The Engineer’s Corner: Joan Hsu, Transportation Engineer I, and Jeff Hsu, Transportation Engineer I

Our most recent Engineer’s Corner visit is with not one, but two of LADOT’s newest and brightest transportation engineers. In addition to being awesome members of LADOT, Joan Hsu and Jeff Hsu are related. That’s right, they are siblings. We couldn’t wait to sit down with them to talk shop and family, because while we often think of LADOT as one giant family, it’s pretty exciting to have team members who are the real deal kin.

LADOT Bike Blog: Can you tell us about yourselves?

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The Engineer’s Corner: Bridget Smith, P.E., T.E., P.T.O.E, Chief of Staff

In previous segments of “The Engineer’s Corner,” we have introduced you to some of the talented engineers part of our Bikeways group. This time around, we take a coffee break away from the bikeway design plans to chat with LADOT’s new Chief of Staff Bridget Smith.

While Bridget is a newcomer to our Department, she is a skilled engineer with a civil engineering education from UC Berkeley, over 25 years of professional experience, and not one but three professional certifications: Professional Engineer (P.E.), Transportation Engineer (T.E.), and Professional Traffic Operations Engineer (P.T.O.E.). In this interview for “The Engineer’s Corner,” we ask Bridget about her move to our City, her experience in the field of engineering, and her idea of a livable street.

Taking a Break with Bridget

LADOT’s new Chief of Staff Bridget Smith takes a break to chat with us.

LADOT Bike Blog: Can you tell us about yourself?

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The Engineer’s Corner: Carlos Rodriguez, Transportation Engineering Associate II

Part of our “The Engineer’s Corner” series, in this piece we sit down with Bikeways Engineer and LADOT Dot-gers softball team manager, Carlos Rodriguez. Today, if you ride your bike on any bike path within the City, chances are Carlos worked on the design and/or coordination that made those bike paths possible. Not only is Carlos our group’s bike path design expert, he is known around the office for his strong work ethic and “can do” attitude.

Take a seat in “The Engineer’s Corner” and learn more about bike paths, interagency coordination, and the importance of internships with Carlos Rodriguez.

Carlos hard (h)at work

Carlos Rodriguez hard (h)at work!

 

LADOT Bike Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Carlos Rodriguez: My background is in civil engineering. I have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis on structures and a master’s in engineering. After I graduated from college, I got a job in the private sector before joining the public sector.  I have been working for the City of Los Angeles for 16, going on 17 years. I had two previous assignments before Bikeways. One was in our District Operations, managing our operations in the Valley and after that I worked in Special Events. I’ve been in Bikeways between six and seven years. Since I started here I have mostly worked on bike paths. On a personal basis, I am 43 years old and married. My wife and I have a three year old son and one more on the way. I’m happy at home.My kids are the most exciting thing that has happened to me. I am thankful to everyone in my life. Read more

The Engineer’s Corner: Rajesh (Steve) Gaur, aka “Rajeezy,” P.E., T.E.

Over here at the Bike Blog, we will not leave any corner unturned! We’re back with the Engineer’s Corner and our next visit is to the princely desk of Steve Gaur, Bikeways Engineer and our Main Man for Bicycle Corrals. Sadly for us, Steve has been promoted to another division, so we wanted to make sure we get the inside scoop before he embarks on his next career adventure.

Steve says, “Just because you’re an engineer, doesn’t mean you’re a shining star.” Well Steve, let’s see what makes you shiny.

Bikeways Engineer Steve Gaur manning the plan with Asst Bicycle Coordinator Elizabeth Gallardo at the Figueroa Corral installation, June 2014

LADOT Bike Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Steve Gaur: I’m Steve Gaur, I’m a Bikeways Engineer, part of Active Transportation Division. I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I was born and raised in LA.  I live in Porter Ranch and I’ve been living here (in the valley) my entire life… I grew up here, went to school here at Cal State Northridge, never left. I obviously really love LA!

What is it like getting to work? Please describe your commute.

