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February 2024 ITE Journal Director's Message: Collaboration is Key

By Mr. Stephen Kuciemba posted 02-01-2024 10:51 AM


Early-on in my career in the transportation field, I met a few professionals who believed that transportation planning and engineering could be done “cookbook style.” Follow the formulas, lean heavily on prior experience, and in general, do all of this without a lot of input from other sources. It didn’t take me long to discover that this approach was riddled with potential problems.

Thankfully, we as a profession have evolved significantly over the past few decades, and we recognize that through public engagement, thoughtful planning strategies, and context-sensitive engineering, we have an opportunity to help communities more properly envision future growth and improvements. We now incorporate issues like broader land-use policies, economic development, safety and health impacts, equity, and sustainability—and we are willing to start asking questions about how our decisions affect the physical, cultural, and social identity of a place. More importantly, we acknowledge that not every location is the same, and we must sometimes adjust our designs to better adapt to specific conditions.

One of the great things about our society is the art of individuality. As people we each view functionality, beauty, and convenience through many different lenses. But in order to create transportation services and public spaces that work for everyone, we need cross-sector collaboration at its highest levels.
With a collective understanding of planning and placemaking, agencies that oversee public space, public and private professionals focused on planning, experts in charge of community programming, engineers and designers within agencies and consultants, and legislators overseeing funding can easily align their efforts and work toward creating meaningful community spaces.

ITE has made a concerted effort over the past 18 months to attract more planners into our community of transportation professionals. The purpose behind this was to grow our diversity of opinions, experience, and ideas—and to open the door to productive and far-ranging multidisciplinary collaborations. 
At our Spring Virtual Conference last March, we held several conversations about the intersection of planning and engineering, all meant to help advance the dialogue around collaboration. That trend continued throughout the year, including at our Annual Meeting in Portland, OR, USA, and there are no signs of the conversation slowing down! 

In fact, the discussion has continued to mature as representatives from several of our Councils and Committees got together last month to better understand and define what it means to emphasize people-oriented planning and engineering. Through collaboration we can make certain that transportation options are available and accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds; that we will continue to prioritize safety for all road users; and that healthy, sustainable communities support active travel and prioritize minimizing pollution. This group discussed the importance of transportation systems that efficiently use limited right-of-way to optimize the movement of people, not just vehicles; and that serving diverse communities and populations must be taken into account.

This is a pretty big departure from the cookbook ready-made solutions I first witnessed some 35 years ago and is a very positive sign we’re destined to create streets and communities that are vibrant, valued, comfortable, socially cohesive, and sustainable.