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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!

Setting LA’s Sights on Vision Zero – Part One – Introducing Vision Zero

 

If you have been paying attention to urban planning or transportation in Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard about Vision Zero. So, we here at the LEAP LA Blog are going to dive into what this all means. In this first segment of a new ongoing series, we will discuss the Vision Zero program and highlight key projects that are already at work in the city.

 

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero is Los Angeles’ commitment to end all traffic deaths by the year 2025. It’s common knowledge that traffic collisions are a big deal in LA, but did you know that they are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 2 and 14 and the second greatest cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 25? In total, more than 200 people die annually from traffic collisions here in the City. One of the main objectives of Vision Zero is to protect the most vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly, and people who walk and bike.

The original concept behind Vision Zero comes from Sweden, where it was adopted as a national strategy back in 1997. Since then, Sweden has seen the number of transportation deaths drop by 30% despite a rise in traffic. Other cities that have adopted with Vision Zero include New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and San Jose.

 

How Will We Do It?

hinWe, the City of Los Angeles, formalized our commitment to zero traffic deaths in August 2015.  Since then, we’ve identified the places where our efforts will produce the most significant decrease in deaths and injuries. This network, known as the High Injury Network (HIN), makes up only 6% of our streets but is responsible for nearly 2/3 of all pedestrian fatalities in the City. While we will not prevent all collisions, we can implement strategic safety programs and improve infrastructure so that mistakes on the road do not lead to loss of life. For instance, the installation of a pedestrian “scramble” at the intersection of Hollywood & Highland (see below) has significantly reduced the number of injuries that have occurred.

The next phases of Vision Zero will include what we like to call the “E’s”. It all starts with Engineering. This involves rethinking how Los Angeles’ streets and sidewalks are designed. Engineers are working on ways to anticipate human error and minimize the consequences of mistakes on the road. One way is by designing traffic calming systems that reduce the chances of a death when a collision occurs.

In addition to engineering, we area also focusing on Education. A large focus of Vision Zero is on raising awareness about street safety for all users of our roads, which we are accomplishing through safety campaigns that reinforce safe driving, biking and walking habits. The City is also partnering with the community, especially at the neighborhood level, for both input and outreach.

traffic-death-graphicWe also need Enforcement. Laws against dangerous driving behavior need to be enforced in the areas that have high collision rates to make sure the most vulnerable road users are protected. We are partnering with the Los Angeles Police Department on this effort, who will be targeting high crash locations, DUI’s, distracted driving, not yielding to persons in a crosswalk and other dangerous driving behaviors.

Our last step is Evaluation, which is when we take a look at what has been done, what has worked, what hasn’t, and assess how to improve upon our results. We are continuously evaluating our efforts to make sure that we are reaching our targets. It is through this evaluation that Vision Zero will continue to grow, change, and innovate in the years to come.

And, throughout all of this, the City also strives to ensure that Equity is a key part of each and every one of our discussions and strategies. Currently 49% of the High Impact Network falls within the most vulnerable communities in LA. So, Vision Zero has prioritized those interventions that will improve health conditions and outcomes in these areas of greatest need.

 

Vision Zero at Work Right Now!

While the year 2025 is a long way off, Vision Zero is already changing the face of Los Angeles right now. Here are some of the ways it has:

Leading Pedestrian Intervals:

lpi-exampleLeading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI’s) give people who walk a head start against turning cars when they are crossing a street. These signals have been shown to reduce pedestrian – car crashes by 60%! Los Angeles has already installed 22 of these new signals in the downtown area, with more to follow. So, next time you are walking around downtown keep an eye out for traffic signals like this one where the pedestrians are allowed to cross, while the cars are still held by a red light.

