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Networking In the Transportation Industry

One of the reasons I love working in transportation is the community. Everyone in the transit industry says it’s such a small world, and in the four years I’ve been involved, I am discovering that to be true. In this industry, people you meet, however briefly, will most likely pop up again years down the line. As a result, I quickly learned that one of the best ways to not only forward your career but to actually enjoy it, is to get involved in industry groups, whether they focus on advocacy, career advancement, or simply socializing (if you haven’t heard of the board game Ticket to Ride, it’s transit-nerd heaven). Starting my position at Nspiregreen (this is only the beginning of my third week) has been making me think a lot about my experience in the industry and how most of my opportunities and friendships were made possible because of all the volunteering and networking I’ve done.

My introduction into the transportation world in DC was when I volunteered for Sustainable DC’s transportation working group. Through those efforts, I met a DDOT employee who I learned a lot from, but whom I didn’t necessarily expect to have a lasting impact on my career. Fast forward two years and I’m applying to be a transit planner for HDR. That very same DDOT employee was the client for the project I was being hired for! Needless to say, that connection helped me get the job.

Later that year, HDR sent me to the WTS-DC holiday party where I met the then-Vice President of the chapter. After spending the night bonding with her and other members at the cheese table (because everyone knows many great moments in life are directly related to cheese), she invited me to join the board as co-chair of their Mentoring Program. Four years later and I am still holding the same board position, and am in awe every year about the amazing mentors and mentees I get to work with. Being on the WTS board and participating in the Mentoring Program have been incredibly gratifying experiences that I recommend to everyone. In fact, after meeting most of the Nspiregreen employees years ago while working with them on a DDOT project, I was able to stay in touch by convincing them to join the Mentoring Program. Three of the five other staff members (and a former employee) here have participated in the program as either mentors or mentees and I will be working on convincing the other two to participate once applications open up again next year.

The final factor in helping me decide to write my first blog post about networking in the industry is my first project with Nspiregreen—helping with public outreach for Vision Zero in Alexandria. Normally when you begin a new job, it takes a little while to adjust to the people you’re working with and feel like you are a part of the team, but I happily discovered that I would be spending my outreach time working with people that I met at YPT (Young Professionals in Transportation) events towards the beginning of my career. Despite not talking to them for years, that shared experience was enough to feel like I had been working on this project with them for as long as any of my Nspiregreen colleagues.

I am very excited to join the Nspiregreen team because these women are known for their ability to network and engage the community, whether within the industry or out in public. I have so much to learn from them and hope to step up my game even more. And because of their vast network and involvement in all types of projects around the area, I can’t wait for the opportunity to work with even more incredible people all throughout the industry.

Stacy Weisfeld is a community and transportation planner whose career has been driven by her passion for environmental sustainability. She is adept at engaging the public, bringing together unlikely allies, and finding innovative solutions to unexpected problems. She serves as a board member for Women’s Transportation Seminar, is certified with ISI Envision Sustainability, and is a graduate of American Public Transportation Association’s national Emerging Leaders Program.

 

Bike parking near the Rijksmuseum.

A Tale of Three Cities – Amsterdam: I didn’t do the thing you’re supposed to do

During my vacation to Europe  in March, I met my step goals in Paris and biked in Brussels. The last city I visited was Amsterdam. We took the train from Brussels to Amsterdam. When we walked out of the central train station, I had to choke back tears upon seeing the sheer volume of bike infrastructure, people biking, a large plaza for people, and streetcar lines. As a transportation nerd, this was transportation system paradise.

My Transportation Takeaways:

I didn’t bike in Amsterdam

I know… I know. I’m ashamed. I went to the one of the best places in the world for biking and I didn’t get on a bike the entire time I was there. The major reason for not biking is I didn’t have access to a bike. Since most of the Dutch have a bicycle or two (or four), Amsterdam does not have public bikeshare system. Some hotels offer bikes for guests, but we stayed at an AirBnB.  There are also places that rent bikes in three-hour increments. It was way too much effort for my short stay to locate a bike rental place. Even if I put in the effort to rent a bike, parking for bikes in near impossible to find, which leads me to my next point.

There wasn’t enough bike parking

There are parts of DC where there isn’t enough biking parking, because there isn’t any bike parking at all or there is one sad bike rack. In Amsterdam, there was so much biking parking including a bike parking garage. However, there still wasn’t enough bike parking. Around the city, every  bike rack was overwhelmingly full. There was such a lack of bike parking that some people locked the bike to itself (wheel and frame) and left it on the kickstand in the middle of the sidewalk.

