Jonathan Bass

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Innovative Transportation Planning — Key Takeaways from the ITE Technical Conference

Innovative transportation planning means breaking the rules, collaborating early and often, and blending data with real-world insights—here are four key takeaways from the 2021 ITE Technical conference.

Last week the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) held its first-ever virtual Spring Technical Conference.

Urban SDK was a supporting sponsor of the two-day event, which brought together hundreds of transportation professionals to share information and insights on new and innovative solutions to transportation challenges being implemented in communities in the United States and around the world.

The conference, developed around the central theme of Innovative Intersections and Streets, included ten technical sessions and featured topics ranging from Speed Management to Alternative Intersections to Innovative Curbside Management—and much more.

ITE Technical Conference Takeaways

Innovation means stretching and/or breaking the rules

Keynote speaker Ryan Russo, the Director at the Oakland Department of Transportation, set a tone for the conference by saying, "Today's breaking the rules is tomorrow's best practice." His session explored new ideas and approaches for advancing innovation.

For example, Russo suggested rather than thinking an unmentioned item in the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) is "against the rules," change your perception. Consider that if it is not in the manual, then there is no specific guidance. View it as an avenue providing the freedom to innovate and carve your own path.

To illustrate this point, Russo cited a few now-common features that were never in the manual, such as:

  • Adding crosswalks where there are desire lanes—instead of automatically blaming the pedestrian for an incident
  • Adding bicycle facilities on roads based on usage—rather than discounting these roads due to high car volume
  • Enabling communities to paint murals in the streets where there's little or no traffic volume to show civic pride—rather than adhering to only yellow/white lines for pavement markings

At its core, innovation is seeing what's not there and then turning that idea into reality. The plenary session set that tone right from Day 1.

Marry data with qualitative implementation

It's always interesting to see the new and inventive ways public organizations stoke community involvement, and such was the case again during the conference.

During the plenary session, Russo cited a is a current push from public sector organizations to foster closer relations between the community and private contractors. Many organizations are now pairing their consultants with civic leadership groups during project planning.

This desired effect: to create deeper conversations. These pairings give community members a larger voice on plans happening in their communities.

For example, before laying new sidewalks, a public organization might ask the contractor to meet with a church leader or several small business owners. The contractor might have data for their plan, but meeting with local leaders helps them fully understand the impact of a plan, while allowing for more community input and involvement.

Collaborate early

Collaboration is key.

Jenny Delumo, a Senior Planner at the San Francisco Planning Department, advocated using all planning tools at hand to solve transportation challenges. Moreover, it's important to exhaust all resources before relying on a transportation review.

Comprehensive planning and coordination with other agencies will make transportation review smoother. The is because issues and challenges will have been resolved before considering impacts.

According to Delumo, collaboration like this will eliminate a lot of mid-planning revisions and actually accelerate the process.

Likewise, it's imperative to incorporate and align guidelines with a jurisdiction's regulations policies and goals ahead of time. Doing so will ensure that what matters to you also matters to the jurisdiction.

"Transportation review is only as good as the methodology and data used," said Delumo. Collaborate early, be flexible enough to pivot if needed, and assess progress regularly.

COVID-19 is driving innovation

As Winston Churchill once said, "Never let a good crisis go to waste."

Putting this into the context of transportation and the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation departments across the country used emergency legislation and changing behavior patterns to transform streets.

One example is the greater implementation of slow streets. In order to accommodate an increase in bike and pedestrian traffic, select residential streets saw limited through traffic, along with slower speeds.

"Streateries" are another example of crisis-driven innovation. Changes in permitting allowed restaurants to set up outdoor dining space on sidewalks, parking lanes, travel lanes, alleys, and plazas.

Public sector organizations have also extended bike and walking paths to give people more socially distant outdoor recreational outlets.

And then there's the push for more open street events in 2021. These events shut down roadways to vehicular traffic and allow people to walk and better patronize local businesses.

In the wake of an unprecedented crisis, transportation officials have shown just how their impact stretches beyond traffic flows. They have innovated during the pandemic to help revitalize the economy and positively impact public health.

The ITE Spring Technical Conference provided an excellent opportunity to share information, ideas and insights and interact with transportation professionals from across transportation engineering.

The key concepts of innovation, data, and collaboration threaded throughout the conference really resonated with us because they are foundational to how Urban SDK works with government organizations to plan cities and infrastructure of the future. We feel very fortunate to have sponsored such an insightful gathering of professionals.

Schedule a demo to see how government agencies around the world are using Urban SDK for the reliable data sources they need to inform and accelerate decisions, automate services and improve their communities.

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