I went to my first Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting this week. I enjoyed the Library and Information Science committee meeting (like the SLA tranlib listserv, but in real life!). I was sad to learn that I could not join the transportation librarianship TRB committee until I finish my MLS, but evidently I can join the SLA group, so, I need to get on that.

We met a really cool librarian from TRB, who gave Katie and I some ideas about setting up interlibrary loan without being members of OCLC. (One of my goals for the new year is to spend more time meeting with established librarians.) Also enjoyed getting to use my Portuguese skills to speak with a woman from some transit institute in São Paulo.  I wish I had known before the conference that there is a transit history committee, in addition to the archaelogical preservation committee, which is a little outside my field.

I went to the bike and pedestrian counts paper session, which was underwhelming. I’m pretty sure one presenter just admitted to throwing out 1/4 of his data. I’m pretty sure I heard that right, since I checked with 3 other people and they left with the same impression. The other paper I remember in great detail was about an equation used to correct the number of bikes observed on a given day with the total number that likely used the intersection/infrastructure observed. This equation was derived by tracking cycle traffic on Portland, OR’s Hawthorne Bridge,  which has over 8,000 cyclists cross it daily. Like one of the women in the audience, I’m also skeptical that conclusions drawn from one of the busiest spots for bike traffic in the country can be extrapolated to low traffic areas. (But of course, because a woman asked the question, the white male presenter was super dismissive. All the substantive questions at the Bike and Ped Counts sessions were asked by women, and all were dismissed, although I was annoyed and peaced out by the time the last presenter – a woman – came around. Why was the woman scheduled last, I wonder?)

I also worked the DDOT booth with these two. Well, I stood around for a few hours while Samantha and Katie did the heavy lifting. Look how cute they look!

The coolest booth I saw (besides the sweet Hummer, that was cool, the DDOT one was cool too because bike share) was one about Virginia’s Smart Road. They can control the weather, lighting, and pretty much every variable on this road to analyze impacts on vehicular traffic. I described it as “The Truman Show for roads,” and was told that this was accurate, so I’ll stick with that. Seriously though, how cool is this? Wikipedia does not make it sound nearly as cool as it is. (Pavement testing, really? Communications people, manage your Wikipedia presence! I totally want to go to Blacksburg just to see it!)

Finally, via Twitter I discovered this paper: “The Role of Gender and Attitudes on Public Transportation Use,” published by a pair of (presumably men) out of Ohio State University (maybe I should upload it?). I haven’t read all the way through yet, but @phxdowntowner had these quotes: “Men tend to enjoy interacting on buses more than women.” “Women tend to have a more negative view of #transit than men.”

I asked on Twitter whether there was much discussion of sexual harassment, since this seems to me a clear instance of a time when men would enjoy interacting more on busses than women. Didn’t get a clear response, but would be interested in speaking with anyone who attended the session. I didn’t find any explicit mention of harassment in the paper with a cursory search. (Note: TRB paper 14-1807 evidently deals more directly with harassment.)

I’ll definitely be looking on TRID to see whether there is any scholarly work on the extension of street harassment that occurs on public transit. I’m disappointed that the version of the paper provided on the TRB flash drive didn’t seem to delve much into the reasons for these gender-based attitudinal differences. It really bothered me that “comfort” was mentioned as a deciding factor for women in transit decisions, but this was not defined in the paper. My impression was that comfort could refer to things like ambient temperature, seating, etc. but obviously the most important definition of comfort is a sense of personal safety. Perhaps women are less inclined to wait for transfers because of the risk of sexual harassment and/or straight-up assault.

I have a few other complaints about general sexism at TRB (the old white men sure felt comfortable interrupting women when they spoke, and it seemed like men got more in-depth answers and ego stoking when they asked less challenging questions than women, who were pretty much dismissed). But of course there is nothing new under the sun in academia. On the other hand, I’m thrilled that my colleagues had the same observations, and that we were able to have productive conversations about how women in our generation can support each other. I made at least 2 new friends at this conference, and definitely connected with some colleagues in the transportation librarianship field, and got to know folks at my agency better, so that was great.

But yeah – the complaints about TRB are pretty much totally valid, and the conference was way too big for my personal comfort. The venues weren’t great, either. And I have some general complaints about the app (no addresses for the actual hotels?), and the poor signage/logistics at the conference (really, you have been having it for 93 years and can’t figure out how to get the trash taken out at the hotel?), not to mention accessibility (there really ought to have been a shuttle from Dupont Circle to the Hilton, and they should not claim that it’s 4 blocks when it’s actually .4 miles, uphill. Maybe the blocks on Connecticut Avenue are super long; I’ve never noticed before. But if I were a wheelchair user, I sure would have felt misled. There should be easy ADA accessible venue instructions in the app, too. Boo, TRB).

A friend told me that I could have checked my bag at the hotel without being a guest, which I wish I had thought of, I would have totally ridden my bike from CUA to Dupont Circle and checked my panniers. Woodley Park wasn’t terrible, although signage from the hotel to the train would not have been remiss (ditto signage for wheelchair users since the elevators are at a different entrance/exit!)

In other, less obnoxious news: a coworker called me our agency’s “super commuter” today. I may, officially, bike more than anyone in the office. It is bumming me out that I have ridden only once this year, though. Ugh, weather!

For more on sexism at TRB, check out Katie’s fantastic post here: “Feminism and My First Professional Conference.”

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