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The Evolution of Transportation Planning and the Role of ITE Canada

In this episode, we welcome Ryan Vanderputten, Director of Business and Engineering Services at the City of Calgary, and President of ITE Canada, to discuss the evolution of transportation planning, the vision and role of ITE Canada, and why it all matters to everyday Canadians.

About Ryan: Ryan Vanderputten, M. Eng., P. Eng. is the Director of Business and Engineering Services at the City of Calgary and the President of ITE Canada.


Over his nearly two-decade-long engineering career, he has worked in both the public and private sectors, in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. Ryan has a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Waterloo, a Masters degree in Transportation Engineering from the University of Calgary, and a Masters Certificate in Municipal Leadership from the Schulich School of Business from York University. He is also currently working on his Executive MBA through the Smith School of Business at Queen's University.

Ryan has been a member of ITE Canada since 1999. During this time, he has established many great relationships being active in four different sections/chapters. In addition to his current role on the District Executive Committee, he has volunteered at numerous levels of the organization, including section executive, District Board, and International committee levels. Through his experiences and role with ITE, Ryan is dedicated to helping communicate the importance of ITE being the organization of choice for transportation professionals.


Leanne Buck:    With this large topic, we're going to get right into it with a large question for you. Transportation is both a large and hot topic. Just one example of this, on one hand, we see design and expansion of roads and bridges. On the other hand, we see a push, a desire, to design for pedestrians, more transit and active modes. Can you please help us understand this dichotomy?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Absolutely. I think it looks back over the last 60 years, as we've seen our cities develop more and more around the automobile, and the reliance on your car to get around to do your daily needs. That really has changed though, in the past few decades, because we've seen the challenges that reliance on the automobile has caused. Things like increased traffic deaths. The decrease in the number of kids walking to school. Increase in obesity rates. Continued urban sprawl, and now climate change, and all of these have arisen, and we see what? Driving in the single occupant vehicle has contributed to all these. So, really what we've started to see now is a desire to start rebuilding our cities, to be more walkable, creating neighbourhoods, main streets, where you can access your daily needs, where you walk, where you shop, within close proximity to where you live.

A term has started to evolve called the 15 Minute City, and this is really where a desire for people to live, work and play within a 15 minute walk or bike ride from where they live. That is really going to help us really create more sustainable city. It's going to give people choices in how they travel. This isn't a war on cars, this isn't trying to move away from cars. But in every trip that you make, you don't need to necessarily jump into your car to do so. So, that's why we see a continued push still for the automotive and goods movement infrastructure, but still a more demand for pedestrian friendly and transit infrastructure.

Leanne Buck:    I think that's a good point you just made, that not every trip you make needs to be by foot, or needs to be by the automobile, but having a nice balance of that. So, thus we're still seeing, we do still see bridges being expanded and roads being expanded, but perhaps in other areas there's this idea with new builds, rebuilds, new communities, this 15 Minute City concept coming into play.

Ryan Vanderputten:    Yeah. Absolutely. We're still going to need a variety of infrastructure. It's just making appropriate decisions on where we put it.

Leanne Buck:    Good point. So, evolution means the gradual development of something. In terms of everyday transportation, in 20 years, what do you envision here in Canada?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Fantastic question, Leanne, and I think for me, for myself, with a background as a transportation planner, I love looking into the future and seeing how can we best design and plan our cities for the future. The one thing I've quickly realized is it's actually really hard to predict the future, because we really don't know what's going to happen. Had we thought 20 years ago about what 2022 is going to look like, would we have thought what we are seeing now would actually come to fruition? We're in a phase of rapid technological innovation, and I think that's really putting a lot of pressure and change on our transportation system.

Our traditional transportation models that we use to forecast the future travel demand, is all based on current travel behaviour continuing. But we're starting to see that changing. So, something like the COVID pandemic unfortunately, has been a significant shock to the system on how people travel, where people travel too. But also things like ride sharing and E-scooters that have come in the past number of years. This is really the start of mobility as a service, which again is going to have a big change on how people get around. When we look at the future of transportation, are we talking about flying cars? That might be more than 20 years out, but I'm sure we're going to get to a point like that.

Leanne Buck:    I see this quite often, Ryan. I see in planning documents that we've got a five year, 10 year, 20 year horizon, long term horizon. I question it every single time I see it, for these very reasons that you're talking about. That it's very difficult to plan for that 20 year. Do you see that continuing to be required?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Well, I think it is. I think with the advance in technology, things like autonomous vehicles, we are much closer to a full autonomous vehicle than we ever have been. So, 60 years ago, when people thought about the future of autonomous cars, where you could sit in your large vehicle, sitting around, reading the newspaper as your car drives you to work, that was the future envision. But back then, we really had no idea how to get there. We're far closer to knowing how to get there now. The autonomous and connected vehicle industry is really growing rapidly. We're not there yet, but we'll get there, and I could see us being there well within those 20 year horizon. We're also seeing the push for alternative fuels and electrification. So, we're going to see our automotive industry change significantly. A lot of jurisdictions are already putting in legislation to phase out gas powered engines, with a push to far more sustainable fuels, again, as part of that option of travel.

