Careers in Transportation Planning

A woman focuses on a subway map.

Transportation planners like Julia Salinas and Jamie Carrington help manage the transportation systems of entire cities and ensure that all systems are safe, convenient, and affordable for people in their communities. In doing so, they get to work on a wide variety of different projects.

Julia Salinas is a transportation planning manager for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Currently, her favorite project is one that will create a 32-mile bike path along the Los Angeles River Basin.

Julia Salinas, L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Click a button to watch an interview with Julia Salinas:

Jamie Carrington, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Click a button to watch an interview with Jamie Carrington:

The Los Angeles River, Julia said, is actually a 51-mile-long concrete basin. It used to be a large, meandering river. Today, efforts are underway to turn portions of it back into a green ecosystem. There are currently several stretches of bike path running alongside the river, she said. However, they don’t connect to each other. So she is working in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who is heading the river revitalization effort, to connect two major sections of bike path. This will create over 32 miles of continuous bike path, which will someday be surrounded by plants and wildlife. Los Angeles residents will be able to use the path to get directly to the beach and other parts of the county that were not previously accessible by bike.

“Working on that project is pretty much my professional dream come true. … I get to bring to the table what I’ve learned in transportation planning, and we get to try to bring this bike path to parts of the county that have really been underserved by alternative transportation up until this point,” Julia said.

On the other side of the nation, Jamie Carrington is a senior planner for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington, D.C. His work often involves improving D.C.’s metro rail system, as well as MetroAccess, the paratransit system that serves people with disabilities.

“We do a number of planning-related activities to make our system work better for the residents of our region,” he said. “What I love the most is knowing I’m contributing to helping people get where they need to go, and leading to the economic and social health of the community.”

The rail system in D.C. provides about 750,000 trips per day, Jamie said. Keeping it robust and efficient is critical for supporting the city’s transportation needs. Rail allows people to access all areas of the city whether or not they own or can afford an automobile. It also allows people to choose an alternative to car ownership and single-vehicle commuting. This is important because a city as large as D.C. simply could not support the amount of traffic that would occur if everyone chose to drive.

“Any time you have a community that is dense enough, you just can’t expect to have all trips served by car,” he said.

But Jamie said that having these systems available to people is not enough. They also have to be convenient and easy to use. That’s why one of his projects involves making it easier and safer for people to walk or bike to the city’s train and bus stations. This is similar to a project he worked on as a transportation planner in New York City. That project involved re-designing a crowded street so that people waiting for the bus did not come into contact with oncoming traffic. To do this, he had to negotiate with the city government and businesses in the area, because the project would eliminate a few on-street parking spaces. Jamie had to communicate the importance of the project to the parties involved to gain the approval to make the necessary changes to the street layout.

This process of determining a need, creating a plan, and getting the people and resources together to carry it out is quintessential to being a city planner, Jamie explained. So the ability to communicate, negotiate, and convey your ideas are key attributes for people in the profession. Other key skills might depend on your specific area of interest. Julia, for example, studied hydrology and engineering as an undergraduate student. This enabled her to comprehend the engineering-related aspects that are involved in her bike path project.

“I’m an environmentalist at heart, but I seem to take to technical things pretty well. So the world of engineering is a good place for me,” she said. “But I also wanted to be a little more involved with the decision-making process. So that’s why I’m at the planning level.”

There are many different areas of expertise that you can focus on as a transportation planner. Examples range from engineering-oriented projects like designing roadways and traffic systems, to more business-oriented tasks like managing a city’s transportation funds. Or you could focus on active or public transportation like Julia and Jamie. Cities need experts in all of these areas to support a healthy transportation network that accommodates the needs of citizens. Whatever you choose, you’re sure to find an exciting career in transportation city planning.

Check out the rest of this issue of Fast Forward for more on this and other exciting careers in transportation!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Issue 4 – Public & Active Transportation