Can you share a little bit about yourself and your role at SafeTREC?
I think of myself as a hybrid between the planning and engineering worlds – two fields that I believe do not communicate with each other as often as they should! I have degrees in both Regional Planning and Transportation Engineering and have a broad range of experience, spanning anywhere from analytical modeling to human factors in bicycle infrastructure safety. In general, I am fascinated by the nexus between human systems and built systems. The interaction between our unpredictable selves and the systems we create.
What sparked your interest in transportation safety research?
I grew up in a very small coastal town that did not have any transit, highways, or even a stop light. I got myself around primarily by bike, but once I left home and moved to a city, I realized how important safe streets are – especially when you don’t own a car. I became obsessed with bicycle transportation and eventually decided to go back to graduate school to study planning and transportation. I also must admit that since I didn’t grow up driving often, I am a lousy driver. I recognize that we can’t expect humans to be perfect all the time and that we should design our roads with that in mind.
What current projects are you working on at SafeTREC?
Currently I am working on a bicycle level of service (BLOS) project in which we will build a virtual reality bicycle simulator to test different roadway environments and bicycle infrastructure types on California’s State Highway System. This is a very cool project, not just because we get to use virtual reality, but because the project will focus on state highways rather than urban streets. This is an area that gets a lot less bicycle safety attention and has huge safety improvement potential. In addition to working at SafeTREC, I am also a researcher with the California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH), a more engineering-focused group. There I am working on a project to develop a bicycle network connectivity measure that dovetails well with this current BLOS project.
What issues are you particularly interested or passionate about?
Unlike many engineers, I do not see cities as a circuit board where our objective is to maximize throughput, but something much more complex and qualitative. I recognize that streets are not merely the space between buildings or lines connecting dots, but the public spaces where we live our lives. Especially during this pandemic, I realized how much time we spend in the street, and not just commuting, but meeting our friends, window shopping, getting exercise, or sometimes just to spend some time away. When framed that way, it becomes obvious why we should not just make streets safe, but also pleasant.
What do you like to do outside of work?
To be honest, I have way too many hobbies. I think since I spend so much time at the computer, I love anything that requires working with my hands. At one point or another I’ve been fully engrossed in baking, woodworking, fermentation, and even black and white darkroom photography. Recently we adopted a two-year-old Husky-Aussie shepherd mix named Matilda that has a lot of energy, so I find myself taking quite a lot of walks lately.
This Spotlight interview was conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of SafeTREC.