There was plenty of public transportation

While I didn’t bike, I did ride the streetcars. The system was relatively easy to use even without knowing the language. Transferring between streetcars was seamless. Even late at night I didn’t wait more than 6 minutes for a streetcar. I had a 48-hour iAmsterdam pass, which allowed me unlimited transit rides. As a bonus, the pass also granted me access to public museums.

There was space for everyone

Despite Amsterdam’s reputation as a multimodal, no motor vehicle heaven, people did drive in the city. However, it was obvious that the city prioritized space for people and public transportation over cars. Throughout the city, all the modes were separated. There were wide sidewalks for walking, wide protected bike lanes and bike boulevards for biking, exclusive transit lanes for public transportation, and still had lanes left to accommodate motor vehicles. I did not observe any streets where modes were sharing lanes.

The culture of biking was much different

Back to biking, Amsterdam had a noticeably different bike culture from DC.  Most people in Amsterdam rode city bikes, cruisers, or cargo bikes, whereas in DC, many people have faster bikes like road bikes or hybrids. I saw one road bike the entire time I was there. Since they had chunkier bikes, no one biked particularly fast. I didn’t see anyone wearing a bike helmet. While most people biking obey traffic signals and laws, it was common to see people texting while biking or talking on their cell phones.

During my time in Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, I had an opportunity to experience different transportation infrastructure. While I was supposed to be vacationing, it was inspiring to see some international best practices to bring back home, and help generate ideas for Nspiregreen’s projects in the U.S.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

A Tale of Three Cities – Brussels: Biking because I could

As I mentioned in my previous post, I vacationed in Europe this past March. My friend and I visited Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. While I was there for vacation, most of my photos are of transportation. In the first part of this series, I discussed meeting my daily step goals walking around Paris. In this post, I reflect on traveling around Brussels by walking, biking, and riding public transportation.

We took the train from Paris to Brussels. While I love Amtrak, riding the Thayls in Europe was the next level of train experiences. I liked that my seat was assigned, which meant not having to walk up and down the aisles of the train to find a seat. They also screened all bags and passengers before boarding the train. After an hour train ride, we arrived in Brussels. To get to our accommodations in Brussel’s city center, we took a subway train to the neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.

My transportation takeaways are:

Most streets are for People

Brussels was a nice change of pace. In Paris, people walking and biking were a priority only on the streets for biking and walking. On streets with cars, people were walking and biking at their own risks. However, in Brussels it seemed like people walking and biking were a priority even on streets with cars. Most of the secondary streets in Brussels are for walking and biking only or walking and biking priority. I could walk from where we were staying to other places around Brussels without ever interacting with a motor vehicle. Even on the main roads, people drive slow and give priority to people walking and biking.

The density and street layout of Brussels encourages a walking and biking lifestyle. Brussels was design prior to the invention of cars, so most of the buildings have retail on the bottom and residential or office on the top. Most streets are narrow and/or are cobblestoned.

I couldn’t NOT Bike

In Brussels, I couldn’t get on a bike fast enough. The bike infrastructure and the friendly behavior of people driving was all the temptation I needed to get on a bike. Brussels has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks along the main roads. There were a few streets where the bike lane has a painted buffer. For other streets, they have wide lane with a dashed bike lane in the center to keep people biking out of the parked car door zone on the right and have 3 feet of clearance from moving vehicles on the left. Many of the one-way streets are signed two-way for bicycles.

The bikeshare system was easy to use. It took me about two minutes from start to finish to rent a bike. For a 24-hour pass, the price was only $1.71 (USD) and a $150 hold on my credit card. I biked around for about 20 minutes. For my first ride, I identified the bike number I wanted to use and the system released that bike for me. I received a code to use from 24-hours for any other rides.

The signage for bicycles was at an appropriate eye level for people biking. Even without knowing the language, the bicycle signage used a clever system of arrows and pictures to clearly show which streets I could bike on and the best routes for me to travel. The most amazing part about biking was no one parks or stops their car in the bike lane. For example, while biking I encountered a truck that was unloading in a car travel lane and not in the bike lane.

More Information is Better

The public transit system was easy to use and generally intuitive. My favorite feature of Brussel’s system was the next train arrival information displayed outside the train station on the street. In the DC region, if you want to know next train arrivals you either need an app on your phone or you must walk into the station. I wish WMATA would adopt a similar display system outside their metro stations, especially at locations where I have an option between bus and rail.

In the next post, I will discuss Amsterdam, one of the world capitals of biking. Did I bike or not? Find out in a few weeks!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.





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