I had the opportunity to attend the ITE International Meeting in Hollywood Florida this year. While it was a sweet hotel (rain shower ftw!), I was pleasantly surprised by the dialog had by a small group of members on Sunday, before the actual conference started. It was about how See, what I like is talking and discussing issues and brainstorming solutions, not sitting behind a computer and just cranking out work so other people can profit off of my work. While my company did not profit off of this work, I did enjoy it immensely.
I will outline our planning discussion as I saw it:
Direction #1: Planning for Uncertainty
The group is looking to change the planning process by allowing for uncertainty and prioritizing people over cars. Now, this may sound like a trivial issue, but, let me tell you (as noted here: Realism + Planners <> Logic) that that is not the case. Planning looks at the “big picture” and draws on the fact that cars = people. As you and I have seen in daily life, this is not the case. From my own small townhome near Downtown, I can take my bike, walk, take an Uber, or ask a friend for a ride. With the smartphone and (hopefully) ZipCar coming to my neighborhood, I won’t even need to own a car anymore.
The discussion was great. I think out of the 4 tables in the room we were the loudest and most jovial. We spoke about the impacts of the car on land-use planning, corridor planning, transportation education, reaching out to the planning discipline, and even legislation changes.
Direction #2: Reeducation
From an education side, I think we made some great discussion topics, as the transportation is more than just concrete, asphalt, and steel. Those are the foundations, but they are the means to an end. They are the tools; they are not the solution. The problem is not that there isn’t enough space on the road for cars. There is 47,000 miles of interstate in the United States. That is about 11 billion square feet of pavement that cars can be on. Billion with a B! That’s bigger than the area of the entire State of Rhode Island.
We discussed that the people in transportation will be more than just civil engineers and planners. These will include robotics professionals, mathematicians, electricians, computer engineers, designers (not civil designers, REAL designers), and other professions outside the norm.
Direction #3: Changing Legislation
From the legislation side, I thought this was a fascinating discussion. Being a former fed, I started to see how the legislation and mandates the fed had were well-intentioned, but are antiquated for this type of environment. For example, planning agencies of major metro areas (MPOs) are required to forecast out 20 years. That was well and fine when you knew what the car was going to look like, where people were going to move, and what time Leave it to Beaver came on the television. Now, all these assumptions that have been used in to build our cities and roads are thrown out the window with the shake-up of the internet.
How can an agency plan out 20 years when the next 5 years are so tumultuous? How can you know which smartphone or gadget you want in a decade? You can’t! And yet we are requiring billions of dollars to be spent on the assumption that this is what we should do? It’s akin to saying to a young college grad, “Okay, I know you are on the precipice of adulthood. You’ll fall in love. Fall out of love. Live with friends. Live by yourself. Get a job. Get fired from a job. Lose and gain weight. Yet, I want you to plan out your entire wardrobe for the next 10 years today.”
Direction #4: Rebranding – More than just traffic engineers
ITE will be rebranding itself, as transportation is changing as well. No longer can the mantra of “build more, build bigger” be furthered, as companies like Uber, Google, Mobileye, and start-ups like Carvoyant and Peleton are infiltrating the marketspace. With the strong push by the industry these innovations will be upon us. It is up to us as a trade organization to adapt and be nimble in order to stay with the state of the practice. Resting on the fact that VMT will go up and we need to put that extra lane on a freeway through downtown is not something ITE is doing.
So what do you think transportation professionals need to change due to the influx of automated and connected vehicles. Do you think the industry can adapt or do you think it is a dead industry?
I write this while watching the Republican debate, so excuse any of the emotion that comes through this post. If there is an obligatory, “America is the greatest country,” or pandering, “I love my country” or unbridled patriotism is subversively inserted in the dialog, you will know why.