So what exactly does
a transportation engineer do?
Here in L.A., we manage the city's surface street system. We
often get a number of requests from neighborhood groups saying, "What can
you do to slow traffic down or get cars off my street?" We look at a whole
toolbox full of measures, like putting in speed bumps, or putting in a
checkerboard stop sign pattern, or in extreme cases, limiting turns into the
local street system to discourage the through traffic from using it.
It's an issue of trying to keep things safe and flowing:
trying to keep neighborhood streets from being bombarded by through traffic when
the arterial streets get too crowded. But also, part of what we do is look
ahead and put in more modes for alternative travel.
How have L.A.'s roads
and transportation system in general changed in the last 10 years and how do
you expect they'll change in the next 10?
The streets themselves have not changed a whole lot in the
past 10 years. The street system we have was largely developed in the 1920s
through the 1940s. We use traffic control devices, signs, pavement markings,
traffic signals, curb zones that make it work just a little bit better to meet
the needs of today rather than what it was like 60, 70 years ago.
But the freeway system is being transformed. We have the
largest carpooling network in the nation, approximately 500 miles. L.A. has
been a leader in that. We're now taking it one step further. Carpools will
still be able to use dedicated lanes on the freeway. But for those who aren't
in a carpool and want to opt in, they can pay a price to enter the lane and be
assured that they'll get 45 mph travel on the freeway. And we've got a major
USDOT grant to change a couple of our freeways to demonstrate that these
express lanes can work.
So we're starting to change our freeways, but we're also
really changing our transit system. Twenty years ago, we had no light rail.
Today we have about six different light rail systems that traverse the city and
the surrounding areas. And there's going to be a major effort over the next 10
years to do many, many more. That will include light rail systems and a subway
system and a major retrofit of several freeways. The reason why that's going to
transform so much in the next 10 years is that a year and a half ago, the
county approved Measure R, which provides about $40 billion in funding to
improve the transportation system in Los Angeles County.
Today if you travel in the nation's most congested area,
you're pretty much stuck on the slow freeway. New alternatives won't eliminate
all congestion, but they will be available as options.
L.A. is a big,
sprawling megacity. Which parts specifically are under your jurisdiction?
The parts within the city limits themselves. There are about
270 square miles in the city of L.A. and a population of about 4 million. But
there are 88 cities within Los Angeles County with a population of about 10
million. So we're less than half of the county's population, but certainly
we're the nucleus and there are many cities closely surrounding us. When you
consider all of Los Angeles County and neighboring Orange County, it is one
continuous developed area. It's sometimes difficult to tell when you've left
the city of L.A. and entered an adjacent city. That's quite unlike many other
cities, where once you're out of the city core, it's fairly obvious that you're
out of the city.