Learning from COVID-19: Connecting with the Research Community

COVID-19 Research and recovery
TRB/NAS

By Stephanie Dock, AICP, and Katherine Kortum, PhD, PE

This blog post is part of a special series on curb management and COVID-19. A joint effort of the International Parking & Mobility Institute, Transportation for America, and Institute of Transportation Engineer’s Complete Streets Council, this series strives to document the immediate curbside-related actions and responses to COVID-19, as well as create a knowledge base of strategies that communities can use to manage the curbside during future emergencies.

The research community is quickly engaging to help understand and evaluate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Practitioner and researcher collaboration will improve our understanding of what has worked and what has not, and how we might change our curbside in the longer term–whether for pandemic responses or for everyday operations in the coming “new normal.”

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) has coordinated and undertaken research for decades. While TRB’s completed research efforts are not specific to COVID-19, prior research is valuable for planning and responding now. Transportation in the Face of Communicable Disease details research on response strategies, transporting essential personnel, communicating clearly during a public health crisis, and more.

TRB launched its “Research Needs Statement Express” to rapidly capture the questions and research ideas generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This call for submissions recognizes the need to engender collaboration faster than the typical formal process for developing research ideas. TRB is also partnering with the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHTO), American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and others to develop and soon publish pandemic-related research needs for all transportation modes.

Finally, TRB is developing workshops to help determine questions (and some answers!) in specific areas. Summer 2020 will likely include a summit on scenario planning for transit and shared mobility during the COVID-19 recovery and in 2021, TRB and the European Commission will jointly hold a research summit on COVID-19 effects on transportation.

Academic researchers bring analytical approaches and resources municipal and private sector partners can look to complement their efforts, including:

  • Peer review network to collaborate and objectively vet research.
  • Student researchers (the next generation of transportation professionals), who bring energy and ideas.
  • Capacity to conduct objective, mutli-disciplinary research and analysis through course projects or faculty research.

Examples of academic research underway or projects supporting evaluation of mobility networks during this pandemic include:

Watch for more studies in TRB’s Research in Progress database. For ideas on who to contact for collaboration, start with USDOT’s directory of University Transportation Centers.

Strong partnerships among municipalities, the private sector, and academia are key to offering support and transformative solutions in our pandemic response.

Stephanie Dock, AICP, manages the research program for the District Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

Katherine Kortum, PhD, PE, is a senior program officer at the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C.