Now that I’ve returned to my office after a week long transportation nerdery (is that a word??) in Washington, DC, I thought of quickly registering a few observations I made during the week. What I call the TRB Week has three back-to-back transportation events that happen in a week: it all began with the 3rd Transportation Camp (Jan 12) then followed by the 2013 TRB Annual Meeting (Jan 13-17) and concluded with the Transforming Transportation (Jan 17-18). As I stated earlier, these are mere observations and shared with the hope that it benefits the attendees heading to DC for future Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting and events planned around that conference.
- Transportation Camp: My TRB Week began at Transportation Camp here in DC (awesome facility support provided by co-host George Mason University’s Transportation Policy Program) and offered a glimpse of things to come. This annual unconference is one of my favorite events in the Transportation Calendar for many reasons and continues to remain on the “MUST Attend” category. As usual, I learned a lot about how much interest there is for biking among the Transportation planning community. Yes! A lot of bike-related sessions. And the organizers, esp. OpenPlans, did a fantastic job keeping the event pace along. For some odd reason, there are fewer sessions involving technology, technologists and hacks and more attendance from Transportation planners. My favorite session at this event featured a discussion on safety and security for women riders on Delhi’s Metro rail.
- 2013 TRB Annual Meeting: Like in the years before, this conference continues to be at the center stage for many of us in the Transportation Community and its importance has only continued to grow with more and more participants and innovative programming ideas tested by the organizer (Transportation Research Board). This event offers a great chance to meet, learn and network with fellow researchers from around the world. It is also an opportunity for me to catch up with many of my friends and colleagues whom I’ve known for years when they arrive in town. Coffee breaks, lunch hour and dinner are always booked for me during this conference. A few notable nuggets from TRB this year:
- TRB smartphone app - This was an awesome addition to the slate of conference planning tools, despite having some glitches/difficulties syncing the sesssion information across the platforms (phone/tablet/PC). I’m hoping this app will be better and much more user-friendly as TRB continues to fine-tune the product in the months ahead.
- Wifi access – Internet connectivity during the conference continues to be a big pain but TRB staff noted that relief is on the way when the conference moves from the hotels (Marriott, Omni and Hilton) to the Convention Center in 2015. This also would render more opportunities to attend sessions that are currently not accessible to many of us due to the logistics involved (riding shuttle buses between hotels is a big deterrent when it comes to planning my sessions at the different hotels though it doesn’t take much time to travel between them). Thanks to my employer (Citizant, Inc) I was lucky to have had a Verizon MiFi hotspot that allowed me to stay connected to the web at 4G speeds and allowed for a seamless support for my clients throughout the conference.
- Food – Continues to remain a major sore point as all the eateries around the conference hotels, esp. Marriott, get jammed up quickly with conference goers during lunch times. The Lobby bar at Marriott continues to be a major attraction for coffee breaks and post-dinner drinks as it can be a great venue to schedule meetings.
- My first audio podcast interview – Got interviewed for an Audio Podcast by Andy Boenau, a Transportation planner who also does very interesting podcasts with experts engaged in transportation. We discussed various issues randing from social media in transportation to the evolution of driver-less cars (vehicle automation). Yet to see the final product and I’m hoping to see it available on Andy Boenau’s website soon (urbanismspeakeasy.com)
- Social Media – I cannot stress enough the role of Social Media in bringing people together during such large gatherings of people. The presence of twitter is undeniable as the volume of tweets continue to swell year after year during the conference (and also in the weeks leading up to the conference). Don’t believe me? I recommend you check the hashtag #TRBAM and you will know what I am talking about. And this shows you how popular Twitter is: tweet from @TRBofNA today says “3,968 tweets using #TRBAMSun. Jan. 13-Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. In 2012, we had 2,830 during the same#TRBAM timeframe”. One of the major highlights of the TRB Annual Meeting is the impromptu tweetup I planned with a few fellow Twitterti. This tweetup held at Open City Cafe on Jan 16th was conceived, planned and executed via Twitter. We had a great turnout (about 85 people) and full sponsorship from @Uber_DC, the best hi-tech Taxi service at your fingertip.
- Innovative Programming: TRB staff are testing different formats to keep the audience engaged. One such effort was the Pecha Kucha style presentation, a 1st for TRB, that I happened to be a part of. Though the event was slated at the tail end of the conference (Yeah. Wednesday evening 7:30PM start), we had a great turn out. The moderator (and friend Shin Pei-Tsay) did an awesome job mixing up the line up, alternating between U.S. and European presenters to keep up the tempo. Each presenter had 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide to tell their story, mostly with visuals (and a sprinkling of text). I couldn’t have imagined a better format for a tired audience who have endured death by powerpoint all through the week.
- Networking: I cannot stress enough the importance of networking during the TRBAM Week. Here are a few words of wisdom for the new and young attendees:
- Stuff a ton of business cards in your coat/jacket when you arrive at TRB.
- Always be willing and ready to tell your story. If it is not too much work, I recommend that you prepare a two minute “elevato r pitch” that tells your story. You never know who will be in that hypothetical elevator with you.
- Looking for a job? Prepare and print a few copies of your resume and keep it ready for sharing with people interested in your story.
- Attend as many networking events as possible. Often you will see many Happy Hours, Receptions, Sponsored Events, etc held along the sidelines of the Annual Meeting. These are great venues for meeting and interacting with cool people.
- Get a lot of sleep if you can can. That’s one of the toughest things to do when you are in town for just a few days catching up with people and attending sessions.
- And stay connected on Social Media: Are you the shy one? No worries. If you are not so social in person, you may want to start by chatting with your target audience on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. This virtual interaction should definitely give you the confidence to interact with them in person when you are at the event. Also, from a civic sense, the conversations in the community will only get better when more people start talking. So, don’t hesitate to send out a tweet or post a note on LinkedIn.
- Do not hesitate to signup for volunteer opportunities, especially at the TRB Committees. If you are under 25yrs old, the committees would be glad to have you added as a Young Member. Also, a few notable forums that you should consider checking out during the Annual Meeting – Young Professionals in Transportation (they host an awesome reception every year. MUST ATTEND for us transportation professionals), Young Members Council, Womens Transportation Seminar, etc
- Transforming Transportation – Right on the heels of TRB Annual Meeting, the World Bank and World Resource Institute’s EMBARQ hold this annual event, Transforming Transportation, at the World Bank building, bringing together experts from around the world to discuss sustainable transportation issues. This year was a bit more special than previous years with the addition of a Keynote by New York City Mayor Mr. Michael Bloomberg, who has a great interest in supporting sustainable transportation initiatives not just in his city but also across the globe. The amount of knowledge sharing that happens in this event is unparalleled and I always walk away with a ton of new ideas that I could easily implement in my world of transportation and communications. This event also serves as a reminder for me as a professionals practicing the craft in the Developed world, that there are so many challenges that remain unsolved in transportation domain in the developing world.
There are so many more things I’d like to write about but in the essence of time, I’m going to stop here. Should I find the time and energy in the next couple of days, I’ll do a follow-up post. If you think I have missed something or should have addressed a few more points, do not hesitate to drop me a note in the comments sections. I’ll be happy to respond to your comments/suggestions/etc. Also, do not hesitate to share this article with your fellow Transportation professionals if it will help prepare them for the next year’s event.