I started taking the Commuter Express since day one, when I was hired in 2001. I knew getting to work was going to be the most difficult part of the job based on how far away I lived, but I had learned that LADOT provides this amazing transit service, just a couple miles from my house. Every day I drive 5 miles to the bus stop in Chatsworth and then commute on the bus 35 miles Downtown, where it drops me a few blocks from work.

So how and why did you become an engineer?

I became an engineer because like most engineers, my strong point was math. My dad was an engineer for the County, which influenced me not only to pursue a career as an engineer, but to pursue a career in government. I graduated with a Bachelors from CSUN with an option in Civil. I didn’t focus on transportation in school because they didn’t offer many courses in it. In Civil Engineering, I concentrated on structural engineering, which landed me an internship at a private firm that focused on land development. At the same time, I did an on-campus interview with LADOT.

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

I started with LADOT in 2001, so I’ve been here 14 years. I was in Geometric Design for the first 9 years and then spent a year in West Valley District Operations, before I came to Bikeways about 4 years ago.

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

My day to day varies a lot. I work on bike path design, manage bike path projects… Since there are not many designers in our section, I take it upon myself to design- lanes, paths, and more recently bicycle corrals. I’ve designed almost all of the corral locations in the city. I coordinate with different sections and groups, perform feasibility studies for bike lanes… The list goes on- I work with Metro on different phases of federally funded projects, do field checks, site visits. And that is just a start,there’s a lot more to add!

You’ve been in bikeways a while now, what do you see as the most significant shift in how we design bikeways since you’ve been here?

There’s been a big shift since I’ve been working in the section just in four years… Before, when we were designing bike lanes, we had design standards which were strictly adhered to. Now, we have many more bicycle facility design resources like the NACTO Bikeways Design Guide, which has allowed us to experiment more. We now think outside the box and experiment with our pilot projects. In the past our upper management was old school. Today we are more flexible and open minded about exploring all the possibilities. Read more

The Engineer’s Corner: Abbass Vajar, P.E., T.E.

Good news from our readers! We’ve heard back that you like visiting the wonderful world of transportation engineering! We thought you might! The Engineer’s Corner is a segment where we interview LADOT’s talented pool of engineers to learn more about them and their work. Our transportation engineers make the city work – they design the infrastructure and systems we use every day to get from point A to point B, from signage and striping, to signal timing and so much more.  In the second largest city in the country, with over 6,500 miles of City planned and maintained streets, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation is home to some of the most thoughtful engineers around.

Next up in the hot seat we have resident engineer extraordinaire Abbass Vajar! Abbass is the longest reigning engineer in the Bikeways group. His years of experience were gained in the many different groups within LADOT, most notably the bikeways engineering group. Abbass is known around here not only for his detailed design skills but also for his sense of humor and sharp wit. As you will learn, he has a long history with our Department and traffic engineering in the City of Los Angeles.

Abbass Vajar sits in the Engineer’s Corner!

LADOT Bike Blog: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Abbass Vajar: My name is Abbass Vajar and I am an engineer by trade, licensed as a Civil Engineer (P.E.) and Traffic Engineer (T.E.) in the State of California. I grew up in Rasht, Iran, right on the beautiful Caspian Sea, and Los Angeles has been my hometown since 1979.

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

My commute consists of riding the Metrolink train into Union Station. I then complete my trip by walking about 1 mile (15 minutes) to the office. On special occasions like bike to work day, I take my bike and the train, for a multimodal trip.

You mentioned that you grew up in Iran. Can you tell us how the transportation network is different back home?

In Iran culture dictates driving habits, not necessarily the engineering and design. Drivers are generally aware of their surroundings and there are rarely collisions regardless of the lack of roadway infrastructure. In urban areas, speeds are lower.  Due to the old fabric and layout of the cities and the increased utilization of cars, the transportation infrastructure is unprepared for the demand.  As a result, traffic congestion and parking are increasingly more problematic.

So how did you initially become interested in engineering?

In high school, I was a math major. Based on my skillset, I was encouraged to become an engineer and entered into that program.

