Sunday, March 3, 2013

Conferencing, Networking, and Nerding Out

Graduate school, I've learned, is not just about writing a big fancy paper in order to get a different kind of fancy paper. Graduate school is also about juggling this big fancy paper with exposure to the outside world, while maintaining your sanity.

As you learned a few weeks ago, my thesis work (well, a small portion of it) was accepted to a research conference in Los Angeles. In addition to showing my work at this conference, I also attended a Complete Streets conference in which I got to hear from and interact with the big names in Complete Streets from across the country. My weekend in LA has proven to be a useful one: I took notes, met people, exchanged business cards, and even got to take a hike and get some much-needed sun. A lot happened in a period of 4.5 days, so please bear with me as I fill you in on my Southern California adventure!

Wednesday, February 27
Other than running a lecture on transit and other collective modes for my Cal class, Wednesday went smoothly. Minus the fact that my flight was delayed twice and then ultimately cancelled. While I made a decently timed flight in the end, dealing with throwing clothes into my bag and rushing off to the airport is not my idea of fun or relaxing. Instead, I got in late and opted for a couch over an air mattress (an overall great decision).

Thursday, February 28
Conferencing Day 1: Complete Streets

This conference was held in downtown LA (DTLA). Opening talks started at 8.30am, but my day began LONG before that. By staying in Redondo with my sister (free of charge), I was committing myself to a weekend of transit adventures. Fine by me. Even being at the Aviation Metro Station at 7am was worth it. One day pass, two line transfers, and three trains before a ten-minute walk to the hotel gave me a great opportunity to see the surrounding environment and get a sense of the transit scene.

At the conference, I heard from engineers, planners, coordinators, and city officials. I heard talks about what works (Seattle), what's popping up (LA parklets), and how it's all being funded. Following lunch and meeting a traffic engineer from Burbank, I opted to sit in on an engineering talk. A good decision, as I got to hear two talks about building better projects (San Francisco's Market Street) and infrastructure supporting bicycle safety (San Pablo Ave. in the East Bay). While I'm not an engineer, I understood the discussion far more than I expected. Maybe there's a future in traffic engineering for me? I met some of the important names, like Margot Ocanas (Pedestrian coordinator of LADOT), Darby Watson (Arup), and Andrew Lee (SFMTA), in hopes that I can pave my own way (see what I did there?!) in the California Planning World.

After the completion of talks and a reception (ask me about that faux pas sometimes), I heard NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn talk about how and why PlaNYC put the city at the forefront of sustainable transportation and infrastructure. Since her arrival in 2007, she has put $8 billion to sensible use and has grown the bicycle and recreational infrastructure monumentally. And that is why she is the boss.

Day 1 ended with another transit adventure to USC to visit a dear transportation friend, resulting in 3 missed trains, 1 security checkpoint, and a VERY late dinner.

Friday, March 1
Conferencing Day 2: UCTC Research Conference

Another early day, but a little less time on transit. While I was up at 6am, I still managed to miss my bus to UCLA by a mere 15 seconds. I was literally jumping out of Cat's car as it was pulling away from the terminal. Bummer. Instead, I sat in the sun for 15 minutes and was advised by a fellow transit user to just buy a 35¢ transfer ticket instead of a $1 bus fare. My trip to UCLA had me on a moderately crowded Culver City Rapid 6 bus and taking me in a very different direction than I had the day before. Because I missed my bus, I was delayed and arrived to the conference in time for the first of the talks.

I have to say this: UCLA is BEAUTIFUL. The campus architecture, the facilities, everything. I can completely understand why people don't want to leave. At the risk of losing friends: LA is starting to grow on me (mostly, you can't beat this weather). It was a 10ish minute walk from my stop to the conference, but I got to see the vitality of the campus. Seeing people running around campus and others using skateboards to get to class, I admit that it made me miss being an undergrad.

This conference was a series of presentations of student research from the UC system (of which I was the exception). Presentations were a mix of engineering and planning, but all with the emphasis of  TRANSPORTATION! Admittedly, I was pretty dead by the afternoon lecture (given by this guy), even though he said some pretty awesome and quotable things. My poster presentation went much better than I expected. I didn't think I'd garner much interest, given that I'm not a planner or an engineer. Boy, was I wrong. I was late to my afternoon lectures because I was fielding so many questions!

While the day ended with a killer reception, I had to skip out to catch the bus back to Redondo. I met some lovely economists in the PhD department. Getting home was a relief. I don't remember much, only a margarita and sleeping on the couch.

Saturday, March 2
Conferencing Day 3: Bicycle Workshop

The last day of the conference was optional: workshops. We had a choice between checking out the Sepulveda Pass construction or checking out bicycle infrastructure in Santa Monica. (Guess which one I chose?)

I was BLOWN AWAY! We started at the Bike Center, where a few of us borrowed bikes to cruise around. I got stuck on a hybrid and wished I had brought my cleats, to ensure I'd be on a road bike. We cruised around town and checked out the new barriers, parking, green bikeways, and my favorite: a bike driveway. This provides a VERY large space for people to learn and practice what to do with bike lanes, bike barriers, and practice basic bike skills. I was really impressed with everything Santa Monica has put in and it's obvious the level of success the city has had. Even in the smaller bike lanes on the busier streets, cars were very much aware of the group and didn't act the way I expect cars to act towards cyclists. On this ride, I started considering looking for jobs down in this area.

After we wrapped up the ride, I left the UC group and went with Cat and Drew to breakfast at this BOMB waffle joint. Seriously, the place is so good that if you don't make a reservation, GOOD LUCK in getting a table on any given day at any given time. After brunch, they took me on a tour of Venice Beach. I don't even know how to put into words all the sights, sounds, and smells of this place. No wonder people flock from all over! This was a perfect day of bikes and sunshine (even though I forgot the sunscreen) and family. The day wrapped up with margaritas and playing pool.

Sunday, March 3
Today has been the most relaxing day in I can't remember how long. I spent the morning doing school work (and trying to write this entry) and the afternoon hiking Palos Verdes and checking out the tide pools. The hiking has renewed my desire to do something active (and different) once a week. It's not been enough to just ride my bike to class on Wednesdays and the occasional ride on the weekends. I feel like I need to do more, even with my commitment to my thesis.

As of now, I am still on the golden path to finishing this program. Most of the work remaining is writing the damn thing, but I still have to finish the new and improved survey and complete a few parking surveys. It's still quite a bit and my draft is due in just over a month. Oh...maybe that is a lot in just a short time.

Looks like it's back to the grind...again.

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