All Member Forum

National Engineers Week 2020: Small Changes, Impactful Results

By Ms. Alyssa Rodriguez P.E., PTOE posted 02-18-2020 12:16 PM


Working with maintenance teams is rewarding. They’re pragmatic and driven, and, as a result, action is achieved quickly. Early in my public service career, I asked our concrete crew to assist me with pedestrian push button reach distances a few traffic signal poles. We need to expand the level surface adjacent to the poles. Within a few days, they had assessed the sites, completed minor grading and poured the concrete. Problem solved.

Now consider the impact. A wheelchair-bound resident had requested the changes. She couldn’t reach the buttons and, subsequently, couldn’t easily access the fixed route transit system to get to work. Her alternative was to use paratransit. In less than a week, we had addressed the issue and pleased the customer. But it was so much more:

  • Paratransit rides are scheduled with a 30-minute pick up window. As such, if I request a ride at noon, the bus may arrive anytime between 11:55 and 12:25 for an on time pickup. In addition, rides must be requested at least a day in advance. Fixed route operates on a regular schedule, making the rides more flexible and less complicated to plan. The resident’s freedom to move expanded dramatically.
  • A paratransit ride costs the customer $3, but the agency pays over $30 to provide the ride. Conversely, a fixed route ride costs the agency about $3.
  • Lack of access to the fixed route system alone can qualify a rider for paratransit service. For example, a section of missing sidewalk and the lack of a curb ramp can push a rider into a $30 ride versus a $3 ride.
  • Regular and simplified access to transportation makes for a more reliable employee. Reliable employees are good for business, and, from a purely fiscal point of view, people with regular incomes generate more in taxes and rely on fewer government programs.
  • Other impacts related to social capital, community support, and local businesses are easy to imagine.
  • A few square feet of concrete have an incredibly far-reaching potential impact. That’s one of the reasons I love transportation; the work we do has a direct impact on how people get to work, to school and to the doctor and thus their quality of life. Extrapolate the small, iterative changes we make daily to a complete, well-designed, accessible, and inclusive transportation system for your community. How much impact would that have on the well-being of your residents and resiliency of your economy?

It’s impossible to know if the impacts I described for this particular resident actually occurred, but it’s possible. And it’s the possible that we should strive for.

Oh, and thank your maintenance teams this National Engineers Week. Sometimes they’re the ones that make the engineering possible.