By Martin Liu, MEng ’23 (CEE)This life in tech interview is part of a series from E295: Communications for Engineering Leaders. In this course, Master of Engineering students were tasked with conducting an informational interview to learn more about working in tech. They then submitted a written account of the interview, edited and organized to create a clear, compelling narrative. Walkable cities have been a buzzword for the last couple of years and it is not difficult to understand why. Good public transit and safer streets benefit everyone living in the city, from residents to businesses. In a car-centric, sprawl America, it is difficult to envision what that might look like, and to many, walkable cities only exist in their dreams. However, my interviewee, Jamie Parks is working on making that dream into reality. As Director of the Livable Streets division at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Jamie is in charge of creating safe and inviting streets for cyclists and pedestrians. Livable Streets’ vision wants to transform San Francisco into leading North America in providing attractive, safe streets and sidewalks, and that walking and biking will be the most attractive options for most non-transit travel. In addition, they are also part of meeting the city’s vision zero goal of ending traffic fatalities and coordinating among other city departments such as public health, police, public works, and planning to achieve that goal. While initially starting off in the private industry as a Transportation Planner, Jamie eventually made a switch to work in the public sector. A decision that he felt allowed him to make a bigger impact on his environment. Projects within the private sector tend to be for other companies or municipalities and at the end of the day are suggestions for implementations. Whereas in the public sector, projects have a much higher chance of getting implemented. One example of a recent project he shared was the Folsom Street Quick Build Safety project which involved establishing parking-protected bike lanes along 2nd and 5th Street. In case you are wondering what that looks like, take a look along Milvia Street near Berkeley City Hall!
“As a biker, such lanes provide a safe and reliable path for mobility compared to non-protected bike lanes, like those along Hearst Avenue.”But how do these changes get implemented? Building bike lanes on every road would be ideal for a biker like me but understandably limited resources call for more optimal decision-making. With bike lanes, the procedure begins with some research on SFMTA’s side to narrow down the scope, followed by public forums. These forums help SFMTA better understand what are the specific issues that people have to deal with when it comes to biking or walking in that area. The people who attended such forums were usually representatives from various groups that could offer a wider opinion rather than any other individual. After getting the necessary input, SFMTA brings in help from private firms to help with the actual design and construction of these lanes. This can come in the form of transportation bike lane designs, writing a CEQA plan for the project, or even just getting some help in diverting the flow of traffic when building these bike lanes. And that’s how these bike lanes get built into the city! There is nothing more satisfying than being able to physically see and experience something that you were a part of. This is the main reason why Jamie decided to stay in the public sector, to make our dreams of a more walkable city into a reality. Connect with Martin. Edited by Mary Tran.
Life in Tech: Bike lane engineering with Jamie Parks, director of SFMTA’s Livable Streets Division was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.