Leanne Buck:    Do you feel like there will be a push or a desire for people to go there, rather than get out of their cars? Do you think that the innovation in hydrogen fuel cell technology and electrical vehicles will have more people wanting to get into their cars, rather than get out for active transportation? Or do you feel like there's still going to be this balance that is had?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Yeah. I think there's still a need for all of it. There will still be the longer trip that you need to make that hopping on your bike, or even the way our transit services are designed, won't fill that gap. But again, do you need to own your own personal electric autonomous vehicle, or do you just use your phone, press a few buttons and one shows up in front of your house and you get in? It's not yours, but you'll use it for the purpose of your trip, and then somebody else will use it.

Leanne Buck:    That's interesting.

Ryan Vanderputten:    So, again, there's a lot of different evolution of thinking in these models, and the role of autonomous vehicles in things like ride sharing, is really interesting.

Leanne Buck:    Yeah. It's definitely really interesting. So, as the president of the Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers, I can imagine that you're involved in many discussions about the future of transportation, and the role that the organization plays in helping advance best practices, sustainable transportation. Can you tell us a little bit about the organization and its vision?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Thanks, Leanne. Yeah. So, ITE Canada is a community of over 2000 transportation professionals, from across Canada, including government, private sector and academia. Unlike what our name, as the Institute of Transportation Engineers might suggest, we are more than just engineers. Transportation is a broad and diverse profession, including planners, geographers, engineers, technologists, professors, students, and many more. Our parent organization, ITE, was originally formed in 1930 as the Institute of Traffic Engineers. But over the last 90 years has really broadened greatly as our industry has evolved. ITE Canada, here as a district, has been around since 1951, providing opportunities for transportation professionals to learn, connect, contribute and grow, to best meet the needs for safe and healthy mobility in Canada. So, our members really take this opportunity to learn from each other, connect best practices and just learn how this evolution in mobility within our cities and towns and rural areas, is really evolving and how we can contribute to that going forward.

Leanne Buck:    Yeah. I'm not sure that the everyday person knows about all these conversations taking place, or the depth of understanding and research and collaboration and talk around transportation. But yet it's a topic that we all are very familiar with, because the moment we step out our door, we are into the transportation mode, and we all have our experiences with that. So, speaking about the diversity of your membership. Members are working in government, the private sector, academia. So, how has this diversity of experience and perspective helped the organization and its purpose?

Ryan Vanderputten:    I think when it comes to diversity, as we grow the diversity of our membership, we actually start reflecting better the cities and towns for which we work. That we start to represent and look and feel very similar to our talents. So, as such, we're able to have a more broad and diverse understanding of the issues being faced, because we're all residents and citizens and users of the mobility network as well. With this broad range of our membership, we're able to share knowledge and experience with others across the country, and around the world, and bring some of the latest best practices to our organizations. We also have a very strong student base, which allows us to continue to sustain our profession, by supporting the next generation of transportation professionals. We also work closely with some of our partner organizations, such as the Canadian Urban Transit Association and the Transportation Association of Canada, to share research, develop guidelines, and really provide training across our industry.

Leanne Buck:    That's always a good thing. So, you've got just over 2000 members now-

Ryan Vanderputten:    Yes.

Leanne Buck:    Across the globe though, ITE Canada is connected globally. How many members?

Ryan Vanderputten:    I believe ITE now has over 16,000 members around the world.

Leanne Buck:    Okay, good. All talking, so there is... It's not necessarily everybody working in isolation. There is, I understand, ONEITE idea, where your members have one experience and you're able to learn from each other best practices, no matter where you are around the world.

Ryan Vanderputten:    Yeah. Absolutely. Because some of the same mobility issues, the climate change issues, the safety issues, they're very similar regardless of what town or city your in around the globe. So, it's pretty exciting and actually very reassuring to connect with somebody from another state, another country, who's facing the same problem you have, and share experiences of what you've tried, what's worked, what hasn't and really learn and grow from each other.

