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.
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!
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!