on the roof of the warehouse as the roof is fully equipped with electric charging facilities.

Electric delivery vehicles and charging facilities

UPS is currently in the process of electrifying its entire fleet, and, through partnerships has piloted a “smart grid” charging facility in London, UK.

River freight 

Along the Seine River in Paris, freight barges are delivering goods, from Ikea to grocery stores. For Ikea, goods are brought in on a hybrid barge and are then loaded onto cargo bikes that make deliveries across the city.

Electric cargo bikes

A quintessential example, Vancouver’s own Shift Urban Delivery is an urban delivery system that uses electrified tricycles and cargo boxes (some of which are refrigerated!) to deliver goods with thin the city of Vancouver without adding to vehicle congestion or traffic-related greenhouse gases.

Low-Emission Zones & Off-Hour Delivery Programs

For a quintessential example of low-emission zones, look to London, UK, and for Off-Hour Delivery Programs, look to New York City, NY.

Curbside Management Practices

As there are many emerging strategies to better manage curbside space in cities (champions of which include the City of Seattle and New York), I have opted to provide you with ITE’s Curbside Management Practitioners Guide to highlight key considerations and tools/tactics for better managing curbside space for both people and goods.

Emerging Mobilities for the Transport Disadvantaged

Demand Responsive Transit (DRT) and the [potential] impact on social equity

DRT, also known to many of us as paratransit, is an alternative to conventional transit (e.g. buses) that services areas where conventional transit cannot typically operate. The original, and quite frankly infamous, paratransit model, targeted primarily to disabled peoples, has long been regarded as ineffective and inefficient, with people having to book a seat / destination sometimes a week in advance.

The new DRT model, on the other hand, is targeted for all groups (not just those who are disabled), and aims to service those living in under-serviced areas (and would likely remain under-serviced due to conditions such as low-density / suburban / sprawling environments) which are oftentimes home to some of the most disadvantaged groups (e.g. low-income and new immigrants). This re-vamped service model is run by app, and tends to connect passengers directly with key destinations (shopping, schools), or serve as feeder services to larger transport hubs.

In essence, by employing new smart and on-demand technology, DRT systems are improving the systematic and logistical inefficiencies long affiliated with the original paratransit model. Examples of DRT systems currently being piloted are:

Currently, researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the University of Toronto, Scarborough are evaluating these programs to understand their so-far successes and failures, as well as key information such as primary destinations, user demographics and change in transportation mode share.

The Transportation Wallet in Portland, Oregon

The city of Portland is spending much time on trying to understand how to better accommodate the transportation needs of disadvantaged groups. Broad research findings have shown the primary barriers to accessing transportation services includes:

  • Low-incomes
  • Language
  • Technology (e.g. elderly persons not knowing how to use an app)
  • Bank accounts (lack thereof, or concerns of privilege/security issues)

To tackle some of these barriers, the the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has put together a pilot project for a new transportation packaging program that provides people living in existing affordable housing developments with a “transportation wallet” that provides them with “free” access to  Portland’s transportation options. This wallet (which is essentially a loaded Bank of America Card), includes:

  • $150 TriMet Hop card
  • Annual Portland Streetcar pass
  • Annual BIKETOWN membership
  • $25 car share credit with car2go

Evaluation of this program is currently underway to understand the challenges and opportunities related to sustaining a program such as this.

Engagement, Equity, and Experiments in Transport Planning

Planning for Autonomous Vehicles in Cities

As cities prepare for AVs, questions surrounding how to regulate and manage them are already underway.  Some of the key considerations will be related to curbside and parking management strategies, and as a result, development and zoning requirements.

One of the main considerations cities should think about about before designing new policies/regulations is to understand the motivation for a city to adopt AVs. For example, are cities interested in finding ways to generate revenue? Minimize the impact to curb space and parking facilities? Both? To ensure new policies/regulations are effective, it is critical that cities understand what it is they wish to achieve.

Despite much media attention. AVs still have many technological and regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Transit + Homelessness: Addressing the Homelessness Crisis

New research is beginning to explore the relationship between the homelessness crisis and transit, including the positive role transit can play (e.g. stations doubling as shelters in adverse conditions such as in Montreal; improved mobility and accessibility) as well as understanding the [potential] negative impacts homelessness can have on transit and its related infrastructure (e.g. damages to infrastructure such as underground stations). Through this research, it is hoped that a better understanding of how transit can affect and is affected by the homelessness crisis, and the opportunities that exist for transit to help alleviate some of these issues.

The role transportation agencies play in tackling challenges and building solutions to these problems will be a key consideration moving forward. For more on this topic, check out this Streetsblog USA article, and Canada’s “Homeless Hub” website.

Addressing Changing Demographics in Environmental Justice Analysis

A new report, Addressing Changing Demographics in Environmental Justice Analysis, led principally by Portland State University researchers, looks to understand the nature and magnitude of change related to spatial shifts in demographics using a lens of equity. As a result of this type of analysis, planners and decision-makers can better understand the impacts certain transport plans, projects, policies may have on “environmental justice” communities such as those with high numbers of  low-income households. For example, predicting (as much as possible) whether residents of certain disadvantaged areas are likely to benefit from project x given [potential / ongoing] processes of gentrification and displacement is very valuable information to have.

Reports / guides such as this are often helpful for planners and decision-makers in the US who, by law (Title VI, Civil Rights Act), must consider / engage with disadvantage, or “environmental justice” groups / communities for any project that receives federal funding. While Canada does not have an equivalent to Title VI of the US Civil Rights Act, we can nonetheless benefit from the work that has emerged to help planners and decision-makers in the US meet, and ideally exceed such legislation.

Practical Tools for Advancing Equity in Transport Planning

Recommended practices discussed by a collection of presenters and panelists include the following:

Spatial methods / tools of analysis

  • Accessibility (e.g. the ease of reaching desired destinations)
  • Level of Traffic Stress (LTS)
  • Logsums

Qualitative methods / tools of analysis

  • Qualitative environmental studies
  • Interviews and / or focus groups with the local community as well as planners and decision-makers

The Role of Government and the Community

Engagement processes that are inclusive and effective within local contexts

  • Participatory budgeting processes – recently, residents of Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood got to vote (and can still do so!) on how to spend $100,000 of public funds to improve the neighbourhood.

Cultural competency training

Government departments / advisory committees

*Given my previous posts, it may come as no surprise that my particular presentation involved a large equity component. My presentation, The Pursuit of Cycling Equity: A Review of Canadian Transport Plans, provided a comprehensive definition of cycling equity (including how one may provide for it), and evaluates if and how Canadian transport plans from across the country are addressing equity. If you would like to know more about this topic &/or presentation, please leave a note in the comments!

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  1. Thanks for your post. As a past chair of the TRB Strategic Management committee, I have been engaged with the organization for over a decade. Primarily driven by its volunteers on committees and task forces, and with the engagement of academics and post-secondary students, TRB is providing the world with critical transportation research. I am pleased you found your participation worthwhile and I hope you will continue to remain engaged with TRB.

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