By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE
The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) leadership is proposing significant changes to the ITE Constitution. The three areas of significant change are:
- Eliminate the “Institute Affiliate” membership grade while shifting the “Institute Member” grade from transportation engineers to transportation professionals.
- Shift the international board elections from spring/summer to winter with much less in person campaigning at district meetings.
- Eliminate the petition process for any ITE member to be added to the International Board slate of candidates.
I believe these efforts are intended to:
- Attract a broader pool of members to address the huge impacts technology is bringing to our industry. ITE would like to attract folks from Google, Volvo, Uber, Tesla and smaller technology firms. In 40 years there could be very few traffic engineers if street signs and traffic signals are eliminated because autonomous vehicles won’t need them to drive and pedestrians won’t need them because of the information they have on their wearable/implanted devices. This could be exacerbated by the vehicle fleet being cut by 75% if we shift from personal vehicle ownership to fleet operators of robo-taxis.
- Attract a younger pool of candidates to serve on the international board. The current election process is very time consuming for the candidates, which has historically led to the position of international vice-president (and default president) being a capstone position for members in the twilight of their career. The last few vp’s are a huge exception who have made significant time sacrifices in the prime of their career (thank you Paula, Shawn, and Michael).
- I’m not sure there is nefarious intent, but removing the petition process makes it so only vetted “insiders” can run for the International ITE Board president or vice-president.
I fully support the second change in the hope that we can attract a broad pool of candidates to the international board. More choice is better for the membership and modernizing our election process to take advantage of online communication instead of in person communication makes great sense to me.
The third change seems terrible to me. I believe the members should have the ability to petition to add another candidate to the ballot. Without it, ITE could turn into even more of an old boy network with our single proposed candidate being picked by a handful of insiders.
The first change, trying to broaden our membership, is much trickier to me. The revisions as written mean a taxi driver or UPS driver with five years of experience (or a new Uber/UPS driver with any college degree) could become a member.
I believe institutions need to stand for something. That means education/qualification based exclusivity. Not only defining what they are about, but also defining what they are not about. It is important to learn to say no to opportunities in order to focus and execute.
The ITE founders did exactly that when they formed the Institute of Traffic Engineers in 1930. This group could have been part of a committee under the umbrella of the established American Society of Civil Engineers, but the founders wanted a group that focused exclusively on the emerging traffic issues.
Although ITE has tried to evolve since the 1930’s by changing to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, several groups have splintered out of ITE over the years to fill niches that ITE wasn’t addressing adequately (Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Women’s Transportation Seminar, National Association of City Transportation Officials and Young Professionals in Transportation to name a few). This isn’t even discussing the other periphery organizations such as the Congress of New Urbanism, Urban Land Institute, or the transportation groups under the American Planning Association or American Society of Civil Engineers.
ITE has had a good run for 87 years and ITE leadership is wise to be pondering how we stay relevant in the future. The fork in the road is do we (1) broaden to try to include everyone or (2) tighten up into a thriving niche. Broadening too much was the reason ITE splintered from ASCE in the first place and why we have seen splinter groups off ITE recently. I believe ITS America and WTS in the past and now NACTO and YPT are strong indications that niches win over a broad tent policy.
To remain relevant to me and my firm of seven traffic engineers, I want to read about articles related to transportation engineering in the ITE Journal and see relevant presentations at section/district/international meetings. We’ll probably keep one ITE membership in my firm for quite a while, but you’re going to start losing us if the ITE Journal goes too far afield. Frankly, we are already questioning the value of ITE membership for all seven of us. I personally have no interest in reading about computer algorithms between vehicles and infrastructure, which is where ITE could be headed. I am interested in vehicle to vehicle, and vehicle to pedestrian interactions and safety but in a less granular context. I vote for ITE remaining focused on above pavement transportation infrastructure.
And yes, I realize this means ITE may not exist in 87 years and my firm focused on transportation planning, traffic studies, and traffic control design will also likely not exist. Such are the forces of creative destruction.