President’s Message: The Future May Arrive Sooner than You Think

Walter OkitsuMy family is remodeling our home and building a new garage. This has required predicting what we will need in what I previously thought was the far off future. For instance, should we have a 9-foot driveway to make backing out easier or will our next car be so smart it only needs a narrow strip of pavement to back out automatically with a push of a button? How many 220-volt outlets should we have for the plug-in electric vehicles that we might purchase some day? Will even owning a car be made obsolete by a fleet of driver-less taxis? Our new garage might only need to be large enough to store a few bikes.

To be sure, technology is changing our profession quickly. This makes transportation engineering very intellectually exciting, far more so than other engineering fields I could have entered. The rapid change forces me to constantly re-examine some articles of faith. Reduced commute time doesn’t mean as much if somebody else, or some thing, drives you while you work on your tablet. Forcing delivery trucks and other means of goods movement off the road in favor of cars might be a bad idea when most shopping is done online. Maintaining curbside parking might not be all that important if autonomous vehicles can drop off passengers before proceeding to parking corrals. An “X” percent increase in population growth might not lead to “Y” percent growth in ambient traffic, if “Z” percent of folks would rather send texts on a bus than drive.

We have to stay up-to-date in this business, because many of the technology changes could put some of us OUT of business.  Staying in contact with everybody else in our industry is the best way to do it, whether digitally or in person. Avoiding professional obsolescence may well be the best service ITE membership provides.