First Time Peer Review Jitters? Advice From One Reviewer to Another.

Dear Colleagues,

You’ve made it to the big leagues – the (figurative) stack of papers sit in front of you, ready to be ‘peer-reviewed.’  You’ve done it, right?  You’re a peer?

Peer reviewing papers is one of the most important processes in the academic world.  These peers are the gatekeepers to what everyone else will consider adequate for citation.  Before any Wikipedian or college student can refer to the piece in front of you, it has to be approved… by you!

The power that is in your hand is not to be wielded lightly… the world’s collective knowledge depends on your judgment.  Accept?  Reject? Encourage to resubmit?  The fate of the piece in front of you is in your hands.

Perhaps the hyperbole above is a bit too dramatic.  Let’s put this in context.

You, with adequate funding and permission from your boss and/or parents, will be at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting.  And therefore, you’re my peer.  Always remember that even the ‘experts’ are your peers as well.

Remember that, as peers of this esteemed institution, you are qualified as the ‘peer’ in peer-reviewed.  And your opinions are important.

During my first peer review session with ASCE, I questioned myself.  Am I really qualified to judge these papers? (Yes.)  Can I really provide comment even if I’m not the expert of that material? (Yes.)  What do I tell them in the comments? (The Truth.)

First off, you’ll most likely be qualified to read something if you’ve self-selected yourself on to committees are within your realm of study.  Sometimes we get caught up in our own world, forgetting that the population at large is not the transportation folks that we interact with on a daily basis.  If you only hang out with transportation people with knowledge that sits two standard deviations and higher, like coworkers, researchers, professors, and the train nut in me, then your world is a bit… skewed from normal.

But still, check out that first paper in your stack and ask yourself, is this something that you understand?  Remember that the expert on that paper will be the author, so perfect understanding will only be as good as the words on the (metaphorical) paper.  After your initial scan, perhaps the abstract is starting to make some sense.  You’re probably qualified.

Though, if you’re into policy and cities, and you get something examining the effects of precipitation draining on rural asphalt roads, then maybe reconsider.

Given that you’ve self-qualified yourself to review this paper, perhaps you may think that you cannot provide comment, even though you’re a peer-expert.  Remember that a good paper is constructed well – composition is important.  The author is responsible for clearly communicating their contribution to the web of knowledge, and you’re not responsible for guessing what the author means.  If the author isn’t clear, then you should note that in your comments.

Does the work match the thesis they provide?  (Is there a thesis?)  Do they adequately cite other pieces, and contribute something new?  Is it relevant to the committee?  Then those are good signs that it is a good paper.

Check out Andy’s guide on TRB reviews, check out what TRB has to say about its own reviews.  Be honest, kind, and constructive in your comments.


Raymond Chan

The Cheat Sheet for Reviewing TRB Papers

As August rolls in, the Transportation Research Board’s paper review season begins. Over the next few months TRB staff and committees will pull into high gear to review over three thousand papers to determine suitability for presentation and publishing. For many of us involved with TRB, paper reviews can seem like a time-consuming chore, however reviews are central to TRB’s mission. Here’s some tips to guide you as a paper reviewer:

The 8 Cardinal Rule of Paper Review

Reviewing TRB manuscripts begins with eight simple rules. These rules help ensure that the review process upholds TRB’s ethical and research standards:

  1.  Determine whether you are qualified to review a paper. Only review a paper if you know enough on a particular topic to successfully review the paper. Don’t be intimidated by the title; give the paper a quick scan to determine if it’s within your area of expertise.
  2.  Objectively review a paper for merit and don’t make the review personal. The paper reviewer should be focused on reviewing a paper for originality, accuracy, and interest to TRB and its committees. Reviews should keep their comments professional and constructive.
  3. Avoid conflicts of interest. Notify your paper review coordinator if there is any conflict of interest in reviewing a particular paper. As TRB uses a single-blind review process, authors are not anonymous. If you feel that you would have any personal bias, recuse yourself from the review process.
  4.  Keep paper manuscripts confidential. Manuscripts are confidential documents and as such you should avoid discussing the manuscripts or its findings with others.
  5.   Support your judgment. Review managers and the paper authors should be able to understand your basis for criticism.
  6. Call out similarities between this document and other published or unpublished work. TRB strives to publish and present original research. Note any instances where the manuscript has been published elsewhere or submitted to a concurrent journal
  7.  Don’t use or disclose any unpublished information without the consent of the author(s).  Receive permission from the author(s) and properly attribute the paper if you intend to disclose any information, findings, or interpretations from the manuscript.
  8.  Call out any instances of plagiarism. Notify the review manager if you have evidence of plagiarism or falsification of results.

