Somehow, “traffic engineer” has become shorthand for a car-loving, lane-inserting opponent to all things walkable and livable. Among us ITE members who are traffic engineers, being viewed as the villain might be regarded as part of the job. Even though perhaps half the projects I work on nowadays involve converting lanes of traffic into something else, like bikeways, transit lanes, or wider sidewalks, I am just as likely to recommend squeezing in a lane to ease congestion. That’s a position that may anger both the motoring and the non-motoring communities, but being in the middle is where traffic engineers should play a valuable role as cities evolve to accommodate a less autocentric form. For this role, we are well-suited, given our experience balancing the needs of motorists, transit riders, goods movers, pedestrians, cyclists, utility companies, and emergency responders, and fitting all their needs within a constrained right-of-way.
Having a poor public image, however, could get us pushed out of any such role. Keeping us out of the discussion in the 21st century is easier politically when a traffic engineer is perceived as being in a non-visionary profession. PR is a big deal.
ITE’s Western District is unique in having a Public Relations Committee that was created just in the past year. No other district in ITE has such a committee. The PR Committee, led by chair Chuck Huffine, is tasked with promoting the various professions among our membership, including our traffic engineers. Although taking on traffic engineer bashers is not on our PR Committee’s agenda, not yet anyway, we will have a mechanism to do so. Chuck is looking for volunteers to help with the task. See his message below.
Walter Okitsu, President, ITE Western District