Name: Bridget Obikoya, 42
Salary: $70,000 to $75,000 to start
Position: Site plan engineer, Arlington County Department of Environmental Services
What she does
All the roads we bike or drive on, the paths we skate or jog on, the benches we sit on while waiting for a bus or Metro — all that stuff we use every day and rarely give a second thought to — Obikoya helps keep them working.
She and the rest of the Arlington County transportation and engineering design team ensure we can get from Point A to Point B safely and efficiently.
She primarily works with developers who are looking to build new properties in Arlington County. Obikoya makes sure that the new development’s proposed “streetscape” meets the county’s standards. That includes everything that’s found between one building’s front to the building across the street, including sidewalks, crosswalks, streets, parking spots, bike lanes, and even “street furniture” such as benches and bike racks.
After a project is approved, Obikoya reviews the final plan to ensure that the developer follows through on agreed-upon changes and meets legal requirements: Are the parking lanes 7 feet wide as agreed? Are the curb ramps wheelchair accessible?
She also works to develop a temporary traffic plan during construction. When a builder needs to shut down a sidewalk or a travel lane near a Metro station, for example, Obikoya oversees the detour so that people can still walk to the Metro.
How she got the job
Obikoya wanted to be an architect when she grew up. “I loved building things and drawing,” she says. “I wanted to create this environment around me that was just made up.”
She attended the University of South Alabama, which didn’t have an architecture program, but did have an engineering program. So instead of learning to plan and design buildings or neighborhoods or roadways, she learned how to take someone else’s plans and make them a reality.
After graduating with a civil engineering degree in 2001, she set her sites on the D.C. area and accepted a position with a private engineering firm in Arlington. “I wanted to move to a bigger city just to kind of try out all of the fun things I’d learned,” Obikoya says.
Her first assignment? “Curb work.” Her team would take undeveloped land and convert it to neighborhoods and urban areas. Obikoya’s responsibility was making sure water could flow into gutters and out into the region’s water supply system.
She began working for Arlington County in 2003, starting as a transportation management specialist — managing and maintaining the current roadways and fielding complaints. She then moved into an engineer position in 2006, and into her current position in 2008.
Who would want this job?
You need to be detail-oriented (“Even the smallest radius of the curb return could affect a parking space,” Obikoya says). But you also need to be able to see the big picture (“How do we transition from this tall 10-story building to a residential neighborhood?” she asks).
You also need good communication and people skills. In addition to presenting plans to the county commission and neighborhood associations, Obikoya serves as an adviser to an East Falls Church community task force on transportation issues.
You might be sacrificing your evenings for those community meetings, so having a passion for the job helps. Seeing her work come to fruition is enough motivation for Obikoya.
“The gratification for me is walking or driving or biking down a street and knowing that that bench or that sidewalk or that parking lane is there because I was part of the process,” she says. “That for me is very rewarding.”
How you can get this job
You need at least a bachelor’s degree in civil or transportation engineering. Fortunately, the D.C. area is chock full of such programs at schools including George Washington University, the University of Maryland and George Mason University.
To learn more about the field as a whole, check out the Institute of Transportation Engineers and Smart Growth America. Both organizations are based out of the District, and sometimes offer seminars and workshops here.
The Institute of Transportation Engineers also hosts a job board on its website, listing opportunities both in the United States and around the world.
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