“Safety is Our Number One Priority” | Interview with Mark
McKenna, Traffic Engineer
The Dublin Region accounts for more than 25% of the country’s total population, equating to 1.2 million people and a population density of 4,588 people per square kilometre in the city. The Central Statistics Office predicts that the Dublin Region will reach a population of 2.1 million by 2020, and could even surpass 5 million by 2031. A city which is expected to undergo such massive growth causes challenges for the engineers who organise and plan the city’s roads.
Mark McKenna discusses how he embraces these challenges through a combination of technical, creative, and problem-solving skills:
What kind of education is needed for your job?
Typically, an Undergraduate Degree in Civil Engineering- although it is preferable to have a Post Grad qualification in a traffic related subject.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I enjoy the process of problem solving and always enjoyed mathematics and technical drawing in school. When deciding what to study in College, Civil Engineering most matched my preferences; a combination of technical, creative, and problem-solving skills.
What are your daily duties?
Every day is different. There could days when I am mainly working on design projects and spending my time on AutoCAD coming up with new road layout concepts. Other days I could be working on Traffic and Transport Assessments for new developments which encompass a mix of report writing, data analysis and junction modelling.
What do you like most about being a Traffic Engineer?
Every job that we work is unique with a different set of challenges to overcome so we never stop learning. I enjoy the process of overcoming these new challenges; I love solving real-life problems for people.
What are the main challenges of being a Traffic Engineer?
When designing new road schemes, we must cater for all road users. Therefore, a balanced approach is required between the provision of facilities for sustainable modes of travel including pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport whilst also ensuring appropriate capacity for other general traffic. This is never easy to achieve.
What personal qualities do you think are useful for someone who wants to become a traffic engineer?
Someone with good analytical and problem-solving skills. Good communication skills and the ability to deal with a wide variety of people from different professional backgrounds is also crucial to be successful in this industry.
How does your work affect people’s lives and the world around us?
All road users benefit from what Traffic Engineers do as everybody uses the road network; whether you’re a driver, cyclist, if you’re walking to school or getting on the bus. It’s really important that the road network is fit for purpose for everybody, so our designs are carried out with the needs of all modes of travel in mind. We aim to make the road network safer for all road users but especially for pedestrians and cyclists who are considered the most vulnerable road users. Safety is our number one priority.
“We aim to make the road network safer for all road users but especially for pedestrians and cyclists who are considered the most vulnerable road users. Safety is our number one priority.”
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on? What is your favourite project that you have worked on?
Some of the notable projects I have worked on include the Cycle Network Plan for Waterford City and Environs, Waterford City Urban Renewal Scheme, Dunmore Road Waterford Green Route and the Cork Road Waterford Green Route.
Regarding traffic and transport assessments for new developments, these include mixed-use, educational, industrial, commercial and residential land use assessments.
My favourite project I’ve worked on is the Waterford City Urban Renewal Scheme because of the challenges involved in retrofitting new cycle and bus facilities within the narrow streets of the city.
How is sustainability integrated into your job as an engineer?
Walking, cycling and public transport are typically considered to be sustainable modes of travel. Our designs implemented within the urban environment aim to prioritise these modes of travel over facilities for private car transport in order to make travel by these sustainable modes more attractive.
What do you think is going to become the biggest challenge for engineers in the future?
The biggest challenge for traffic engineers will be facilitating the growing population on our already congested road networks particularly in in our larger urban areas. Without a significant mode shift from private car travel to other more sustainable modes, the existing congestion problems in our cities will only worsen.
“Without a significant mode shift from private car travel to other more sustainable modes, the existing congestion problems in our cities will only worsen.”
What characteristics does your company look for when hiring young engineers?
Anyone applying for a job at DBFL will likely have very similar educational backgrounds. What sets one potential candidate apart from another is one who portrays that they are motivated to learn and are willing to put in the hard work.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to go into engineering?
If you want an easy job where you can simply show up and go through the motions everyday then engineering isn’t for you. It’s a challenging career involving a lot of hard work but can be very rewarding. So, if you want a career where you are constantly learning and overcoming challenges then you will be suited to a job in engineering.