If you go away on a romantic vacation with your wife, and come home with a preponderance of vacation photos depicting the City of Light’s traffic signals, signs and pavement markers …
… you might be a transportation nerd.
And since this is precisely what happened on Dave Mulholland’s first foray to Paris, we’d say he probably qualifies.
As Southeast Manager for VHB, a mid-sized engineering, science, planning and design firm, Mulholland manages the development of cutting-edge technology that’s used to help eliminate the types of traffic jams notorious in Central Florida.
It’s a fitting gig for someone who spent a chunk of his college tenure at UCF working on what is essentially the granddaddy of your in-car navigation system. Instead of a handheld, though, this version took up the entire trunk of the car.
“The project was called Travtek and we ran it out of Epcot, using park guest volunteers who were not really familiar with the area,” Mulholland explains. “We had two 286 computers back there and I’d have team members riding along with the guests. The car would essentially just tell them, ‘turn right, turn left…,’ and we would mark down where they did or didn’t make mistakes to essentially calibrate the technology. It was exciting, but a lot of work. We often didn’t finish up until 2 in the morning.”
The information was then sent to General Motors, for whom the project was planned.
UCF’s engineering program was quite a change-up for Mulholland’s trajectory. He’d been working a marina job from his mid-teens on.
“It was inherently part of the culture that you’d get really into waterskiing and wakeboarding, ramps and jumps,” he said in a recent interview. “I also enjoyed the beach volleyball. It was one of those ‘crazy ‘til college’ things and then you take it down a couple of notches. The engineering program was pretty hefty….”
Hefty, yes. But fascinating.
Although Mulholland began college thinking on a career in commercial art and graphic design, a friend’s connection to the engineering department sunk a hook in. Before long, he’d changed majors and even headed up the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers for a couple of years.
Though the field has many fascinating paths, it was transportation that eventually called to him, particularly as it related to technology.
“Dr. Essam Radwan, who I believe was the Chair of Engineering at that time, taught the [transportation] course and he was really passionate. I always had that mentality – building a bridge or something like that – it was part of transportation and I naturally migrated there.”
Mulholland’s Disney gig in the 90’s gave way to work on other such projects as a professional, one which involved Tokyo Disneyland, where he and his teammates worked on ideas around moving cars and people into the park.
These days, he does much the same in Orlando.
His team’s recent exciting projects include a program for state agencies that looks at optimizing infrastructure, making them more efficient rather than just widening roads to increase traffic flow.
“The exciting thing is that this document is being developed for a federal practice, so hopefully it will spread throughout the U.S. to help other state agencies…. From a transportation practitioner’s perspective, it’s unique, cutting-edge, it’s the next wave.”
Not surprisingly, someone who’s day-to-day is all about speeding cars likes to unwind in a more natural way. Mulholland says he enjoys sitting on his porch “watching the grass grow.”
Of course, the grass can be figurative. Mulholland’s held over a bit of his marina days in the form of a 27-foot boat he likes to take off shore and fish for bull dolphin – 20 or 30 miles out, where the phones don’t ring and traffic is non-existent. Mostly.
“One time I was out here fishing with my niece and a pod of porpoises went by,” he says. “There had to be 20 or 30 of them and it was amazing! Pretty cool to be out in what feels like the middle of the ocean and have nature all around you. It stirs a feeling of awe.”
No need to time signals out here. The flow, for Mulholland’s relaxation purposes, is optimal.