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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.

UPDATE: Oops! Our bad. Looks like our new protected bike lane on Reseda Blvd. is mistakenly shown on Winnetka Ave. in the printed map for the Valley region. What a great time to introduce #UpdateYourMapLA! Edit your map to show a correction or a new facility with a thick marker. Draw over the map in the color coded system shown on the map’s legend. LADOT will periodically post #UpdateYourMapLA alerts. If you miss the alerts or want to take matters (markers?) into your own hands, as always, for the most recent version of our map, check our website. Thanks for all the support #BikeLA.

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Bike Week is over, but we’re still celebrating! After over a year of design and development, we have completely redesigned our Bikeways map for a new and vastly improved 2015 edition! Last week we picked up our maps from the print shop and will begin distribution to libraries, bike shops, co-ops, and Council District Offices.

A Brief History of the Los Angeles Bikeway Guide
Legend has it that before the LADOT Bike Program was established, over 25 years ago, LADOT engineers would mail hand-drawn maps of the City’s then sparse bikeway network to people that requested bikeway maps.

When Senior Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery arrived at LADOT in 1994, she quickly realized the dearth of bicycle resources for the public. Bike maps were a constant request and Mowery advocated for the LADOT Bike Program to produce a guide to the City’s bikeway network with maps, tips, and community resources.

From oldest to newest: 15 years of our Los Angeles bikeways maps

Since 2000, the City of Los Angeles has provided sophisticated public bikeway maps by producing and distributing the Los Angeles Bikeway Guide, an educational resource that encourages people of all ages to ride bicycles safely and with confidence in Los Angeles. The City prints three versions of the Bikeway Guide–Central City/Westside, Valley, and Harbor–to make sure maps are available, in print, at a legible scale for the entire city’s bikeway network.

The NEW and Improved 2015 Bikeway Guide
2011 marks the last significant design or informational revision to the Los Angeles Bikeways Guide. If you have attended any of our outreach events in recent years, you probably have this outdated copy in your pannier or stuffed inside your kitchen drawer.  Perhaps it rests as a historic relic on your wall.

Behold! After an entire year of design, collaboration, and a brief stint of working with our LADOT People St Program, our in-house graphic designer and urban planner, Karina Macias, has completed a brand new Los Angeles Bikeway Guide! The Guide includes useful information on bicycle safety, riding etiquette, bicycle-related laws, local organizations and resources, and of course an up-to-date map of the City’s current bikeway network to help you plan your trips.

Delivering final print proofs to City Publishing Printing Press Supervisor Ron Gallegos

With the help of City of Los Angeles Publishing Printing Press Supervisor Ron Gallegos, this third edition of the Bikeway Guide is brighter and more colorful than ever before. Along with a new look and feel, this 2015 update includes new content informed by our entire team’s experience and background, including pointers on bicycle maintenance, tips for bicycle commuting, and updated local information.

We hope you are as happy with this new edition as we are! Collect all three Bikeway Guides and combine them to create one giant citywide map!

As an active transportation planner, I often think about the future: my impact on it, how I’d like to see things change, what the world will look like for the next generation, and (of course) why active transportation will help us in the future… I recently got to make a different type of impact on the future, given the opportunity to visit an elementary school and speak to young people about what I do for work!

Surveying Griffin Elementary kindergarten students on how they get to school

Once upon a time, long ago in Boyle Heights, I was an impressionable 2nd Street Elementary School student. When Career Day came around, we were introduced to a parade of civil servants including police officers, firemen, and sanitation truck drivers.  While no transportation planner ever visited my classroom to inspire me to pursue my chosen profession, I was inspired to pursue a profession where I could be of service to my city. These Career Day visitors taught me two important things: that it is important to do something I love and that I need to be prepared with the right skills for the job.

As a graduate student in Urban and Regional planning and a Student Professional Worker at the LADOT Bike Program, I have the privilege of doing something I love: encouraging Angelenos to use active transportation modes like biking and walking and making streets safer and more enjoyable for all Angelenos.

Last month I had the pleasure of reliving Career Day, this time in the role of The Professional!

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Spring (or is this one long perpetual summer?) is back and adventure options for those on two wheels are endless! After travelling to a few other places, we wanted to get back on our local tourism tip!

