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ITE and APBP Joint Profile: Kate Whitfield


February: Kate Whitfield, P.Eng., MCIP,  RPP

Our first ITE and APBP member to be featured, Kate Whitfield, P.Eng., MCIP, RPP, is a senior engineer/planner at Alta Planning + Design, Inc. - Canada. Kate has been on the APBP Board since January 2015 and chairs the Alliances Committee. She specializes in multimodal transportation and has a love of cargo bikes. In the fall of 2017, Kate taught for the first time a term of Urban Planning to fourth-year engineering students at Carleton University. Kate helps manage the Alta Canada operations from Ottawa, Ontario.

ITE/APBP: How did you get interested in transportation as a profession, with a focus on walking and bicycling?

KATE WHITFIELD: My undergraduate degree is from the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in engineering. While at UNB, my mentor introduced me to urban planning and encouraged me to be on the steering committee for the Campus Plan. He saw that I wanted a non-typical engineering career. With his advice, I attended Queen’s University for a masters of Urban and Regional Planning. I then learned a great deal from my first job in Ottowa with a local consulting firm where I enjoyed working on a variety of different municipal and transportation engineering and planning jobs. I was searching for a field of expertise that would bring together an element of technical skills, people skills, and quite simply—joy. Growing up active with an interest in the environment, and then living in a walkable community and having young kids, helped drive my focus on walking and bicycling. I truly see it as an essential part of great city building.

ITE/APBP: What does walking or bicycling mean to you in your personal life?
 Walking and bicycling as part of regular, everyday life is important to me and to how I represent what I do profes- sionally in a work setting. When I am active it helps me with the typical reality of work-life balance in busy times. It also can provide some of the best quality time with my children (as part of the “commute” and not just recreation). It connects me to my community. A nod to a neighbour or a conversation on the street happens by bike or foot. I also find it opens up my socio-economic world. Seeing an elderly lady with her grocery cart waiting for a bus in a snowbank is a reminder that the decisions we make affect everyone. It is fair to assume that she is taking the bus and not driving that day not as a statement of her commitment to environmental protection but because that is her option. It should be viable and enjoyable for all. Improving walking and biking environments is a transportation equity issue.

ITE/APBP: How did you become a member of APBP and ITE, and what synergy do you gain from being a member of both organizations?
 I joined APBP in August 2014. Before that I had focused more on Canadian-based organizations but found that I wanted access to what APBP had to offer. With an Engineering License and a Planning License, I had a bit of membership fatigue. I have now found my way to both APBP and ITE. My personal experience is with the Canadian arm of ITE (proudly known as CITE), which is strong with frequent local chapter events and a great national presence. As an APBP Board member, one of my tasks is to be the liaison with APBP’s Ontario chapter. This creates the venue for great conversations with more local APBP members and some opportunities for shared initiatives. In 2017, the APBP Ontario Chapter helped host Transporta- tion Camp at the ITE Annual Meeting and Exhibit in Toronto; an easy example of the synergy between the two organizations. Together we explored topics around new mobility and data. In the spring, I will start as CITE’s rep on the Urban Transportation Council of the Transportation Association of Canada. My ability to share information between different parties is only strength- ened by my membership with APBP and the organization’s ability to disseminate leading edge technical information. I find that the APBP’s webinars provide information helping with the next level of expertise in this field. They are concise with thorough information on state-of-the-art topics. The APBP conference held every second year includes topics geared toward what members are working on day-to-day, taking a deep-dive into subjects most relevant to professionals in biking and walking. I am looking forward to CITE’s conference in Edmonton in June 2017 and in Ottawa in 2018.

ITE/APBP: How do you find bike/ pedestrian transportation different from other engineering specialties?
When I am asked this, I often single out structural engineers. When a structural engineer says that a bridge is strong enough, people generally agree because the engineer said so. When I talk about transportation at a public meeting or the dinner table, it can come with a feeling of a moral judgement being made: I am better than you if I bike and you drive; you are crazy if you bike; I am selfish if I drive; you take the bus only because you can’t afford a car; somebody is too busy or too lazy; but I like driving. Like other engineers, the job balances the technical design side as well as the people side; however, I find that I am often in the position of therapist or cheerleader; encouraging a municipal staff person who is trying to make change that it is possible. As the APBP supports Active Transportation Coordinators in the municipal sector and others in the private sector, and ITE helps elevate the walk/bike discussion in the larger transportation engineering/planning world, we continue to move the bar from “nice-to-have” to truly part of the solution. One thing that we get to share with structural engineers is the bridge analogy: when asked “are bike lanes warranted here,” it is hard to justify a bridge by the number of people swimming across a river. 


Image Caption: ITE and APBP member Kate Whitfield with her son Nicholas on a cargo bike.


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