 

 

A Pedestrian Scramble at Hollywood and Highland:

hollywood-and-highlandAs anyone who has ever ventured to this intersection of Los Angeles can tell you, Hollywood and Highland is extremely busy with both vehicle and foot traffic (not to mention the street performers). This was the perfect place to install a pedestrian scramble. A pedestrian scramble stops traffic in all four ways when pedestrians are walking in the intersection. It also allows people to cross the street diagonally, which saves time! And, the new scramble at Hollywood and Highland is already working. In the first 11 months of 2015 before the scramble was installed, the intersection had 19 collisions, 13 of which resulted in injuries. In the first 6 months after the scramble was installed, there has only been one non-injury collision.

 

Curb Extensions on Cesar Chavez Ave:

cchavezIn the initial research phase of Vision Zero, Cesar Chavez Ave was identified as part of the High Injury Network. Wanting to make safety improvements right away, Los Angeles installed curb extensions. These reduce the distance for pedestrians crossing the streets and also make the crossing with its pedestrians much more visible to motorists. The curb extensions also tighten the intersection, which has been shown to reduce the speed of passing vehicles.

 

 

So, now that you know the basics of Vision Zero, stay tuned for upcoming posts in this series! We will talk about why LAPD is conducting speed surveys, update you on new projects, and even introduce you to LADOT’s first Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence.

Until next time!

Getting ready to bike on the new Los Angeles Street

We have great news for everyone who cycles in Downtown Los Angeles– the construction of a protected bike lane on Los Angeles Street (from 1st Street to Alameda Street) has been completed. Woo-hoo!

On June 16, a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Los Angeles Street Improvement Project was hosted by CD 14 Councilmember Jose Huizar, LA Public Works Commissioner Kevin James, Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero, and LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds. During the ceremony, a group of people rode Metro Bike Share bicycles on the newly enhanced Los Angeles Street.

Ceremony Photo

The protected bike lane, featuring the city’s first side boarding islands and bicycle signals, will make bicycling safer and more comfortable from the city’s civic core to Union Station. The following image slider show the “Before and After” scenarios of the project area.

 

Special Design Features of the new Los Angeles Street

As the first street in Los Angeles to implement design elements from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, Los Angeles Street brings several unique roadway design features that are new to the city:

Side Boarding Islands

Bus platforms that “float” in the middle of roadway are named side boarding islands. Those who bike in urban environments know how frustrating it is to navigate the bike lane while buses weave in and out to reach their bus stops. According to NACTO , side boarding islands eliminate “conflicts between transit vehicles and bikes at stops.” Like the sound of that? Well, these bus platforms will also be implemented on Figueroa Street after the construction of MyFigueroa Project .

Bus Platform

Bicycle Signal Heads

Two bicycle signal heads are now installed, with one at the Temple Street intersection and another at the Aliso Street intersection. These signals dedicate a separate signal phase to bicycles, which will reduce conflicts between right-turning vehicles and bicycles that travel through the intersection.

Bike Signal Head

Bike Box (Two-Stage Turn Queue Box)

At the intersection of Los Angeles Street & 1st Street, and the intersection of Los Angeles Street & Temple Street, there are Two-Stage Turn Queue Boxes . This street treatment allows people on bikes to make safer left turns. As the name suggests, when trying to make left turns, bicycles should proceed to the bike box area first and then wait for another green signal to bike to the left leg of the intersection.

Two-Stage Turn Queue Boxes Diagram

Image Source: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

Upcoming active transportation projects will continue to make DTLA more bicycle-friendly

The Los Angeles Street Improvements Project is only one part of the larger scheme to improve the connectivity of Union Station and Civic Center. Metro finalized the Connect US Action Plan in 2015, which provides guidance to implement better pedestrian and bicycle facilities connecting Civic Center, Union Station, and neighborhoods such as Little Tokyo and Chinatown.

And, there are a lot of active transportation projects to be implemented this summer. The Metro Regional Bike Share Project  has begun to install its stations and will formally launch on July 7. The long-expected MyFigueroa Project,  which features similar roadway improvements to Los Angeles Street (bus platforms, bike signal heads, etc), is beginning construction this summer as well.

As more and more active transportation enhancements get implemented, DTLA will become a better place for people to enjoy walking and cycling!