Beers with Engineers — STL @ New Partners for Smart Growth Conference
Beers with Engineers is a forum in which planners, design professionals, and the interested public talk to transportation engineers in an informal setting over a beer. The conversation is focused on how to work together to improve our streets and strengthen our communities. Topics can include designing bike lanes, calming traffic, planning for self-driving cars, fostering equity in transportation and the engineering profession, navigating your state’s department of transportation and more. On February 2, 2017, Project for Public Spaces (PPS) co-hosted the second round of Beers with Engineers at the beautiful HOK offices in downtown St. Louis. The event was made possible thanks to our amazing partners at Trailnet and the New Partners for Smart Growth conference. Catering was provided by Urban Eats, and our beer was donated graciously by St. Louis’s own Morgan Street, Schlafly, and Alpha breweries.
Beers with Engineers started in earnest at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place biannual conference in Vancouver, BC. We created the event because we understand that transportation engineers are an essential part of the planning process, and play a large role in helping us craft the vision for our streets and public realm. Our intention was to get a group of engineers together to talk about their role in the planning process and their relationship with their stakeholders. For the public, and some practitioners, talking to engineers can sometimes prove intimidating and frustrating — and vice versa. Our goal was to use Beers with Engineers to create an environment that can build understanding and foster cooperation between engineers and the public. Our event was a success and we felt that it was only appropriate to do another round in St. Louis.
This time, the panel of engineers included: (in alphabetical order);
- Robert Frazier, Senior Professional Associate, HDR;
- Shawn Leight, President of ITE, VP at CBB Transportation Engineers + Planners in St. Louis, and professor of Transportation Engineering and Planning at Washington University;
- David Kuebler, Civil Engineer IV, Transportation Planning and Safety Division of the Public Works Department for the City of St. Paul Minnesota;
- Bertran Kuyrkendall, City Transportation Engineer for the City of Chattanooga;
- Linda Moen, President and Principal owner of EFK♦Moen
- Cassie Reiter, Project Manager at Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc.;
- Dan Stack, City Engineer, Salina Kansas.
The panel was moderated by PPS’s own resident engineer, Sam Goater.
The panelists were first asked to describe what inspired them about their profession, and why they became engineers in the first place. Most engineers expressed their love for numbers and solving complex problems, but also highlighted how fun it was to create streets and places people love.
The evening transitioned to an informal Q/A. The audience asked a wide range of questions that were poignant and fun: how will autonomous vehicles impact geometric design standards?; how can engineers enhance livability?; how can cities maximize public funding for transportation projects?; and more fun questions like, what do you admire most about planners?; and why does Sam Goater look like a British Jimmy Fallon? (he doesn’t, but he loves compliments!).
In answering audience questions, our panelists stressed the importance of cross-sector collaboration in achieving common goals. In this context, engineers look at the street design as not only a means to an end (moving people from A to B), but focus also on designing communities by considering livability, multimodal travel and health. For example, Shawn Leight posited that transportation engineers need to think about more than simply making infrastructure improvements, but also about amenities that make those improvements more viable. This way if you’re constructing a transit station connected to a multi-use bike trail, adding a shower/change facility at the terminus of the bike lane could make its use more palatable to transit riders commuting to work.
In all, the event produced an insightful discussion and we were delighted and inspired by an impressive turnout of over 160 participants. We hope to serialize Beers with Engineers and make it more of a focal part of Walk, Bike, Places.
For our 3rd ‘round’ of beers, we hope to see you in Seattle in the first week of May for CNU 25.
And we’re always looking to for more engineers! Please contact Sam Goater: sgoater[at]pps.org if you’d like to volunteer to join our next panel in Seattle!