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.
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.
How do you like working with planners? Who’s your favorite planner?
I think working with planners is great. It’s very important to work together hand in hand… We each provide our own valuable input regarding how projects are designed and implemented, and one could not exist without the other. I’ve always had a lot of respect for planners – I really started to understand the value of planning at my first job in land development. Elizabeth is my favorite planner, we work together on Bicycle Corral projects. She works well with all the Bikeways engineers and respects and values our opinions. She also makes killer carrot cake and mixtapes for our rides out to the field.
You have been the primary designer for the City’s Bicycle Corrals, how has the design adjusted since you started working on the project?
I don’t know if I’d say the design has adjusted a lot since I’ve been working on them, but there has been a big shift in the process. There’s a lot less reluctance to installing them. Early on, engineers were reluctant to install corrals- they doubted the feasibility of the locations, whether they would be successful and used, whether they would be beneficial to the community, whether fixed objects would be safe on the streets. Now they see that they are well used and have been designed with safety in mind for all users, whether they are people driving cars or people parking their bikes.
You got assigned bicycle corrals specifically because you do geometric CAD design, can you tell our readers what geometric design is and if this scope of work is common for a transportation engineer?
Geometric design is the the design of striping and signage on the roadways. Back in the day, it was done by hand with special curved stencil sets. Today it’s done in AutoCAD, a program used for computer-based design and drafting. Normally Geo Design is a mixed process of discussion, sketches, especially of the critical points in the design, and red-lining revisions to the CAD drawings. All Los Angeles street striping is designed through this process. Often the planning process is integrated with Geometric Design, with conversations happening back and forth between planning and design until the design is finalized.
What is the role of Geo Design when designing bikeways?
Basically, planners work heavily in the inception period of a project and the Transportation Engineers work extensively in the end, completing a project’s design and implementation. Like I said before, there is always a back and forth between planning and engineering throughout, but for the most part, Bikeways roles play out like this: Planners perform education, outreach, concept design, and pre- and post- evaluation or study of the projects, and Engineers act as consultants to the planners, where they take what the planners have come up with and make it real.
What types of geometric and safety considerations go into designing corrals?
There’s a lot of Geo Design in Corrals- we often alter the striping, either to make room for the corrals or to guide cars away from the corrals. We also install signage, which is important to guide traffic away from the corrals.
What has been your favorite corral to design? Favorite bikeway project?
They’re all exciting in their own way. The best part though is to see them being used. I think every one has been successful… it’s rare to see them empty. But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the corral sponsored by Gjelina Take Away, on Abbot Kinney and Milwood just because of the amount of people it serves. Before the installation was complete, people were already locking their bikes to it… It just goes to show you how high the demand is in the area and how the facilities are much needed.
You seem most happy when you are fulfilling a public need, but do you ride a bicycle?
I ride for recreational purposes, but not on the streets. I have a mountain bike, but where I live, the car speeds are so fast and the bicycle infrastructure is not there yet. I’ve given input on where bike lanes could benefit and serve people in my area of the valley, but it is tough putting them in because some people don’t yet see the benefits.
We hear you’ve recently received a promotion and will be leaving Active Transportation for Signal Design… what will you miss most?
I think just working with great planners and engineers in Bikeways. There are not many sections in the department that are as connected with planning and planners. In Bikeways, you get to see how projects come about. In other sections, you are often just given a piece of the puzzle, and fulfill that assignment. We’re bred to continue from the stage where the plan is at and often don’t know where it comes from, why decisions have been made, the political contexts… There’s a lot of history behind projects and you get to see this fully developed in Bikeways – why it’s happening, whose idea it was, if the project has special elements, if there is a safety reason…
When you’re not planning bikeways what do you do in your free time?
I like to be outdoors, to hike, work out, spend time with my family, you know… Sometimes I take the time to dust off my epic collection of Jordans.
Thank you for your time, is there anything else you would like to add?
I’ve had a great experience working here. There are lots of students and young people with fresh ideas in the Bicycle Program who are innovative, full of energy, and truly excited to be working on their projects. That makes a great working environment for all of us.