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.

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