Leanne Buck:    Going beyond the learning and sharing best practices with colleagues, and people in the transportation industry, I'm really trying to work hard to educate the public about transportation, and for the reasoning to get them involved, because governments, project teams, are asking everyday citizens to get involved on transportation projects. Give their feedback on different measures that are being taken, recommended. Yet a lot of people aren't aware, or don't understand, the dynamics that take place, and the reasoning behind a lot of decisions that are being made. So, what do you feel are the opportunities for engaging everyday Canadians in the how and why community design and transportation is changing?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Leanne, as you mentioned earlier, the fact that everybody is a user of our transportation network the moment you step out your door, whether you're walking down your street, whether you're getting in your car, on your bike, everybody uses a portion, and a variety of our transportation network. So, every person really interacts differently with the network on a daily basis. Our streets are also more than just a way of getting from point A to point B. They're a place to meet up with your neighbours, play some street hockey, go for a bike ride, that the  multipurpose of our streets is really evolving as well. Our citizens have a vested interest in their streets. So, we do want to work with them to understand their changing needs, and encourage them to have a say in their communities, what they desire, what they look for for future generations.

I think we also have an opportunity, as ITE Canada, to educate the public about the work that we do, as you acknowledge, a lot of this work is behind the scenes, and our citizens see the output of it. But they may not understand what the process has been in the decisions that we've made, as we plan, design and build our transportation network. So, even clearing up some misconceptions that some may have around our network. The most often question that I get heard is, "Well, why can't they synchronize and time the traffic signals properly?" If only you knew how much time and effort we spent trying to do that for the users of our network, and a lot of things that does happen behind the scenes. So, I'm always happy to talk about the professional. I'm very proud to be a transportation professional, not only in my circle of colleagues, but also out in the public, talking with my friends and neighbours.

Leanne Buck:    Yeah. No, I think grassroots is definitely a great way to go when you are talking about issues like this. How about, I know some organizations are getting involved in high schools as well, so even before the university, where folks are getting into the civil engineering realm, and then learn about transportation perhaps in the fourth year. Does the organization have any plans to, or thoughts, or has there been conversation about getting in earlier to talk about transportation, right from elementary up to high school?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Absolutely. We have a pretty strong K to 12 outreach initiative across ITE that does exactly that, gets into schools and talks to students, gets them to start thinking. As I mentioned earlier, we've seen a significant decline of kids walking or biking to school. Well, why is that? So, having these conversations with kids, an example I had a number of years ago, when my kids were younger. I had the opportunity to go into their classroom and talk about transportation, and it was great because we started having them just draw their community, and draw their streets, their houses. It was interesting just to see how they saw their community. They would have them on their little bikes. They would have their lemonade stands, they'd have their playground. That's how they saw their community, and it was really... They needed that road to be safe, to get to where they wanted to go and play. So, even in the early ages for kids, it's great to start that conversation.

Leanne Buck:    Well, I'm hoping that one of the silver linings of COVID might be that more kids are getting out on their bikes. I definitely saw a lot more the last couple of years, kids just getting out and riding their bikes, more so than ever actually. Maybe because there wasn't so much structure in a day, and parents were working from home too, and that's also changed what transportation looks like for commuting in the morning, for how parents are getting their kids to school as well. So, as you mentioned, our world is ever changing and shifting, and so looking 12 or 20 years down the road, it's very difficult to predict what type of occurrences might happen that's going to shift our ways of living.

Ryan Vanderputten:    For sure.

Leanne Buck:    So, really, really interesting. So, great conversation, Ryan. This is such a big topic. I know we could explore so many different topics within transportation. From safety to autonomous vehicles, like you mentioned, to active transportation, and there's just so many details within each of those things. But I think you've given us a really good overview of trends, how they're changing, how we need to balance out transportation, including what the Institute of Transportation Engineers is doing. So, I really appreciate your insights. To sum things up, on a personal note, I always ask why does all this matter to you? What keeps you going each day with what you do in your work?

Ryan Vanderputten:    Yeah. For me, growing up I had the opportunity to live in Southeast Asia, during a time of rapid growth and expansion. As I was there, I saw examples of this evolution of transportation. The signalized T-intersection at the edge of my community transformed into a three level interchange with a roundabout, at the ground level in less than five years that I lived there. The main road was wound by canter levering over the adjacent drainage canal. I learned to drive in a country where lane markings didn't mean anything, and pedestrians had to play a game of Frogger just to cross the street. So, for me, it was really that desire to get into a profession, to get into transportation, planning and city building, really to help cities become safer and better planned for generations to come. That's really what keeps me going, is that excitement about making our cities a better place to live, work and play for generations.

Leanne Buck:    Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that, and I can relate on the Frogger note in Thailand. I definitely felt that, and that was a new experience, so I know where you're coming from there. Thank you so much, Ryan. There's so much to talk about, and please come back and join me on another topic, if you'd like to, in the future. So, thank you for joining us and thank you for listening to The UpLift Community Podcast. Have an amazing day and week ahead.

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