Celebrating the Women of Transportation

by Mariia Zimmerman


In the transportation field, specifically, women are more likely to see the world through a lens that is not exclusively focused on peak commuting hours and maximum throughput on roads. They can relate to the concerns of a woman who must get to and from a night shift, and who dreads the long wait at the dark bus stop. Many of them have, or have had, primary responsibility in their own families for transporting children on multiple trips daily. As a result, they are perhaps more sensitive to how hard it is for people with different needs, schedules, and challenges to get from point A to point B — which is, after all, the whole point of transportation systems.
— Sarah Goodyear, "Women Leading Salt Lake City's Transportation Revolution

March is women's history month and a great time to read articles about women making important but often unacknowledged contributions to history, science and communities. This past March was no different, but the month ended with a wonderful piece in the Atlantic Cities by Sarah Goodyear about the role Women in Transportation are making TODAY in places like Salt Lake City, Utah.

In cities across the country, women are making an impact at all levels of policy making and planning as noted by such examples as Lynn Peterson, Secretary of Transportation in Washington State to Polly Trottenberg who moved from federal government (Under Secretary for Policy at USDOT) to city government (NYC Transportation Commissioner) or Harriet Tregoning who moved from city government (Washington DC Planning Director) to federal government (Director of HUD's Office of Economic Resilience) to Jennifer Mitchell who moved from private sector (Assistant VP at Parsons Brinkerhoff) to public (Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation). Women are helping to lead innovation of the transportation field.

Equally compelling to me in these examples is the fluidity that has become the norm in today's planning and engineering professions. We talk about public-private partnership, but the reality is that many of us live this duality having worked at some point in both sectors.  Being able to recognize the strengths, weaknesses, and interdependence between each can hopefully forge stronger partnerships, smarter investments and more innovation.

As we celebrate these female all-stars of transportation and community building, let's also ensure we are equally committed to supporting the next generation of leaders -- male and female, and to ensuring greater ethnic and racial diversity among those who are leading our public agencies, private firms, and non-profit organizations that is more reflective of the growing diversity of American communities.   Groups like the Women's Transportation Seminar (WTS) and the Eno Center for Transportation are working to do just that, but we all have a stake in mentoring, promoting and engaging the next generation of leaders -- who may or may not be younger than we are. With growing numbers of Baby Boomers retiring, it is a great chance to think about new ways to involve them as community leaders, volunteers and advocates while also reaching out to Millennials and beyond.