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?
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.