Randall Roberts

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Randall Roberts

Interview by: Danny Rosenburg


Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: The words Id use would be small, quaint, progressive, and historic. Seems like a bit of a contradiction.

Q: How did you come to work and live in Oberlin?

A: I came here five years ago, wasnt really satisfied with where I was working before. I saw the job and its a perfect one for me. I like Oberlin from an engineering point of view; its small enough I can wrap my arms around, but its not like a one horse town. We have our own water treatment plant, we have our own sanitary treatment plant, we have our own power generating plant. So youve got a small town thats easy to manage, but its got all the engineering attractions that a large city would have.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the Complete Streets Project, including its past successes and future goals.

A: The big thing about Complete Streets is focusing back on pedestrian movement. As the United States has gone to a more automotive society, a lot of our road designs have followed suit, especially in rural areas. The intention is to focus back on pedestrian and bicycle movement and sharing the space to accommodate those competing priorities. One improvement we have done recently was to de-clutter the West College Street sidewalk. Before, the sidewalk was full of bike racks, outdoor tables, and garbage cans. So one of the things we focused on is setting up dedicated zones on the sidewalk and on the street so that we have a furniture zone between the curb and the sidewalk, a pedestrian travel zone, and frontage zone at the storefronts. We focused on cleaning that street up so its more accessible; its a straight shot so you can walk through it. It becomes easier for someone in a wheelchair or someone on crutches to go from one end to the other.

"Sustainability is about protecting our resources. When we take all our natural resources and scrap them we run out of resources."

Q: Ive noticed bike lanes around the town, are you guys responsible for those?

A: Yeah, we put in bike lanes on Professor Street, and last year we were able to extend that down to the bike lane on South Professor. Weve got the shared lane markings on West College and we intend to, in the future, put up more of those around to identify some of the bike connectors so weve got a clear biking route to travel to destinations like the soccer fields and the rec center, perhaps Kendal.

Q: How would you define the term sustainability?

A: Sustainability is about protecting our resources. When we take all our natural resources and scrap them, we run out. Sustainability is being able to reduce the way we use resources to the ultimate end. A resource is either natural materials or energy. If we can use less energy or reuse materials or design things in a more efficient way to reduce waste then thats what sustainability is.

Q: What would you say your goals are and how are they aligned with creating a more sustainable environment here at Oberlin?

A: Well were looking at a Complete Streets ordinance so that would create a checks and balance sort of thing with reviews of future projects, either public or private, to make sure that theyre in agreement with the Complete Streets philosophy. So we will be looking if its conducive to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, as well as automobile traffic.

Q: Do you see Complete Streets making a noticeable impact nationally in the near future?

A: Yeah, absolutely. I think the biggest thing is the way we design residential subdivisions. The biggest example we use is where everybody has cul-de-sac streets, it makes it nice to live on a cul-de-sac, but when you want to walk from one cul-de-sac to another youve got to do all the way around instead of connecting these with pedestrian pathways, which Ive seen in some places. So as we develop nationally, its nice to focus on Complete Streets and focus on pedestrian aspect instead of a bunch of highway traffic engineers, making sure that the cars can turn through the intersections without paying attention to where the crosswalks are going to be.

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