This bicycle tour features destinations in between the Red Line North Hollywood Station (in NoHo) and the Griffith Park Sunday Drum Circle. Yes, a drum circle! This 8.5 mile-long bike ride travels along different bike facilities (bike paths, lanes, and routes) and features a variety of LA neighborhood attractions from shops & entertainment in NoHo to nature & culture in Griffith Park.

Come along for the ride! To prepare, you need: a bike, a bike lock, some kind of map or smart phone, water, snacks, and don’t forget your sun protection, because it can get HOT!

Pleasant 8.5 mile-long features NoHo Arts District, Burbank and Griffith Park

Pleasant 8.5 mile-long bike ride features the NoHo Arts District, Burbank and Griffith Park. Photo: Google Map

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People walking, bicycling, and driving all share the road in downtown Seattle

This year’s annual conference for the American Planning Association (APA), Sustainable Seattle, was hosted in a city rich with sustainable practices and, appropriately for our interests, complete streets infrastructure.  The APA covers all faces of planning, but complete streets are increasingly a focus of urban (and suburban) planners everywhere. Complete streets that make up walkable, bikeable, and ultimately livable communities, have become the national best practice because they make for sustainable communities, a core tenet and charge of the urban planning profession. The integration of complete streets with retail, mixed-use development, the densification of cities, and sustainable practices were highlighted throughout the conference.

Though LADOT performs much implementation, we are also tasked with planning and project development, which is the area we inhabit in Bicycle Outreach and Planning. Attending the APA conference gives us a broad context for what we do, which can be really helpful in a time where cities are growing at some of the fastest rates ever.  Here are some of our take aways from the conference, followed with a few snapshots of Seattle’s pedestrian-first culture.

Bicycle, bus, and car networks seamlessly weave through the retail-lined Aloha Street

Network connectivity is the nexus of people, land, and local economic vitality

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It’s our favorite time of the year! Bike Week LA is back once again!

The annual week-long bici-centric event, sponsored by Metro, will fill May 10-15 with more bicycle-oriented activities than ever before! More?  Yes MORE! Bike Week focuses on encouraging people to ride their bicycles, raising awareness about people on bikes but also about all active transportation users in Los Angeles. Some of the week’s highlights include bike repair workshops, the infamous Bike to Work Day pit stops, and evening festivities to make sure you’re hooked up with people who share your interests! If you’ve never participated in Bike Week, do not fear, Bike Week is for YOU! It’s full of resources and activities for everyone, from the new to the experienced rider, from the bicycle-curious to the bikeaholic.

Come see Color Wheels at Caltrans District 7 on Thursday 5/14!

Bike Week LA 2015 Lineup:

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We’re proud to introduce a new segment to the blog, The Engineer’s Corner, 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 many other things.  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.

In this inaugural post we will be highlighting the newest addition to the Bikeways team, Robert Sanchez. Robert comes to Bikeways from the Special Traffic Operations Division (a fancy name for special events) and fills a vacancy left by Tim Fremaux, who had performed much of the outreach during the initial implementation of the 2010 Bicycle Plan. Robert is not new to bikes though!  As you will learn, he has a long history with our Department and the City’s historic bicycle infrastructure.

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

Robet Sanchez: My name is Robert Sanchez, I am 34 years old, and I am a mechanical engineer by trade but I am licensed as a traffic engineer in the State of California. I grew up in Boyle Heights, east of Downtown near El Mercado de Los Angeles where the Lorena St. Gold Line station is now. I’ve been working at the LADOT for some time now and I really enjoy my work.

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

Typically I have a three and a half mile bike ride to the El Monte Busway and then I’ll jump on the Silver Streak or one of the rapid buses that bring me to Downtown. Then I ride from Union Station to our District 7 Headquarters here where I lock up my bike in the bike corral in our garage. If the corral is full (because now that more folks ride it gets full sometimes), I lock it to whatever I can find. Heading home, I sometimes ride east along 1st St or 4th St through Boyle Heights, then through East L.A., Montebello and into the City of South El Monte where I live. When I feel adventurous I have a nice 15 mile ride that I can do.

