Humans of TRB: in the halls of America’s largest transportation conference

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) hosted its 96th Annual Meeting this January in Washington D.C. and broke attendance records by welcoming over 14,000 attendees to the nation’s capitol. TRB, as the event is commonly called, is the largest gathering of transportation researchers and professionals in America, and perhaps the world. The conference program (140 pages in total) is overwhelming, and sessions are unnervingly specific…anyone for “Semicircular Bending Tests of Concrete Asphalt Mixtures” at 1:30? No?! Well then how about “Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management and Pesticides“?

It is hard to know what sessions to pick and navigating through swarms of business casual bodies can be a little dehumanizing. At least that was my experience my first year at TRB in 2016. Going into TRB 2017, however, I was determined to shake things up and really enjoy my time in the halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. I drew my inspiration from the ultimate example of humanizing storytelling over at Humans of New York (HONY). HONY, started in 2010 by photographer James Stanton, brings Jane Jacobs’ “ballet of the good city sidewalk” to life with photographs and quoted snapshots of everyday life. The concept is contagious (HONY has over 18 million followers on Facebook) and I decided to embark on my very own Humans of TRB journey. Here is what I found:

The halls of TRB were still whiter and more male-dominated than I would have liked, but of course neither these groups, nor transportation professionals as a whole are monoliths. I began to build a more nuanced picture of the people around me and even found hidden appreciation for the attendees studying niche topics like asphalt geometry and traffic signal timing. People are not defined by their field or their specialization, but without a sincere “hello” to break the ice it can be easy to miss the unique experiences of our professional peers. Meeting the humans of TRB was the best part of my conference visit and I encourage others to try something similar at their next professional event.

Featured Image: Washington, D.C. Metro car. Photo Credit: Katy Lang

All other images by author.

About the Author: Taylor McAdam is pursuing a master’s in City and Regional Planning, focusing on transportation and equity. She is a California native, excited for the chance to explore a new region of the country and a new set of planning challenges. A typical week includes a good game of basketball, many hours toying with maps and GIS, and an attempt at a new dish, ideally to be shared with friends. Writing is Taylor’s favorite way to work through new ideas and keep critical conversations afloat.