Saanich’s top engineer says he was “blown away” by the creativity and research that a group of University of Victoria student engineers displayed in trying to solve a real-life engineering problem.
Harley Machielse, director of engineering, made those comments after four groups of undergraduate engineering students had presented their plans last week to improve the cycling connection at a busy Saanich intersection located at Larchwood Drive, McKenzie Avenue and Ansell Road.
Thursday’s presentations – which took place inside of council chambers – marked the conclusion of a partnership between the district and the university.
It began when Donna Howse, a professional engineer and sessional lecturer at UVic, approached the district with the idea for her students to tackle a real-life project worth 40 per cent of their course mark.
“I wanted to look at something that was really for them,” she said.
The project was also a chance for them to practise their oral presentation skills, which are often under-developed among engineers, she said. Finally, the project also promised them a chance to learn more about the realities about being a working engineer, she said.
Machielse said he thought Howse’s proposal was an excellent idea.
He said that particular intersection lent itself well because it already part of the district’s capital plan to enhance cycling and pedestrian facilities in the area.
Students could also draw on their local knowledge and self-interest in solving the problem, since the intersection in question is near the university, he added.
Both Larchwood Drive and Ansell Road run north to south, but do not connect with each other. Another complication concerns the nature of Ansell Road.
While Larchwood Drive directly terminates on the northern side of McKenzie Avenue, Answell Road culminates in a cul-de-sac located just behind the southern side of McKenzie Avenue.
In other words, it does not directly connect with McKenzie Avenue, the natural link between the two roads.
Eight groups developed solutions over the course of the term, with the top four presenting directly to the district.
So what was the most common solution?
“There were quite a few variations but most commonly they were trying to provide a safe, convenient and attractive multi-modal connection between Larchwood and Ansell,” said Machielse. “For many designs, this included providing a two-way cycle track for all ages and abilities while enhancing the pedestrians and transit user experience.”
Looking ahead, staff will now be reviewing the various solutions, said Machielse.
“I think the creativity [of the solutions] will challenge us even more to think even further outside the box,” he said.
Overall, Machielse was quite impressed with the dedication of the students.
Talking to the students after their presentation, he praised their efforts to solve the problem by integrating various planning documents and on-the-ground research.
He also used the occasion to discuss the wide variety of engineering problems that arise when working for a municipality.
“It has been an enriching career,” he said.