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.
Traffic engineering in a vacuum is a real problem. One example is green band optimization which can lead to sprawl if we just let TE’s solve for mainline throughput. It would take more than a paragraph to make the point but land use, transportation, economics, technology, modal incorporation, etc. are all part of moving people and goods as well as providing the access people need. TE’s are trained too narrowly to provide all that is needed for a full system of transportation. Sure, TEs can time a signal and design a road but I like to think that it takes more than what TE’s offer to move us all forward. In short, I disagree.
Your case for retaining “engineers” rather than “professionals” is well stated. I was glad to see transportation “planning” and multi-modalism (walk, bike, transit, rail, air, ship) added over the years as “traffic” has come to mean more than what motor vehicles provide. The longer my career has run (35 years since the BSCE, 29 as a PE) the more specific my professional interests have become, so when I see ITE addressing livability and quality of life impacts of transportation, I know ITE has grown in the same direction I have, and it is still the organization for me.
I appreciate your comments and hope I am able to make it to Toronto to hear this type of discussion on these issues at the ITE Business Meeting.
One clarification, my understanding of our history was the ITE founders went to ASCE and were rejected by ASCE and, thus, started ITE.
I agree with most of your analysis and conclusions, especially on issue number 3. Let’s keep the option of petition available. It has only been used successfully (to win the election) once but this option should not be outlawed.
I have a real problem with the ITE Board’s issues #1 and #2. Issue #1 gets to the heart of the change, are we an organization of engineers or just an organization. If we are just an organization, than ITE will not exist as a viable organization for me and I think all my mentors in ITE through the years would be greatly disappointed with this radical change. Many of mentors still resented the change from Traffic to Transportation Engineer. Why is bigger better? Why does ITE have to be bigger? If they want bigger, they should join ITS, which would be fine with me. We have co-existed with ITS for years and both organizations have done well with much overlap. I am strongly against changing the membership criteria until someone can make a case why bigger is better for ITE. The justification for this change does not make any sense to me.
Issue #2 about the election is harder to know which way is correct. I personally like the idea that the candidates need to visit the membership and better understand the grass roots of the organization and many past presidents I have spoken to about it tell me that it helped them govern because of the knowledge and relationships they created during the “ordeal”. There is no question that it is a time commitment to ITE. If you are not willing too make the commitment, how do we know you will make the commitment, if elected? We are a volunteer organization and I think this is a great way to see if the candidate is committed to ITE. Could this proposal work? Certainly with the right individual but I am not sure it is good policy for all candidates for the future. Only time will tell, if this is approved.
I think the comment you made that was the best was your vision for the future with self driving vehicles. Nobody knows how this will impact ITE and our profession. I think until we have a better grasp of the impact, we should hold off on making these radical changes to our organization of choice! I hope the Board continues to address this issue at the highest level of the organization. I appreciated the Boards work on this back in 2013 but have been less impressed in recent years. If they are working on this, it must be top secret.
To summarize, I do not think any of these proposals make the Institute of Transportation Engineers a better organization for the future.
Mike has laid out positions that are well reasoned and represent a view that many ITE Engineering members hold. One the central issues with respect to Civil Engineering and it’s branches are maintaining occupational closure. I think it’s important to remember that some of the central contributions to ITE and to ITE’s founding were from other fields such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, urban planning and transportation planning.
With respect to the proposed changes I would suggest that members in general need to recognize the value of those ‘others’ in being a part of ITE and to be more open to potential changes that would benefit the association. As an example, without the influence of the American Planning Association – ITE would not be concerned with current professional issues such as livability, quality of life, bicycles, pedestrians, land use and so on that are central to discussions about how society moves and lives.
Those new trends from new technologies are a part of future practices that will need to be addressed whether we like it or not. It does not mean that ITE members will be asked to join the IEEE or read through their research as framed here. It means that the impact of new forms of travel such as automated vehicles, transportation network companies, vehicle to vehicle and infrastructure technology will be included as topics relevant to the practices of transportation engineers and transportation planners and other professionals that are being offered membership in the future.