How long exactly have you been working at LADOT?

I started at LADOT in September, 1986. I have worked in many different groups within LADOT since joining the department. I spent some time in the Western District, then Geometric Design, Signal Design, Signal Timing, Interagency Coordination, Project Development, and finally Bikeways. Although my time in Bikeways has been interesting to say the least, my fondest memories are from the time when I worked in the Geometric Design and Signal Timing groups.

What were you doing before you joined LADOT?

Before joining LADOT, I worked at Caltrans for about 3 years. The training I received there with the mandatory rotations between the different disciplines prepared me for my various positions within LADOT.

How has transportation changed in Los Angeles since you first moved here in 1979?

Los Angeles was a traffic nightmare in the first few years when I lived here. We had a reputation as the smog capital for a reason. The development of ATSAC drastically altered the Department’s ability to move cars and reduce congestion. The system revolutionized Los Angeles. Today we are not stuck in the same place that we were back in the 80s and 90s, when we were famous for our traffic.

And aside from transportation, how has Downtown LA changed since the 80s?

We have seen a huge resurgence of Downtown Los Angeles. People are on the streets at night. They are dressed up and spending money here at restaurants and nightclubs. They even live here. This was not the case before when Downtown was avoided after dark and people only traveled here for work. Downtown still has some gems that are not seeing their full potential. Broadway, for example, can transform into a place with restaurants and sidewalk seating overlooking the historical theaters and buildings.

Have you had a favorite part of working in bikeways so far?

Where to begin? There are too many projects to name! But Manchester and Imperial are perhaps the two projects I am most proud of, as I worked on them from A-Z.  They were great projects because there was no impact on traffic or parking, there was median beautification and landscaping, bike lanes were added without removal of travel lanes… We worked with the community and obtained buy-in for the project, all in all it was a successful complete street, a win-win for everyone, with money well spent.

Can you describe the future of active transportation engineering?

While traffic is still a consideration, we have seen a shift toward creating shared streets or complete streets. We are now planning for modes in addition to cars. But there has not been a holistic approach. Instead, we have implemented in waves and often in a disjointed manner. We have bike lanes that do not connect and road diet projects that divert traffic onto other streets. There is a general recognition that people on bikes should not have to ride next to thousands of pounds of metal. Cycletracks are emerging as one solution. But Angelenos have not fully bought into the concept. There is still large opposition to the removal of auto travel lanes and car parking. In the coming years communities and politicians will need to decide whether they would like to install new active transportation facilities. Additionally, we need to plan for maintaining the new facilities. Bike lanes, paths, cycletracks, signage, and parking, will all need public dollars allocated for their continued upkeep. In short, there is a lot of work to do!

Can you describe the role of engineering in transportation?

Engineering is the art of designing mindfully and bringing objective viewpoints to the table. As engineers, we are passionate about our work and what we think is right. Our number one objective is to keep people safe and for this reason we defend our standpoints.

Abbass safely reviews plans for a new bicycle corral on Bike to Work Day, since safety is always the number one priority at LADOT

Before we close, we want you to know how you enjoy working with the planners in the department, be honest!

Planners and engineers are visionaries. Your role is to think 10, 20 years ahead. My role as an engineer, is to think about the everyday user. I need to point out the flaws, and bring objective opinions to the design table. Although the LADOT Bike Program’s engineers and planners have had differences of viewpoints in the past, we work through our differences because we have the same goal – to create safer streets. With our combined skillsets we collaborate to produce all that we produce in the City. In short, we make a great team.

Thanks for your time, Abbass, is there anything else you would like to add?

Bikeways… It is a challenging division to work in. Unlike other divisions, we do everything here from A-Z, from conceptual design, project development, securing funding, project management, to maintenance… Everything from inception to implementation and beyond. We are the only section in the department where everything is done in-house. Especially in the past, when bikeways were still new, we had our own drafters, designers, and geometric designer who worked only on bikeways. Today we are more integrated into the department as a whole. It is really quite amazing to see how far we have come and to be part of this group.