The Engineer’s Corner: Oliver Hou, Transportation Engineering Associate II

Welcome to the Engineer’s Corner. This post is a special one, because we are spotlighting one of our program’s first interns: Oliver Hou. Lucky for us, his graduate school internship in the LADOT Bike Program inspired him to stick with transportation, and we’re grateful to say he’s become an integral part of the Bikeways Division. 

LeapLA Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Oliver Hou: My undergraduate background is in civil engineering.  After college, I started at a pre-cast concrete contractor doing architectural pre-cast design and building for construction.  During this time I was able to learn how to use AutoCAD as well as manage projects.  After a few years, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree and serendipitously came across the field of urban planning, which helped to answer a question that I always had while constructing buildings – what are the drivers behind development projects?  During my time studying urban planning at USC, I was fortunate enough to intern with LADOT Bikeways, which helped to fuel my personal interests in all things transportation.

For fun, I enjoy exploring cities around the world, including Los Angeles, for their cultural diversity.  If I’m not out trying new places to eat, I’m at home with my wife cooking healthy dishes.

Oliver enjoying the new protected bike lane on Van Nuys Blvd

Oliver enjoying the new protected bike lane on Van Nuys Blvd

Can you describe your commute? What is it like getting to work?

I live in Koreatown and my daily commute typically consists of catching a Metro Local bus to the Red Line Vermont/Wilshire station.  After a few stops, I exit the Civic Center station and either walk or take an LADOT Dash bus to the office. On occasion I will ride my bike to commute the 3 miles between Ktown and downtown.

My commute time is consistent and takes about 30 minutes each way. That is the part I like the most. In addition, I enjoy using apps such as GoLA, Smartride, and LADOTbus to navigate and track my transit options.  The only downside to my commute are the multiple transfers, so on days I don’t feel like dealing with it I will drive or hail a rideshare.

So how did you become interested in becoming an engineer?

I have always enjoyed building things, starting with Legos and Simcity as a kid.  And although I’ve never particularly enjoyed taking math/science classes, I excelled in them and like the idea that there tends to be only one “right” answer. My undergraduate program offered a broad-based math/science curriculum and I ended up choosing civil engineering because of the possibility of fieldwork and the opportunity to create projects that you can see and have a lasting impact. At LADOT, I have an opportunity to work in an area where the fields of engineering and planning intersect.

How long have you worked at LADOT and in which divisions?

I have worked at LADOT for about 5 years and in addition to being in the Active Transportation division as an engineer, I have been in the Bicycle Outreach and Planning group as an intern, and the Specialized Transit and Grants division as a planner.

What do your day-to-day duties consist of?

Each day is unique because we always have bike lane projects that are in varying phases. These projects could be facilities that are part of the Mobility plan, facilities intended to close gaps in our existing network, or facilities that need maintenance and modification. Some days, I am out in the field checking installations or investigating conditions on the ground. Other days, I will be in the office working with our team to develop plans.  

Before coming up with a plan, I often seek the opinions of other engineers throughout our department and at our district offices so I can try to consider all the impacts. The size and breadth of our City is truly amazing, with DOT having a hand in anything transportation related – it seems that I am always learning about new functions and personnel!

Oliver Hou and Bryan Ochoa, Assistant Project Coordinator, hard at work in the Bikeways Division.

Oliver Hou and Bryan Ochoa, Assistant Project Coordinator, hard at work in the Bikeways Division.

Do you have a favorite part of your work or a favorite project?

My favorite part of my work is seeing projects come to fruition, and seeing these facilities be used. What begins as a concept or vision has much to go through before becoming reality, particularly when it comes to some of our more innovate facilities such as the protected bicycle lane on Los Angeles Street with bicycle signals.

What are the most important things to keep in mind when planning for Los Angeles’ transportation future?

(1) Safety is our primary concern. While this may not have been the case in the past, the driving force of our department is to get people where they need to go safely and comfortably. In fact, with the City’s adoption of a Vision Zero Policy, it really has become a citywide effort. Safety for pedestrians and bicyclists should be what guides our decision-making when it comes to street design.

(2) From a mobility standpoint, our City already has amazing infrastructure in place that has endless potential for evolution.  That is, we have lots of roads and lots of lanes. Therefore, we are able to reconfigure this space to meet our transportation objectives, often with some simple paint on the ground, as our GM and many. This makes me very excited for what our future holds – whether it is a network of bus-only lanes that can maximize our throughput, or groups of super-efficient autonomous vehicles that put an end to traffic as we know it.

When you’re not hard at work making the streets of LA more bike friendly, what do you like to do in your free time?

My free time is mostly taken up by following all types of sports. I enjoy playing basketball (although not as often as I use to) and golf (not as often as I like).

Thanks, Oliver! We’ll see you on the streets!

LA River Path Closure Update

Last month, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Los Angeles District began removing non-native plants along the LA River path between Fletcher Drive and Riverside Drive. This work is part of an LA County Drainage Area Project to remove non-native vegetation and improve capacity of the channel.

In order to complete this flood risk management project, USACE has closed the access path from 7am to 4pm Monday through Friday, while the path remains open on evenings and weekends. USACE has placed closure signs and barriers along the path, and LADOT has coordinated the detour route.

USACE organized a public workshop on November 7 at Friendship Auditorium to address concerns related to the closure and the detour. Approximately 100 people attended, including users of the LA River path, people who live near the path, and community members. Also in attendance were representatives from Council District 13, Friends of the LA River, USACE Specific Divisions, LAPD Northeast Division, City of LA Engineering Divison, and LADOT Bike Program.