The Paper Review Process:

The paper review process gets going on August 1st, the due date all TRB manuscripts. Committee paper review coordinators take these papers and assign them to at least three reviewers. Once comments are returned, the committee leadership, paper review coordination and TRB staff work together to determine which papers should be accepted for presentation and publication. As the paper reviewer, you will be asked to make separate publication and presentation recommendations.

How to Recognize a Good Paper

One of the great things about TRB is the sheer diversity of research submitted every year, ranging from public policy synthesis to scientific research and analysis. Because papers are so different, there is no one universally accepted benchmark for determining whether a manuscript meets TRB standards. TRB recommends that reviewers focus on four areas:

·         Composition: Is the paper well written and easy to follow?

·         Accuracy: Are the conclusions of the paper valid, is the methodology sound, and are the findings of the paper well defended?

·         Originality: Is the paper adding something to our field’s body of research or state of practice?

·         Interest to the TRB Community: Is the paper relevant to the committee’s mission and TRB’s mission overall?

Other Things to Note

At our July meeting, a few additional pointers for reviewers were discussed. First, don’t wait until the last minute to review papers! While the sun and sand might beckon, waiting until after Labor Day to review your paper will surely stress our hard-working paper review coordinators. For those more senior paper reviewers, if you distribute a paper to your staff to read and then consolidate the review comments, please make note of who made what comments so you can go back with questions/clarifications. When reviewing papers, don’t wordsmith the paper; focus instead on the four factors discussed above: composition, accuracy, originality, and relevance to the TRB community.

Finally, enjoy the paper review process! Being a reviewer allows you to learn about cutting edge research in our field; I have been consistently impressed by the quality and insight of the research submitted to TRB.

Want to Know More?

TRB has a number of great resources for us paper reviewers. TRB’s more detailed reviewer instructions can be found here:

TRB also has a number of tutorials on reviewing papers, including two webinars on August 4th and August 21st. For more information visit:

Committee Call Follow-Up

Following up on our committee call on July 8th, there are several action items. For the details of the call, see the minutes, posted in the committee documents.

1. Paper review survey! It is paper review season and our paper review coordinators, Eric Sundquist and Christine Yager, need to know who wants to review. We would appreciate everyone (even if you reviewed in past years) taking the 5 minutes or less to complete the following survey related to paper reviewing this year. Please respond no later than July 18th. For those that sign up to review papers this year, you will be hearing from Eric and Christine in the coming weeks.Survey here.

2. TRB papers are due August 1 if you are submitting for the Annual Meeting. The submission site is here. We hope to see lots of papers that respond to our paper calls, hint, hint.

3. TRB has asked us to invite a non-traditional stakeholder to speak at our committee or a session. A non-traditional stakeholder is someone who does work of interest to our committee but who represents an employer type, discipline, or sector important to our committee, but not historically involved in TRB activities or TRB meetings on a regular basis (TRB broadly, not just our committee). Send Ema Yamamoto ideas of non-traditional stakeholders by August 15.

4. TRB is having several tutorials for the Annual Meeting between now and December on topics including paper review and surviving the Annual Meeting. These webinars provide background information, practical advice, a walk through the TRB software, and plenty of time for questions. The schedule is posted on the website and recorded webinars may also be found on this site.

ABE30 Calls for Papers

Our committee has posted four Calls for Papers. The calls and paper submission instructions can be found on the TRB website at the links below and on our website ( Paper submission is open from June 1 to August 1. Papers submitted in response to these calls will be reviewed by our members and friends and used to shape the sessions we sponsor at the upcoming 2015 Annual Meeting.

