An engineer wrote an article titled: "America Has No Transportation Engineers", critiquing the civil engineering education that many of my colleagues recieved. The point was that our lack of interdisciplinary studies leads to an over reliance on standards. As someone that's worked on encouraging the industry for some time, I agree with the author and those that argue that a civil engineering education did not make me a "transportation engineer". The criticisms are consistent with the trend that engineers are often blamed for the challenges of today's transportation system, which isn't entirely fair. The challenge faced is transportation is a physical system based on many decisions (historical and current) that have interdependencies that are difficult to unpack. From induced demand, behavioral economics of transportation choices, traffic signal software to concrete mix design, the transportation industry is complicated. Colleagues are working on reform, hopefully we can do more as a profession to support this important work.
|Today's engineering designs are working to improve conditions for cycling, walking, and community.|
We all have bias and the data that one gathers to develop the guideline or standard may not result in the intended outcome. Where it seems that the transportation engineeirng profession runs into trouble is that we have been slow to implement changes in approaches to planning, design, operations, and maintenance necessary to deliver on the safety goals (especially if that's what your community is asking for). To deliver Vision Zero, we need significant and comprehensive changes (vehicle restrictions, design criteria, etc) to improve safety.
My community has sought changes to the approach to speed limit setting, Level of Service, traffic signal timing, bicycle facility design (some of which has already been reformed in guidance from ITE and other groups) and other context specific approaches to transportation solutions. In the start of my career, it was mostly about moving cars and reduced vehicle delay based on the Highway Capacity Manual. Today, we are undoing some of those past "improvements" because we're solving a new problem. The ability of the transportation industry to provide the solutions to today's challenge (traffic fatalities as one objective) is not done in a vacuum. Our industry's emphasis on improving safety (hopefully) has made it clear that one cannot simply apply the HCM without consider safety, i.e., adding lanes to an arterial and expecting the safety outcomes for pedestrians to improve on the arterial. Yet, it's not entirely clear that we have an understanding of the safety consequences of efficiency improvements that remain part of our local ordinances and policies. The solution: continue to invest in research, education, and technology transfer to keep pace with the expectations of the community, and our elected leadership.