The Public Workshop at Friendship Auditorium was well attended and informative. Photo: Phil Serpa

The workshop at Friendship Auditorium was well attended and informative. Photo: Phil Serpa

The purpose of the workshop was to bring stakeholders together in order to address concerns and complaints. The workshop was a poster and table session in which people from the community could ask participants questions about path closure, detour route, the LA River, and the plant removal project.

Over the course of the evening, we recorded an exhaustive list of comments from attendees. We have compiled the key concerns below.

Comments from attendees

  1. Closure signage along the path looks unofficial and has too little information about the USACE project
  2. Detour signage does not provide information about the closure schedule
  3. Detour route feels unsafe for people on bikes and is disproportionately long compared to the closed segment of the path
  4. Closure time of 7am-4pm overlaps with commute hours
  5. Daily updates have not been shared on social media

Our team is in the process of reviewing these concerns internally as well as with Council District 13 and USACE.

For more information about the LA River, you may visit www.spl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Operations/

If you have questions or comments regarding the path closure, you may contact AMoperations.Branch@usace.army.mil

If you have questions or comments regarding the detour route, send us an email at bike.program@lacity.org

 

My Commute: Rancho Cucamonga to DTLA and Cal Poly Pomona

When I first moved to the US from Iran in 2011, I commuted solely by bicycle and transit. It took me a while to learn how to safely and easily transport myself from one place to another as I adjusted to a new life in California. Deciphering transit lines was one of my biggest challenges, and overall, I felt much less safe riding my bike than I had back home because of the daily instances in which cars would drive in the bike lane—that is, if there was even a bike lane at all!

This was my first bike commute when I moved to the US five years ago! I biked around 10 miles each day.

This was my first bike commute when I moved to the US five years ago! I biked around 10 miles each day.

All of these experiences ultimately inspired me to switch careers from architecture, which I practiced for five years, to transportation planning in order to make positive changes for all commuters. I was accepted to Cal Poly Pomona’s Masters in Transportation Engineering program and was hired at LADOT in the Bikeways Program.

Driving is costly and exhausting, so I’ve embraced multimodal transportation options as much as possible to get from Rancho Cucamonga to LADOT and Cal Poly Pomona. On a daily basis, I drive, ride a train, take a bus, and ride a bike or walk.

Rancho Cucamonga to DTLA

For nearly two years, I’ve commuted to Downtown Los Angeles on Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line every work day. The distance from Rancho Cucamonga to Downtown Los Angeles is almost 42 miles, which costs me around $50 to drive (including gas and parking). Not to mention, the traffic is a headache. For me, driving to work first thing in the morning is very stressful. Commuting by train, however, allows me to read magazines, do homework, and relax.

My trip on the train from Rancho Cucamonga Station to Union Station takes about 1 hour.

My trip on the train from Rancho Cucamonga Station to Union Station takes about 1 hour.

I begin my trip by parking my car at Rancho Cucamonga Station, located about 3 miles away from where I live. The ticket options include regular fare, senior, student, and active military, for which round trip prices range from $10.50 to $21.50. As a graduate student, I purchase the student option, which costs $16.

Sometimes, I’ll bring my bike in my car and onto the train so that I can bike from the train station to work in DTLA.

I love to walk or bike past Grand Park on my way to work.

I love to walk or bike past Grand Park on my way to work.

The train commute to Union Station on Metrolink takes about 1 hour and is much more comfortable than sitting in a car during peak hour congestion for 90 minutes. Given the overall reduced commute time and effort required, riding the train to work allows me to sleep in a little longer and not worry about staying alert for the duration of a long drive. This is very important, because I often stay up late finishing homework or catching up on chores. Even better, Metrolink’s early morning train offers patrons the option to ride the Express Train, which makes just three stops between my stop and Downtown LA, reducing my total commute by 20 minutes!

My commute on Metrolink allots me plenty of time to do homework, rest, or chat up other train-goers.

My commute on Metrolink allots me plenty of time to do homework, rest, or chat up other train-goers.

Once I arrive at Union Station, I usually walk to Patsaouras Transit Plaza to catch the Dash D bus heading toward Grand Ave & Washington Blvd for a 5 minute bus ride to LADOT. Or, if I brought my bike, I will ride instead. Now that there is the new protected bike lane on Los Angeles Street, this bike ride is even better.

When the wait time for the bus is long, I enjoy walking from Union Station to LADOT. This gives me the chance to pass through historic aspects of the El Pueblo De Los Angeles District, including a stunning outdoor plaza, museums, historic buildings, and a traditional Mexican marketplace for shopping and dining. It is really interesting to see how each building represents an impressive story about the people who once lived here. As I proceed to walk on Main Street, I observe people who are camped out on the sidewalks and can’t help but be amazed at how drastically the urban environment in Los Angeles can change in just a matter of blocks.

Rancho Cucamonga to Cal Poly Pomona

When I commute to Cal Poly Pomona from Rancho Cucamonga, I drive my car or take the train. Many of my peers take bus shuttles and drive to get to school. Students often are looking for ways to save money, so I think it would be great if there were also bikeways available.

Everyone’s commute is different. Sometimes it seems impossible for me to stop driving altogether, but every time I ride a bike, walk, or take transit, my mental and physical wellbeing is improved.  I feel good about decreasing the number of vehicles on the road to reduce traffic and green house gas emissions. Plus, relying on multiple modes of transportation helps me feel connected to those in my community and gives me opportunities to be physically active.

How is your commute?