Applications of “Big Data” in Addressing Urban Transportation Issues
Never before have transportation agencies had access to the amount of data available today and at low cost. Each day, terabytes of data are automatically collected on numerous transportation systems including freeways, arterial streets, and transit vehicles. Additionally, manual data collection can shed light on freight movement, safety, and other critical areas. We are soliciting papers that highlight innovative ways cities are using their data including, but not restricted to, the following subject areas:

  • Improving the planning process for new infrastructure or new transit routes
  • Setting goals and measuring progress in strategic planning
  • Using real-time data in traffic and transit operations
  • Improving safety, especially of non-motorized modes
  • Public communication and transparency

Goods Movement in Active Urban Communities co-sponsored with ANF10-Pedestrians, ANF20-Bicycle Transportation, and AT025-Urban Freight Transportation
Previously, in many cities, wide motor-vehicle focused roadway designs and sprawling development patterns separated residential and freight activities and truck and non-motorized movements. However, emerging infill and mixed-use developments and multimodal urban streets now generate ever-increasing interactions between non-motorized travelers and commercial vehicles. The modes must compete for access to limited urban road and curb space, leading to delays, accidents, and expensive parking and moving violations.

While disparate vehicle sizes make commercial vehicles and non-motorized modes very incompatible from a safety perspective, these modes are also codependent; travelers without a personal vehicle must rely on access to goods from local businesses or via direct-to-home deliveries. New approaches to safely accommodate last-mile goods movements on densely developed, multi-use urban streets are essential to support the quality of life and economic vitality of these communities.

We are seeking papers that investigate this issue, focusing in areas including but not limited to:

  • Characterizing residential and commercial freight demands in mixed-use areas;
  • Identifying freight industry accessibility challenges in livable communities;
  • Examining policy and curb regulation approaches to accommodate multimodal activities;
  • Examining policy and city logistics approaches to reduce freight externalities for non-motorized travelers;
  • Examining the compatibility of innovative non-motorized urban street infrastructure for commercial vehicle movements.

Livable Arterials: An Oxymoron or Urban Elixir? co-sponsored with ANB20-Safety Data, Analysis and Evaluation, ANF10-Pedestrians, and ANF20-Bicycle Transportation
The AASHTO functional classification system specifies that arterials should provide for high mobility and low access. Arterials in urban contexts often fail to fit nicely into this categorization because they provide for both high mobility and high access. This paper call is looking for research that seeks to better understand this mismatch – and the positive and negative implications of violating the standard functional classification system – with respect to issues such as road safety, multimodal transportation, urban vitality, economic development, and livability. Papers demonstrating the use of evolving and new data sources for safety and mobility to empirically demonstrate these tradeoffs are encouraged.

Understanding the Gender Gap in Urban Bicycling co-sponsored with ABE70-Women’s Issues in Transportation and ANF20-Bicycle Transportation
Many cities in the United States have seen an exponential growth in bicycling over the last decade. That being said, most of the growth has occurred among men as the share of bicycle trips taken by women in the US fell from 33% to 24%, and bike mode share by women remained at 0.5%. For men, bike mode share rose from 1.2% to 1.6%. As cities and urban areas across the U.S. begin to focus their efforts on increasing bicycle mode share, it is important that they address the gender gap in bicycling, enabling the bicycle mode share growth to be present and accessible to a diverse population.

We are seeking papers that investigate this issue, focusing on areas including, but not limited to:

  • Identifying the underlying issues that contribute to the current gender gap in urban biking;
  • Examining programs and factors which can reduce the current gender gap in urban biking;
  • Review of international and domestic municipal policies and programs put in place to reduce the gender gap and whether they have proven successful;
  • Using and exploring available bicycling data to create a more nuanced picture with regards to gender and urban biking;
  • Exploring sources of bias in bicycle data collection and surveys.

Please share these calls with anyone who might be interested. Submitting a paper in response to a call is a great way to get involved in the committee and contribute to advancing the state of the practice in our field.

New Major Cities Blog!

We’re launching a new blog for the Major Cities Committee! We know a lot is going on in the world of urban transportation research and we want to make sure our members and friends can see and share what is of interest to this committee. The blog will also serve as the basis for a monthly newsletter – we’ll send a monthly email out with a summary of recent posts and other committee announcements. Keep an eye on the website and add the blog to your RSS feed!

