Roadside chat with Dongho Chang, City Traffic Engineer

Dongho Chang sitting with a coffee outside of Monorail Espresso months before the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order.

3 min read (and it’s worth it).

You may know him from Twitter (with an impressive 8,000 followers). Dongho Chang is Seattle’s Traffic Engineer, so he knows a thing or two about the work we do here at the City. I sat down with him at Monorail Espresso to talk about his life and work a few months back. We talked again over the phone in early May, in the midst of Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order. These two interviews, months apart yet existing in entirely different worlds, provide a narrative of how life has changed for one Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) employee.

As the City Traffic Engineer, Dongho has a hand in most all of the projects SDOT delivers and approves changes that involve the street, signals, and speed limits.

Yet, just like the rest of us, his life has changed in recent months.

For one, his office looks a bit different these days. The kids (11 and 13) play saxophone with their music teacher over Zoom, Dongho’s 80s beats playlist is the soundtrack to his days (much to the disgruntlement of his family), and interactions with coworkers are often confined to Microsoft Teams meetings. Before work, Dongho goes on a morning walk with his wife in Magnolia. After work, he reads (their family has never owned a TV). And books are a great distraction, right? For example, Dongho is currently reading City of Ember, a novel about the end of the world… 

Ah, yes. A nice break from what’s going on in our lives. 

Yet, doomsday-book-mirroring-reality aside, Dongho is doing just fine. In part, he attributes this to his social network. Dongho’s mother lives with his family and helps with the kids. Across the street? His in-laws. It doesn’t stop there. His brother-in-law lives a mile away and his brother lives in Ballard.

Dongho and his family skiing, from before the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order. Photo by Dongho Chang.

Dongho immigrated to the US from South Korea when he was nine years old, and he says that family is the most important part of his culture. 

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Of his family being so close, he says, “It’s like this little village.”

With this network of family behind him, Dongho has risen to the demands of working in the time of COVID19.

His job has shifted to working in the Emergency Management Center. Dongho works with SDOT’s Incident Management Team to improve our streets in response to COVID19, as well as monitor streets with the new impacts brought on by the West Seattle Bridge High-Rise closure. The Incident Management Team was also responsible for logistics surrounding the implementation of the CenturyLink Field Hospital, which has since been taken down.

In addition, Dongho has been responsible for visiting our Stay Healthy Streets. On these visits, he’s been met with some very happy neighbors.

Screen capture of a tweet by Dongho about Stay Healthy Streets featuring four images and a caption that reads "New signs installed on #StayHealthyStreets"
Screen capture of a tweet by Dongho about Stay Healthy Streets.

“We see a lot of kids and families on these streets. I see kids learning to ride bikes, which is really gratifying to see that Stay Healthy Streets are providing that comfortable space for people.”

Taking advantage of our streets to connect with loved ones is something Dongho can relate to.

A few months back, when I had interviewed him about his job and life, I wondered if Dongho’s love of transit crossed the work/home barrier. The answer? It does. He and his son go on “transit trips” as often as possible. At first, these were an excuse for his son to learn about how to ride transit, including how to tap on and off buses and light rail. More recently, they’ve become father-son adventures that often end at Emerald City Fish and Chips.

Dongho’s son at Emerald City Fish and Chips. Photo by Dongho Chang.

Now, months later, when asked about the first thing Dongho is looking forward to when life returns to normal, he answers “going to Emerald City Fish and Chips, with my son.” (alright, yes, I’ve paraphrased, but you can hear for yourself below)

Thanks for being on a mission with us, Dongho. We’re lucky to have you on the team.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is observed throughout May and celebrates the rich diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander tradition, history, and culture. This month, we’re sharing stories from some of our staff who identify as APA.