News | USC Civil Engineering Alum Thomas Check Fuels Transportation Engineering in the City of Santa Monica

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by Dan Lamere, USC, Masters of Urban Planning 2021

METRANS is excited to feature the successes of a double Trojan, Thomas Check, who graduated with his BS and MS of Civil Engineering in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Thomas is moving up the ranks as a Transportation Engineer with the City of Santa Monica, where he has worked since the summer of 2017.


Thomas began at the City of Santa Monica in their Land Development Group, within the Engineering Division, first as a Civil Engineering Assistant in September 2017, and then as a Civil Engineering Associate beginning in January 2019. He was promoted to Transportation Engineer in June 2020.   


In his new role, Thomas is responsible for overseeing the city’s roadways, which includes reviewing temporary traffic control plans, signal timing, and signage and striping. He performs routine field investigations to address resident and business concerns about safety issues on the city’s roads, and conducts these investigations as a first step towards improving traffic conditions.


“One of the most exciting aspects of this role,” he shared, “is being able to holistically look at a road and ask, ‘How can we improve the experience here for all modes of transportation--pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists?’”


Thomas also contributes significantly to Santa Monica’s active transportation infrastructure. Recently, he provided in-house design support and worked with consultants and City staff on a new two-way cycle track on the west side of Ocean Avenue between the Santa Monica Pier and the California incline. He designed “T-intersections” within the cycle track extents which allow cyclists to continue north or south through the intersections independent of traffic signals. This new design will bring safety and efficiency improvements for active transportation modes on one of Santa Monica’s notable thoroughfares. 



Thomas was promoted in the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pandemic continues to usher in new challenges to his role. He was directly involved in planning and implementing new infrastructure to accommodate outdoor dining space for restaurants, for example. This includes designing and overseeing the implementation of new road striping and K-rail placement on Main Street to safely divide dining space from the roadway and bike lanes. As businesses and municipalities try to adapt to new guidelines from the state and the county, Thomas’s work is critical in ensuring that restaurants can resume safely operating after Mayor Garcetti’s newest outdoor dining restriction is lifted, and still maintain roadway and pedestrian safety in the City.


Thomas’ path to his career as a Transportation Engineer began early on in his time at USC. “When I started at USC, my major was biomedical engineering. I lived in Downtown LA and took the newly opened Expo Line to campus (phase 1 opened in May 2012 and I started at USC that fall). When riding the train, I became more and more curious [about] how it worked: Why did the train receive priority at that intersection, but not this one? Why is it stopped here? How do the train signals interface with the vehicular signals? I ultimately asked myself ‘What field of engineering deals with questions like these?’ and realized it was civil engineering, so at the beginning of my sophomore year I switched from biomedical to civil engineering. I'm incredibly happy that I made the switch.” At USC, Thomas was selected to attend the California Transportation Foundation (CTF) Transportation Education Symposium and was a recipient of the Railway Association of Southern California's (RASC) scholarship.


Outside of his academic career, internships strengthened his love for and skills related to transportation engineering.  Thomas interned for both the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and HDR, a large engineering consulting firm, while at USC. These experiences led him to a position with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) upon graduation, where he learned of the complexities behind water rights and groundwater management.


“I always had a desire to work in the public sector because it was where I felt I could have the greatest impact on improving communities.” Thomas’ focus on public sector work eventually led him to pursue a role with the City of Santa Monica, where he felt he would be exposed to a wider range of projects and engineering opportunities given the relatively small size of the City.


Two years after earning his graduate degree, Thomas earned his Professional Engineer license in Civil Engineering and he will be pursuing his Traffic Engineer license in 2021. In the meantime, he is grateful to have found a career that he is passionate about, and he will continue to help shape Santa Monica’s traffic infrastructure to maintain efficiency and safety for all users.


About the Author:

Dan Lamere is a second-year Master of Urban Planning student at the USC Price School of Public Policy. He works as a staff writer and project coordinator for the METRANS student team.