Lester A. Hoel, a global authority on transportation engineering and the L.A. Lacy Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Emeritus at the University of Virginia, has died. He was 87.
Despite, or because of, his status as a transportation expert, he loved to tell young people, with a nod to Lewis Carroll, “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
Hoel, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, NAE, was a prolific and influential writer. He pioneered research that would shape the future of highway transportation. This included hundreds of papers and as co-author of popular textbooks. Traffic and Highway Engineering and Transportation Infrastructure Engineering, A Multimodal Integration are staples in graduate and undergraduate university courses in transportation engineering. Through his program studying the transportation systems of London, Paris, Munich, Stockholm, Montreal, etc., his research and influence have led to safer, more sustainable transportation systems to facilitate movement and connection between communities worldwide.
Born during the Great Depression to Norwegian immigrants, Hoel believed in education – for himself and for others. From 1974 to 1989, he chaired the University of Virginia’s department of civil engineering, and prior to Virginia was professor of civil engineering and associate director of the Transportation Research Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He also served as director of transportation studies at UVA.
Before retiring in 2009, he had received numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, which allowed him to teach in his beloved Norway. At 54, he became a member of the National Academy of Engineering, making him the first UVA professor to receive the honor while on the faculty.
In 2010 he was elected by ASCE as a Distinguished Member. His office wall was covered with awards and plaques, a deep source of pride and humility stemming from a lifelong commitment to hard work.
Also in 2010, he published the motivational book I’ll Have to Remember That: Ten Ideas for Living. He practiced yoga and meditation each morning, attended a Major League Baseball no-hitter, and enjoyed playing tennis. He also loved his violin and could play any song by ear.
Hoel truly loved and was loved by his friends, family, and students. Going deep in conversation was natural for him. He earned his doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley.