This January, three WTI researchers will have the honor and responsibility of presiding over committees they chair at the 2023 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting (January 8-12th) in Washington, D.C. TRB is one of seven programs housed in the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and facilitates research, the exchange of ideas, and guidance on all modes of transportation. As Chairs, Natalie Villwock-Witte, Laura Fay, and Jamie Sullivan will lead the Standing Committee on Transportation Needs in National Parks and Public Lands, the Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads, and the Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council, respectively. The 2023 TRB theme will be Rejuvenation Out of Disruption: Envisioning a Transportation System for a Dynamic Future.
Jamie Sullivan, P.E., a Senior Research Engineer at WTI, has extensive experience in applied rural safety and operations research for Departments of Transportation and public lands management agencies. Her work focuses on advanced transportation technologies, including Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) design, implementation, and evaluation. Jamie is currently the Director of the National Center for Rural Road Safety (Safety Center) and Manager of the Public Lands Transportation Fellows program. She has employed her leadership skills as Chair of the TRB Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council, A0040C, since its inception in April 2020. It is “the hub of rural transportation issues, conversation, and research in the transportation community,” said Jamie, “and its mission is to promote rural transportation research needs and opportunities across all modes and disciplines within the entire TRB committee structure.”
A0040C is one of four councils established to lead the TRB Technical Activities committees. “As a new council, I am excited for us to provide more support to committees and information on what we do and how we can work together,” noted Jamie, adding that the Council is currently organizing a group of rural-state representatives to help committees review and develop their rural research problem statements. A0040C will also host a session on the impacts of climate change on rural transportation at the upcoming Annual Meeting and publish a Rural Issue of TR News in Fall 2023.
Natalie Villwock-Witte, Ph.D., P.E., is an Assistant Research Professor/Research Engineer for WTI and has multi-disciplinary research experience. Her work has covered diverse topics from the development of transportation voucher programs to surveys of millennial’s transportation preferences. Natalie has also developed transportation safety solutions for the National Park Service and other federal agencies, which has prepared her to chair the Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands – AEP20. The Committee considers transportation of all forms on public lands, including national parks, federally managed lands such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings, and state parks.
Natalie has a decade of experience with the Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands, where she started as a Young Member in 2012 before transitioning to Member in 2016. She took over as Chair in April of 2020 and has accepted the role for another three years. Under Natalie’s leadership, AEP20 was recognized with a TRB Blue Ribbon Award: Moving Research Ideas into Transportation Practice for utilizing new funding and re-engaging state representatives through the NCHRP program.
Because public land stakeholders are so numerous and diverse, AEP20 has become a vital platform for ideas exchange and identification of research issues and directions between industry leaders in land management, tourism, university systems, consulting, and beyond. “I often find that listening to presentations provides me with a multitude of ideas for additional research avenues, some of which may tie into on-going research and some which may be entirely new,” noted Villwock-Witte, who expressed excitement for the new year. “The Committee recently completed a draft of our Triennial Strategic Plan, and we look forward to discussing its implementation. Our committee has also taken on the task of developing content for TR News and we’ve seen an incredible transition as our long-time members mentor and encourage participation by the next generation of transportation researchers.”
Laura Fay, M.S. is a WTI Research Scientist who specializes in the intersection of transportation and cold climates. With over a decade of research experience, her work has explored a range of topics, including deicer impacts on pavements and Road Weather Information System (RWIS) development, and guided the implementation of new and innovative winter maintenance practices. Laura serves as the Program Manager for WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems research group and chairs the TRB Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads – AKD30. The committee focuses on new technology and practices that best support low-volume road users and owners, such as construction, operation, and maintenance techniques and administration strategies.
“The TRB Annual Meeting is an opportunity to meet face to face with committee members, colleagues, and friends to learn from others and share ideas,” said Laura, who has a long history with the Low-Volume Roads Committee. She served as a member for three consecutive years and was awarded the TRB Blue Ribbon Award for Implementation for her work as a key organizer of the 2019 Low Volume Roads Conference in Kalispell, MT. Laura was appointed Chair in 2021 but, due to Covid-19, was unable to attend the meeting in person last year. “That would have been my first annual meeting as committee chair,” she noted. “I feel like I missed out on the experience so I’m excited to be there in person and see all the hard work of the committee in action. I expect a lot of activity and excitement after the disruption of the last couple of years!”
Walking and bicycling have become increasingly popular transportation modes as people consider the positive impacts of active living. While there are examples of large, urban areas driving the implementation of infrastructure to support these modes within their jurisdictions, communities with populations smaller than 10,000 people may have limited infrastructure and know-how. Since 84% of communities in the United States are home to 10,000 people or fewer, these geographically distributed communities can have big impacts on transportation trends.
To investigate multimodal transportation options in these small towns, WTI researchers Natalie Villwock-Witte and Karalyn Clouser conducted Case Studies of Communities of Less than 10,000 People with Bicycle & Pedestrian Infrastructure. Funded by five state departments of transportation and the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM), the project examined 15 communities across five states (Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont).
Researchers traveled to each community to conduct on-site research on existing infrastructure and interact with community members. They collected geo-located photographs and data on active transportation infrastructure and condensed this information into infrastructure maps, conducted interviews, and provided on-site survey distribution. “For rural areas, in-person contact is key,” noted Villwock-Witte. “Local buy-in had a dramatic impact on data collection.”
The resulting case studies for each community highlight examples of active transportation infrastructure and outline characteristics that lead to a successful bike/walk culture. Also, the final report synthesizing all the case studies can provide guidance for other small communities. “These case studies,” said Villwock-Witte, “show that [bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure] does exist and describe how small communities across the U.S. have put it in place. The selected case studies are not the exception to the rule.” As existing infrastructure, such as state highways through small towns, is reimagined, communities will look to their peers for inspiration noted Villwock-Witte. “I see lots of opportunities to build on this work in the near future and for many years to come.”
The case studies and final report are available on the project page of the WTI website