February is Black History Month. To honor this celebration, Vision Zero San Antonio spoke with the City’s new Director of Transportation, Tomika Monterville. As a woman of color, Monterville explores her determination and drive in establishing her career, as well as providing perspective about the role of transportation in improving people’s lives.
Q: How did you get into Transportation as a career?
I just fell into it by chance but once I did, I realized how important it is to everyone. I’ve used transit all my life and got a job in Los Angeles working for Metro and realized transportation is a way to help the community and improve quality of life. I think of more than myself; I think of my mom and neighbors who needed help getting around. Transportation determines a lot about your life, and we can create whole communities built around it.
Q: What has been your best experience with transportation so far?
My best and first experience were as an intern at LA Metro that had a partnership with the Afro-Metro Museum, and the architecture students at the university who created the Crenshaw Line transit stops. I coordinated to provide food at the events, and I got to manage and experience so many groups that wanted to bring a transportation project together for a community that needed it.
Another experience that lit up in me was working on the planning process on the Washington, DC, streetcar analysis. Working with the City, Metro, and the community, we created the city vision of what was going to come to fruition. The community did not know that planners were available for every district, ready to improve the city. It was pivotal in my career.
Q: Why did you choose San Antonio as a place to continue your career in transportation?
I didn’t move to San Antonio just for the job; I wanted to take a job in a city I knew I could love. San Antonio has a small-town feel, but it also has the diverse amenities of a metropolitan area. The City’s emphasis on equity and the great weather also caught my eye!
Q: What does your ideal street look like?
My ideal street is designed for pedestrians and a good example would be the National Mall in Washington D.C., it captures not just the ideal street but also the ideals of all streets in the Capital, and it tells a story. Streets that invoke feeling and inclusivity are the most comfortable. You can picture the memories of the people on the street when you navigate them.
Q: What are your goals for San Antonio transportation, relating to Vision Zero and accessibility through multimodal design opportunities?
I did not come with any preconceived goals of what the new department should do. For any new experience, I want to understand what is already being instituted and applied. I do have a lot of ideas but want to get a better idea of what model we want to follow. It’s all about understanding what is important to people and what they need. One strategy we will institute is using target measures and metrics for our support and operations of different modes. To have goals, we first need to establish a vision that speaks to everyone on the team, not just me.
Q: How has equity influenced your work?
I think before ‘equity’ was a buzz word, it was always part of my work. In navigating the world, I often found I was the only black woman in a room. It’s important to give the opportunity, to offer a seat at the table. I view myself as an ally because I experience challenges through the lens of the people I am representing. Someone may have more legitimacy in a given situation because of familiarity with a community or even their age, and this can help in our work. We may not have large audiences, but we need to show that all needs are represented.