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A Roadside Chat with SDOT Transportation Planner, Pauh Wang

Pauh loves to take his kids on fun outdoor adventures like camping, biking, climbing, skiing, swimming, fishing, etc.

When Pauh has a hobby, he’s all in at 110%.

Growing up, Pauh’s hobby was mastering the violin. Then, in his twenties and thirties, it became bicycle racing. Starting in his late thirties through the present, he got into photography and taking his kids on outdoor adventures.

Pauh’s bicycle was his main mode of transportation when he moved to Seattle in the early 2000’s.

While he was in graduate school at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, he regularly biked over 30 miles round-trip to an internship in Bellevue. Someone he met through bike commuting saw his potential and encouraged him to get involved in amateur bicycle racing in Seattle.

Pauh gave it a try and was hooked. He dove into intense training and competed in regional bicycle races.

Nowadays, Pauh is more likely to be taking photos at races than participating in them. Here’s a photo Pauh took of his son (lower right-hand corner) spectating at the Women’s Pro-1-2 criterium at the 2015 Mutual of Enumclaw stage race. Photo credit: Pauh Wang

In many ways, cycling was Pauh’s life for over a decade.

Pauh lived car-free and mainly traveled by bike, he spent up to 20 hours a week training and racing 6-7,000 miles per year, and he worked here at SDOT designing bike infrastructure.

Today, after having kids and eventually buying a car, he rides his bike less than he used to, but he still uses it to get around town. (Fun fact: Pauh has six bicycles and a motorcycle! He has his every day commuter, a mid-end racing bike, and a high-end racing bike, a cyclocross bike, and two mountain bikes.)

Last week we had a conversation with Pauh to learn a more about how his bicycling experience and his Chinese American heritage have impacted his work at SDOT as a Transportation Planner designing bike-friendly streets in Seattle.

Hi Pauh, let’s kick off our Roadside Chat out with what you love about your job at SDOT?

I love working on projects that make bicycling safer and more attractive to people who need a little encouragement to ride a bike.

I enjoy the technical side of design, but the part that I love most is when I get to interject creativity and think outside of the box to solve a problem.

Pauh came up with the idea to turn old parking meter posts into bike racks. The old meter heads were removed and replaced with “bicycle-circle” racks. Pictured above is a welded bike rack that has the same “bicycle-circle” design used on the parking meter bike racks. Photo credit: Pauh Wang

Can you share an example of a project where you got to think outside the box and be creative?

One project that comes to mind involved creating bike parking.

Over 10 years ago, Seattle changed the way people paid for street parking. Instead of having individual meters at each parking space, we transitioned to a pay station model. The initial plan was to remove all the old parking meters.

As a cyclist, I knew that a lot of people used the parking meters as informal bike parking. If one day all the meters were gone, there’d be a lot less bike parking and frustrated bicyclists. So, I did the research and created a solution. With the help of a vendor, we transformed many of the old meter posts into formal bike racks by taking off the meter heads and bolting on a new top. In some ways it’s a small, subtle improvement, but as a cyclist, it’s important to have places to park your bike.

How has being a cyclist influenced your work at SDOT?

There are so many ways that my cycling experience has informed my work. I understand pavement hazards that motorists wouldn’t even see; I know how sensitive cyclists are to changes in slope, what it’s like to ride in the rain, snow, and even icy conditions, or when hauling gear or kids in a trailer. I also know what movements feel more natural to people on bikes. For example, cyclists are typically more accustomed to and comfortable looking over their left shoulder rather than their right, which could impact design.

On the other hand, because I’m a very experienced cyclist, I’m comfortable riding almost anywhere in almost any condition. Personally, I don’t need a protected bike lane to feel comfortable. So, in many ways, I’m not designing streets for cyclists like me.

That’s one reason I love riding with my kids. When you ride with kids, it completely changes how fast you can go, how maneuverable you can be, and how much space you need. It reminds me that I’m designing streets for kids, families, and people who are new to cycling, not just experienced cyclists like myself.

In 2013, Pauh starred in this SDOT video where he shows how to properly use a Left Turn Box.

You’ve shared that you’re Chinese American but culturally identify as 99% American. Can you share more about this?

I was born in the United States, but my parents immigrated here from China and Taiwan. I’m a Chinese American but culturally, I think of myself as 99% American. As a child I spoke Chinese fluently, but I lost that a long time ago.

As an Asian, I constantly feel cultural pressure working against me. Although I was never strongly made fun of as a kid for being Chinese, there are pervasive attitudes and stereotypes in mainstream media about what it means to be Asian. I’ve sometimes felt like I’ve had to push back against them. And maybe that’s why I rejected speaking Chinese when I was younger and lost my fluency, which I now, of course, regret!

I’m extremely thankful that I haven’t experienced discrimination in the workforce but know my father did working as a structural engineer for the Federal Highway Administration. He told me and my sister that he had to work extra hard to prove himself.

Does your Chinese American heritage have any influence on how you approach designing streets?

I wouldn’t say that being Chinese American has influenced how I design streets, but I would say it helps me recognize potential cultural issues. For example, some people, like my mom, aren’t ever going to get on a bike no matter how bike friendly the city is. I have a cultural sensitivity and understanding as we work with different people and communities.

So, what’s next after photography?

I’m going to stick with photography for a while, but I’m also interested in learning how to swim! One of my favorite things to do is to spend time outdoors with my kids and take them on fun adventures like camping, biking, climbing, skiing, swimming, boating, fishing, etc. I’ve been working on getting over my fear of heights by forcing myself to try rock climbing.

I also love cooking and listening to opera and classical music. In addition to playing the violin, I’ve taught myself to play guitar and the er-hu, a traditional Chinese two-string acoustic instrument.