Monday, August 1, 2011

Strengthening Communities with Transportation

Contributed by NiKette Banks and Rachel Beyerle

The Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) 40th National Meeting and Training Conference held July 16-19 in Philadelphia was informative and exciting. The conference theme was “Are We There Yet?” in regard to the transportation industry and how it has evolved over time.  During the educational sessions and workshops, we learned and shared about the great progress in transportation as well as how much further we need to go to get THERE. 

For COMTO part of getting THERE is welcoming the many diverse contributions, accomplishments and advocacy efforts from not only their stakeholders and members but from all leaders and professionals in the transportation industry. The transportation industry is on target to meet this goal.  The industry is taking action and moving in the right direction with optimism and great determination to make a difference and to get outcomes.  For example, we talk about being able to pass the torch and getting the next generation of leaders prepared to work and lead in the transportation industry.  COMTO has placed great value and resources into working with youth.  They have an internship and scholarship program structured to provide students from different backgrounds, cultures and with different interests from various high schools and universities across the country with the necessary/required tools, support and mentorships to get to that next level.  In addition, COMTO has been an advocate for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) and at the forefront for working with organizations to provide opportunities and participation for DBEs.  As a first time attendees of COMTO, the experience was positive, and there was a true sense of community among participants.

COMTO’s focus on the importance of community extends beyond the organization itself and was reflected in a number of conference breakout sessions.  For example, the session Livability Approaches to Transportation Action Priorities in the District of Columbia featured a ward-level livability study currently underway in Far Northeast D.C.  Residents and commuters are invited to participate in public workshops, identify priorities for traffic and pedestrian improvements.  The study's website includes an interactive map where the public can pinpoint comments to specific intersections, roads and parks.  Taking community inclusion a step further, Denver’s Regional Transportation District discussed its first-of-its-kind Workforce Initiative Now (WIN) program whereby members of the local workforce, including military veterans, are given practical training and placed into career positions tied to regional transportation projects.  

Historically, many transportation decisions have been made FOR a community. These two programs are examples of how transportation decisions are being made WITH a community in mind…and with a spirit of inclusion that is part of COMTO’s core values.

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