Do you have a favorite walk or bicycle ride you like (whether for recreation or utilitarian purposes)?

I do, actually. I ride and run quite a bit as well. My favorite bike ride is on the San Gabriel River going up towards the Santa Fe Dam or down towards the beach. It’s a really cool river, it has a soft bottom and has water most of the year, so you get to see wildlife and a lot of birds. The San Gabriel River is probably my favorite ride.

So how did you initially become interested in engineering?

I became interested in engineering when I was a little boy, I used to like to take things apart. I didn’t exactly know what engineers did until I was in college, but I always knew I was good with hands-on application, and I liked math and science. It was just something that came naturally. Once I found out exactly how much math was involved, I almost thought twice about it.

You mentioned earlier you have been working in LADOT for some time, how long exactly have you been here?

I believe this July it will be 13 years.

What were you doing before you joined Bikeways?

Before this assignment, I was with Special Traffic Operations Division for approximately 6 and a half years. What we did in that division was planning for any major special event, which could range anywhere from First Amendment events, to presidential motorcade, to parades, to large events like the Los Angeles Marathon and CicLAvia. It is major logistical work, and involves creating detour routes, messaging, signal-timing adjustments. A whole lot of stuff related to special events.

And what do your current day-to-day duties consist of?

That, I am still learning. Right now my day-to-day is focused on active transportation projects with a heavy emphasis on cycle tracks. I am also involved with early stages of development and design of future projects for our division.

You point out you are involved in cycle track design, the LADOT is experimenting with new bikeway treatments that have not been implemented in the City before. What is it like adapting to these changes in Bikeway engineering?

Actually it’s very interesting. I did work in this Bikeways section once before and it was a much different time. It feels like it has been ages because back in those days bikeways were very low priority. But it is interesting to see how open the City is now to do some of these new treatments, and it’s nice to see the City take a leadership role as opposed to just stepping back and watching what other cities do. So yeah, it is very exciting and I’m glad to be part of it.

One of these new projects include cycle tracks planned for Los Angeles Street… what has the process been like, working on this?

LA_Street

Early rendering of potential treatment for Los Angeles Street cycle track, including left turn boxes which could be coupled with right-turn-on-red restrictions.

That was actually the first project I was given when I came back to this division. We’ve tested some of the different traffic control devices for separation including armadillos and bollards of different sizes and shapes. That was my first role with this project, securing the different materials, having them installed, and then actually testing them. It was fun, we coordinated a small demonstration of the project and got people out here to visualize what it will look like. We are also working with the Fire Department and the Department on Disability to make sure they are okay with the spacing and the location of the separation treatment since they need to access fire hydrants in particular and the bollards can pose a tripping hazard while they are working.

In addition to experimenting with new roadway treatments, the Department recently adopted a “Vision Zero” policy that seeks to eliminate fatalities attributed to traffic collisions. How can bicycle facilities assist the City in meeting this policy goal?

Bikeways can have a significant role. I think bicycle facilities in the past were just treatments that we squeezed in. I feel now they are being built in to the street designs in a way that makes a lot more sense, not just for people on bikes but also for vehicles and pedestrians, and organize the streets better. If you make a person bicycling safer, you inherently also make it safer for a person walking. People on bikes oftentimes have conflicts with pedestrians and vehicles. I think if you organize the street better, especially with the use of treatments such as cycle tracks, you put people in a more predictable location and everybody can learn the way the intersections, in particular, are supposed to work.

Before we close, we want to know- have you had a favorite part of working in bikeways so far? 

Yes, I think in my first stint with the Bikeways section I enjoyed the staff that was here at the time, folks like Jonathan Hui and Mike Uyeno who taught me a lot about integrity and civil service. I was much younger, and new to the work force, it was a time for learning the City way and soaking in all the knowledge. This time around, I’ve only been here a few months, but I really enjoy the fact that we get to try some cool new things and have an expanded toolbox. Coming back and seeing the potential, that’s been the best part so far.

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

Only than I am happy to be back in Bikeways and I’m very excited for some of these new projects we have coming up. I hope we can keep the momentum going and be strategic to make sure we meet everybody’s safety needs.

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