Earlier in this issue, we gave you the 411 on transportation careers in city planning. City planners manage a city’s transportation system. They ensure that people can travel from place to place conveniently and affordably. They do this while also thinking about big-picture goals. These goals might include making the city less congested or reducing transportation’s environmental footprint.
But it’s important to mention that transportation planners also exist at the regional level. Regional transportation planners, like Valerie Knepper, perform a role that is similar to that of city planners. However, they tend to focus on a much larger geographic area.
Valerie is an associate transportation planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in Northern California. MTC’s region encompasses 101 different cities spread throughout 9 counties. This includes the City and County of San Francisco, Napa County, and the Silicon Valley region. MTC is governed by a group of elected officials. These policymakers make important decisions about transportation in the region. For example, they decide where to distribute the state and federal tax dollars that have been set aside for transportation purposes. This could include funding new highway projects or increasing funding for public transportation.
Valerie advises these elected officials on policy-related decisions. This means that by becoming a regional planner you could have a direct impact on decisions made at the local government level.
Valerie said she has worked on a wide range of projects as a regional transportation planner. Some of her professional interests include helping low-income individuals and families have access to quality public transportation and protecting the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. She works in communities throughout the San Francisco Bay area to achieve her agency’s transportation-related goals. For example, she might organize a survey to determine whether a city's public transit system is meeting the needs of its residents or how it could be improved. Valerie is driven by the belief that making the transportation system more efficient and affordable leads to improvements in peoples’ lives, the economy, and the environment.
Regional planning is a great career for people who want to make a real impact on the residents of their state. To become a planner at the regional level, students should expect to earn at least a master’s degree. This degree could be in a field like transportation planning and/or public policy. In many cases, computer and technical skills are also needed in order to use the tools of the trade of today’s regional planners. Regional planners should be effective communicators and have a good understanding of government and current events at the local and national levels. Perhaps most importantly, they should come to the job interview with a good understanding of transportation as a whole. This includes its current issues, trends, and the way it impacts people and society.
Valerie noted that MTC offers high school and college internships for students who seeking careers in transportation planning. And even if you don’t live in California, there’s a great chance that a planning organization in your state offers similar opportunities. Take the time to investigate and prepare for one of these internships. It could be an effective way of launching yourself on the path to a transportation planning career at the regional level.
Be sure to check out Valerie Knepper’s video, and keep following Fast Forward for more information on exciting career opportunities in transportation!