Beers with Engineers is an informal forum in which planners, design professionals, and the interested public talk to transportation engineers about how to work together to improve our streets and strengthen our communities—all while enjoying a beer. 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 at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. The event was made possible thanks to our amazing partners at Trailnet, catering was provided by Urban Eats, and beer was donated graciously by St. Louis’s own Morgan Street, Schlafly, and Alpha breweries.
Beers with Engineers started in earnest at the 2016 Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place biannual conference in Vancouver, BC. While transportation engineers are an essential part of the planning process, with a large role in helping to craft the vision for our streets and public realm, sometimes for the public (and some practitioners), talking to engineers can prove intimidating and frustrating—and vice versa. The intention behind Beers with Engineers was to create an environment that can build understanding and foster cooperation between engineers and the public. The event was such a success that we felt that it was only appropriate to do another round in St. Louis.
Moderated by PPS’s Sam Goater, the panel of engineers included:
To begin, panelists described what inspires them most 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.
Then the evening transitioned to an informal Q&A session. The audience asked a wide range of questions: How will autonomous vehicles impact geometric design standards? How can engineers enhance livability? How can cities maximize public funding for transportation projects? 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!).
Throughout the session, panelists stressed the importance of cross-sector collaboration in achieving common goals. In this context, engineers look at street design as not only a means to an end (moving people from A to B), but focus also on livability, multi-modal travel and health when designing for communities. Shawn Leight suggested, for example, that transportation engineers need to think about more than just 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 it more attractive and convenient for transit riders commuting to work.
In all, the event produced an insightful discussion and we were delighted and inspired by the 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 this May in Seattle for CNU 25.
And we’re always looking to for more engineers! Please contact Sam Goater (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d like to volunteer to join our next panel in Seattle!