As part of my role as the research chair for the TRB Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40), I undertook with the support of my graduate research assistant Erin Puckett, an analysis of the TRB Research Needs Statements (RNS) database (http://rns.trb.org/) to determine the extent to which the topic of sustainable transportation is addressed in the proposed research projects listed in the database.
The intention of this exploratory analysis was to identify the type and scope of projects being proposed and which TRB committees are supporting sustainability-related research proposals in one or more areas. The results from this analysis should help the Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40) determine which proposed research needs to support, which committees to initially engage with, and where opportunities exist to propose new research projects.
Overall, it was found that many RNS records address some area of sustainability, whether openly acknowledged or not. It was much less common to find records proposing research that truly addresses sustainability in a comprehensive way, with emphasis on environmental, social, and economic impacts.
Over the last six years there does not appear to have been a steady increase in the number of records that are related to sustainability (see Figure 4 above). Further, while there seems to be an overarching idea that transportation research should have some sustainability-related focus, individual records do not always address this explicitly in their goals or objectives. Perhaps this is partially due to the lack of an overall guiding definition of sustainability/sustainable transportation that all TRB committees can adopt.
This analysis has led to several recommendations for advancing the research portfolio of the Transportation and Sustainability Committee that are included in the full report. The raw data that was used to support the analysis is also provided below.