The blog is run by the Communications Subcommittee. If you want to join the subcommittee or just point our bloggers to something interesting, contact Stephanie Dock.

In the Transportation / Land Use Debate, Both Sides Are Right

I like driving fast—a lot—and have come to expect that.  But, on the other hand, as a resident of a rapidly growing city, I also want fun and interesting destinations: places where I can walk around, enjoy the evening air, share a drink with friends, or [insert your favorite activity here].  There has been plenty of research over the years showing that people want both mobility AND accessibility.

I’ll apologize right now for what I just said.  In many circles, I just uttered a very dirty word (or at least idea), depending upon what your transportation view is.

Much like our nation’s partisan politics, there are two transportation views growing further and further apart from one another: that of providing meaningful mobility within a region and that of providing access within a region.  Again, drawing from our nation’s current political climate, both groups want (roughly) to achieve the same goals, but because of their views of the problem, each solution is different.  But that doesn’t mean that either is necessarily right or wrong.

What frustrates me as a transportation planner and researcher is that we feel we are forced to choose sides.  Radicals on either side of the aisle attempt to convince us that completely ignoring one mode of transportation over another will solve all of our urban transportation problems.  Isn’t this myopic view what gave us our current problems in the first place?

Reality is never as cut and dried as we try to make it appear.  Accessibility in our cities’ transportation networks—from a holistic view—has legitimately been ignored for far too long, which has caused some serious problems.  Thankfully, it appears the tide is turning; cities are beginning to see the many benefits of approaching their transportation networks as multi-modal.

We must be careful, though, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Whether we like it or not, cars are here to stay, and they have greatly improved the quality of our lives.  As long as this nation remains free, some people will choose to live in the suburbs and commute long distances.  This means that cities will continue to deal with traffic congestion, and there will be times when expanding a freeway will legitimately be the best option.

But for many reasons (too many for a Sunday afternoon), we as transportation planners, engineers, policy makers, and the public must do a better job of balancing the reality of today with the vision of tomorrow.  Yes, we have a serious transportation and land use problem.  But I reject the claim by either side that it has the absolute right solution (and for the record, I don’t either).

But I do think that between the two groups, we have the solution.  Imagine two fiercely independent and stubborn brothers building a puzzle.  They each hoard a collection of the pieces and see the same picture, but on their own, neither can finish the puzzle.  Only when both concede that the other has something valuable to contribute will the puzzle ever be completed.

So in a sign of solidarity, in the coming months I will be showing you my puzzle pieces: a wealth of research and experience on different ways to address both mobility and accessibility without unnecessarily widening a freeway, what it looks like to involve the public in these decisions, and creative ideas to pay for them.

But I would also like to hear your story: from what perspective do you see the problem, and what are some of the puzzle pieces you bring to the table?  What ideas, both practical and out of this world, have you thought about while sitting in traffic trying to get home to your family?

What do you want to see this coming year?

Talk about a great time at the 2014 TRB Annual Meeting!!  We all hope you had a great time.  While the 2014 Annual Meeting is behind us, we are now in the process of planning for ABE30’s coming year.  As such, please take a second to fill out this survey by COB 2/14/2014 — it will help us to get to know you better, as well as guide our committee for this coming year.  Thanks

Plan to attend Major Cities sessions at TRB

he committee is sponsoring several sessions that should be of interest to our members and friends during the TRB Annual Meeting, January 12-16. When you know your plans for TRB, please fill out this quick survey so we know what friendly faces to look out for at the various sessions we’re sponsoring.

Sunday, January 12
9:00am – 12:00pm | Workshop Session: Designing Urban Streets for the 21st Century

Monday, January 13
8:30am – 10:15am | Poster Session: Transportation Issues and Solutions in Major Cities
10:15am – 12:00pm | Committee Meeting
3:45pm – 5:30pm | Presentation Session: Innovative Solutions to Congestion in Urban Areas
Tuesday, January 14
10:15am – 12:00pm | Paper Session: Using Social Media to Urban Transportation
3:45pm – 5:30pm | Presentation Session: State DOT Projects in Urban Area