University of Michigan Alumni Profile – Richard F. Beaubien, LSA Honors Program
If you’ve ever been driving on the freeway in and around the metro-Detroit and you see a dynamic traffic sign that says “10 miles, 12 minutes to I-96,” you might be able to thank Honors Alum Richard Beaubien (BA Political Science and BS Civil Engineering 1967; MSCE 1968) for that useful information. Beaubien is the Managing Director for Beaubien Engineering. Previously, he served as Transportation Director for Hubbell, Roth & Clark, Inc.; fourteen years as the Transportation Director for the City of Troy, Michigan; two years as Chief Engineer for Reid, Cool & Michalski Traffic and Transportation Engineers; and five years as Highway Engineer for the Federal Highway Administration. He chairs the Metro Detroit Traffic Incident Management Coordinating Committee and serves on the Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) Michigan Board. Beaubien is also a past president of ITS Michigan and a past International President of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
Beaubien was in a program in which students spent the first two year in the LSA Honors Program and the next three years in the College of Engineering, but ultimately he earned degrees from both of the his schools at Michigan. This program was a precursor to the current Multiple Dependent Degree Program (MDDP), in which students usually spend five years on campus to complete bachelor’s degrees in two schools or colleges. While this program may not be for everyone, it can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience for those who wish to take on the additional work. “It was hard to ‘sign-up’ for that extra year to finish two degrees, but for my career in Civil Engineering the extra writing instruction and other courses of study were invaluable,” Beaubien reflected. “You might not see [the benefits] in the first five years, but maybe after ten years you see it.”
In his various positions, Beaubien has always been interested in using computer and communication technology to improve transportation, especially safety. “If we can reduce crashes, save lives, and reduce travel time, why not? Let’s do it!” Some of his notable projects include close circuit televisions on metro-Detroit freeways (traffic reports on news channels use these) and the dynamic message signs mentioned above. “[The signs] took awhile to establish credibility. Yes, the freeway is really blocked — go somewhere else. Smart traffic signals — signal timing is based on demand and adjusts slowly as traffic demand changes — is another part of intelligent traffic engineering,” explained Beaubien. In his time working for the city, Troy was expanding rapidly. He helped build a lot of roads, plan the addition of the north side of the Somerset Collection (a large shopping mall), widen Big Beaver Road (major thoroughfare) to what it is today, and plan the Northfield Corporate Center (a collection of office and research buildings, and a hotel.) In working on these many projects, Beaubien found skills he acquired while in Honors to be useful.
Several things in particular stood out to Beaubien from his undergraduate LSA Honors experience. “I got to take Great Books instead of Engineering English. Two semesters of Great Books, in fact, which I thought was fantastic. Engin didn’t require language — that’s an LSA benefit. I took two years of French in high school, but my faculty advisor suggested that I take German, as it was better for Engineering. A few months later, I realized he was head of the German Department, but he was right. When I go to a world conference, there’s more from Germany than France.” When Beaubien was working for the City of Troy, he was working with City Council, where he found his LSA experience was especially pertinent. “The Political Science courses came in handy. For example, I had one course about municipal government taught by someone on the Ann Arbor City Council. Politicians ask: who is for it? who’s against it? how strong are they? how strongly do they feel? And, sometimes, this is more influential than the engineering information. Plus, my reports for the City Council had to be two pages or fewer. You had to get to the heart of the issue. Writing courses especially helped with that.” Beaubien has written some more personal articles about his profession, as well. Articles such as “The Joy of Urban Traffic Engineering, “Reflecting on Engineering Practice,” and “Engineering Your Way to Success” can be found among meeting minutes and other professional notes on his website, beaubienengineering.com.