Today, we’re in the thick of researching the opportunities and impacts of transformational technologies that are changing our transportation networks. In many ways, the 1920s weren’t so different.

  • Horse and buggy use had recently been surpassed by automobile ownership, due to efficiency in mass production from the assembly line.
  • Roads were being added and improved at rapid rates to match the rate of car ownership.
  • Large commercial planes were just a few years away from carrying passengers.

The 1920s were a decade that completely transformed both ground transportation and air travel. The need for research around safety, efficiency, and opportunity for emerging modes of transportation – and adaptation to these modes from the public – was necessary, just like it is today. It became the backdrop for the founding of what we know today as National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine’s Transportation Research Board, or TRB. Now entering its Centennial year, we are celebrating TRB’s 100th anniversary by reflecting on the organization’s history and the impact it’s had on transportation research.

The History of the Transportation Research Board (TRB)

On November 11, 1920, the Transportation Research Board was established as the National Advisory Board on Highway Research to facilitate the exchange of information and research results, with a specific focus on highway technology correlated with the boom in road construction.

In 1925, the organization was renamed the Highway Research Board and, with its steady growth, came the addition of “ad hoc research projects,” not just information sharing, as an outcome of the collaboration. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) started in 1962 and continues to publish guidance and research today.

Marking the increasingly multimodal nature of the Board’s activities, the Highway Research Board became the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in 1974.

The mission of the Transportation Research Board is “to promote innovation and progress in transportation through research.” By putting the nation’s leading transportation researchers and practitioners in the same (sometimes virtual, sometimes physical) room, TRB encourages the sharing of information through committees, publications, and events throughout the year, the largest being the Annual Meeting in January.

Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting

Today, the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting is a gathering of more than 13,000 national researchers and transportation professionals discussing the questions facing our communities now. Along with sharing research findings, an important outcome of the TRB Annual Meeting is to hear from each other to understand the current research gaps in transportation, what practitioners need to know to make good decisions and to set up TRB committees to conduct relevant research over the next year.

TRB 2020 Annual Meeting
TRB 2020 Annual Meeting
Photos from the TRB Annual Meeting 2020. We saw five major themes emerge from TRB 2020; you can read about them here.

TRB’s 100th Anniversary and Centennial Events

The 2020 TRB Annual Meeting was the start of TRB’s Centennial Celebration. TRB’s 100th-anniversary party has been in the works since 2017 due to the work of a TRB Centennial Task Force. The celebration will kicked off in January 2020 – at the 99th Annual Meeting – and will conclude at the 100th Annual Meeting in January 2021 which, due to COVID-19, will also be the organization’s first virtual Annual Meeting.

Why We Send So Many Staff to TRB

At Kittelson, we haven’t been around since 1920, but since our doors opened in 1985, we’ve gotten ourselves involved in research because we believe that transportation is about people. It’s exciting to investigate the opportunities that come with new technologies, but we always need to start by understanding what people need and the barriers they face to arriving at their destinations safely, efficiently, and with equitable opportunity. The investment into furthering the profession is well worth the time and dollars on our end, and we hope our perspective on that never changes.

One way we keep a strong spirit of research alive at Kittelson is by giving our younger staff the opportunity to attend TRB and get plugged into research projects if they’re interested. Our fleet of TRB-attending staff is always a mix of people leading and presenting at sessions and younger staff, which includes first-timers every year.

The mission of TRB speaks directly to two of our core values: being outward-focused, which means giving back to the profession through conducting and sharing the results of our research; and providing a lifelong learning environment for our staff, with TRB being a cornerstone learning and growth opportunity. We consider it a great honor to learn from the world’s leading thinkers in transportation, and a great opportunity and responsibility to take those insights back to our offices and to our clients.

Meet Kittelson at TRB 2021

2021 will be a milestone year for TRB in more ways than one. Not only is it the 100th Annual Meeting, but it will also be the first virtual Annual Meeting. To get an idea of what the virtual meeting will be like, check out this interview with Ann Brach and James Bryant of TRB’s Technical Activities Division, who are leading planning for the event.

We at Kittelson are excited to send more than 40 staff members to the 2021 TRB Annual Meeting. If you’ll be at TRB 2021 as well, be sure to reach out to connect with us!

Photo from the 2019 Annual Meeting.

Photo from the 2019 Annual Meeting.