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I’ve taken a few days to reflect upon my experiences at the recent ITE/CITE 2017 conference in Toronto. While I’ve been to several CITE conferences in the past, this is the first time I’ve attended the international edition of the ITE. As always, it was a great opportunity to catch up with old colleagues and make new connections with other transportation professionals from around the world.

I wanted to share a few of my takeaways and impressions from this year’s conference while it’s fresh in my mind. Please keep in mind that my impressions may not necessarily coincide with my opinions on subject matter.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

While connected and autonomous vehicles (CVs and AVs) are somewhat different, they are related and will likely have significant overlap in the coming years as technology progresses. Based on the information I’ve seen to date, I’m of the (current) opinion that we will likely see CVs become more commonplace before AVs achieve a similar status.

Several state and municipal DOTs are currently undertaking pilot programs to test implementation of CVs with other infrastructure. Some of these include Florida, Wyoming, New York City, and Las Vegas.

Without getting into too much detail, these CV pilots include the implementation of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies. Some more interesting examples of this include modified rear view mirrors to display CV messaging, V2V distress notifications (i.e. vehicles traveling opposite of incidents carry updates back upstream of the incident), connection of state-owned fleet vehicles (e.g. plows, patrol cars, etc.), mobile pedestrian signal systems, and V2V mobile apps (e.g. Nexar).

I also attended the AV talk given by Dr. John Leonard of MIT and Toyota Research Institute where he is researching and testing the technology. Overall, Dr. Leonard offered a bit of a contrarian opinion to the AV hype, which was refreshing.

I am personally excited with the advent of AVs, however this talk was a bit of a reality check as to the limitations of the technology and the areas which still need further development. A loose, rough analogy here is whether you’d trust Siri to drive your car. Given this personal assistant’s proclivity to misinterpret commands, I think you can appreciate why AVs aren’t quite there yet.

Shared Mobility

The concept of shared mobility is still emerging among transportation professionals. While this concept has already developed in some areas such as fleet services (e.g. ZipCar or other car sharing companies), platforms (e.g. Uber, Lyft, etc.), or some mixture of the two, a true overarching Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) has yet to emerge. MaaS is unlikely until disruptive technology further takes hold.

Transportation is as much as moving people as it is able the underlying technology that enables it. Data is the new currency, flowing where and when it is needed most. Aggregation and analysis of data provides insights and value to those who purposefully need it. There was talk about the need for data standards to enable better data integration. I emphatically agree that this will be a key component of MaaS for achieving shared mobility.

It is also becoming clear that the interests of traditional companies, such as automobile manufacturers, technology companies, and others are changing. For example, I learned that Porche SE recently acquired PTV Group on June 7, 2017. Now, why would they do that? Could it be that the roadmap and connections between traditional companies is changing in non-traditional ways for strategic benefit?

It is anticipated that the new mobility will be various combinations of new and emerging technologies and business models through the shared economy to ultimately attempt to meet customer expectations and needs. It remains to be seen how this will develop in the coming years.

#Plangineers: A Collaborative Mindset

Brent Toderian delivered the closing plenary talk at ITE this year. He provided some interesting points that I took away for consideration.

Instead of the epic battles between planners and engineers that have traditionally taken place, we need a new collaborative mindset, in other words, the term plangineer. This is a concept that has spoken to me for years, but I never had a term for it until now. While I am an engineer by profession, in practice I typically work more on the planning side of the equation. We need to be a bit of both in how we conduct ourselves.

We need to do better as a profession to not just enact good practices, but more importantly, to end bad practices. In other words, we can start exercising or eating healthy, which is good. However, if we’re still smoking, aren’t we undermining ourselves? Often, it’s the old practices or bad habits that are toughest to kick.

Despite a municipality’s proactive policies on sustainable urban planning and transportation, the real question is where does the budget go? If a municipality’s budget doesn’t align with policy, then is a city serious about the policies? Brent mentioned that in North America we can sometimes be full of excuses as to why something isn’t implemented. For inspiration, he suggested we look at what Latin America has been able to accomplish with modest resources in improving their urban form and infrastructure.

Brent even called out our profession to beware of the “dinosaurs” in our midst, those individuals who still propagate less sustainable practices. He’s even seen these “dinosaurs” smile and nod to him in meetings with clients, only to undermine his efforts later.

ITE International President Shawn Leight pressed Brent during the discussion period about when he’d join the ITE again. Essentially, Brent said he’d consider it when the ITE drops “engineer” from its title. How does Institute of Transportation Professionals sound to you?

ITE Trip Generation and TripChain

One of the showcased items of the conference was the upcoming 10th Edition of the ITE Trip Generation Manual. The release of the revised manual has been anticipated for a year now with ITE Journal articles and a whitepaper published in 2016 discussing the future roadmap of the product.

I commend the ITE for its move more to person trips and for launching a web-based app with filters for trip generation rate lookups. These filters include years, regions, urban areas, and other tools to better target trip generation rates.

My bias and disagreement is that these improvements to the ITE’s manual still don’t enable continuous data updates and examination of individual data points for specific context consistent with the Big Data approach becoming more mainstream in technology.

This bias is based in part by my presentation of TripChain: A Peer-to-Peer Trip Generation Database during this year’s conference. TripChain addresses the missing elements described above and has the potential to complement ITE’s manual with both current and disruptive emerging technology.

Overall, the TripChain presentation received mixed results, as anticipated. In the feedback received from ITE members, it was the range from “the ITE has now fixed trip generation, move along now” to “I hope TripChain and the ITE can collaborate on this project”. What especially satisfied me was talking with students and EITs who previously knew about blockchain and were excited by the approach to integrate trip generation through TripChain.

If you haven’t already read about TripChain, check out the introduction, whitepaper, and complementing ITE Trip Generation materials for this ongoing project.

#Blockchain Technology

Tied in with my specific TripChain presentation, one of my main objectives in attending the ITE conference was to introduce the concepts of blockchain technology and distributed consensus platforms to the lexicon of other transportation professionals. This was mainly accomplished through one-on-one conversations with other professional and a couple of well-placed questions.

While there were a few that have heard of blockchain, most don’t know what it is, how it works, or what it’s potential impacts might be. The intent here is not to answer every question now, but instead to spur curiosity within the industry (i.e. plant the seed) in hopes that people will do their own research and consider potential use cases for exploration. Here’s a general introductory video to get you started. Briefly, blockchain solves the “double spend problem” and can be applied to both monetary and data currency problems.

Do I want to entirely hang my hat on blockchain? No. Blockchain is not a panacea for every problem, nor should it be a solution looking for a problem. However, right now, I don’t see this conversation among transportation professionals, therefore I’m pushing to bring a new idea to the table. Whether there is value and valid use cases for blockchain among transportation professionals is part of a bigger conversation.

Although blockchain has been around since 2009, as of 2017 it is only now starting to mature and emerge as a technology. The financial technology industry (fintech) is beginning to see early adoption of this technology and other industries are beginning to recognize the potential of blockchain. In my opinion, I don’t see blockchain truly becoming mainstream until the next 3-5 years, but now is the time to learn about it and prepare for it.

Did you attend #ITEToronto2017? What were your takeaways and impressions from this year’s conference? What topics and technologies do you feel are most critical to transportation professionals at this time?