As the RTA embarks on development of its new Regional Transit Strategic Plan, the agency is committed to engaging in conversations about the future of public transit in Northeastern Illinois.
In September, the RTA kicked off Making a Plan — an engagement effort aimed at gathering and sharing initial input on the priorities, challenges, and opportunities that the plan should address. Making a Plan will include a guest blog series published on Connections later this fall with posts from leading transit voices, as well as opportunities for people to attend virtual events, take a public survey, and participate in an ongoing conversation on social media. The engagement also includes a series of guest presentations to the RTA Board of Directors over the next several months that will help the agency’s staff and leaders hone priorities and ideas to be carried out in the strategic plan on topics including transit system adaptation, infrastructure, sustainable funding, and equity, access, and climate change.
At its September meeting, the Board heard from two speakers about the importance of inclusive engagement: Debra Shore, Commissioner on the Board of the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and Tanya Adams, Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity and Community Relations and Equity Manager at WSP USA. Tanya is also the chair of the National Board of Directors for the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials or COMTO.
Debra Shore has sat on the Board of Commissioners for the MWRD since first running in 2006 and recently served as the co-chair of the agency’s strategic planning effort, which culminated in a plan adopted in June of this year. She advised the board on the importance of authentic engagement during strategic planning. “Our definition and goal for community engagement was to position the agency as a critical community asset and ensure the district is a responsive neighbor and inclusive business partner.” She said they accomplished that through stakeholder interviews, a virtual workshop, a public survey, and an internal survey of MWRD staff. “When we reached out to communities it wasn’t so much to make sure they understood who we are, but to listen, understand, and ask them what they want us to know about them, their communities, and their work. That is what I consider a more authentic kind of engagement, listening more than talking.”
Shore said she also advises the RTA to consider the strategic plan as a living document, something to be reassessed every year for accomplishments, focus, and additional public input, rather than a document to sit on a shelf.
The Board also heard from Tanya Adams, who is well known in regional transportation circles for her work in community relations and for her dedication to bringing underrepresented voices into the work of transportation projects and agencies. Adams spoke about her careerlong commitment to creating a more equitable transportation system and encouraged the RTA to include diversity, inclusion, and equity in its strategic plan.
“We must work together to make sure our low-income residents, people of color, elderly, and people with disabilities have the same access to mobility options for convenient, reliable, accessible, and safe service,” Adams said. “Creating an equitable transit system requires community involvement to identify the needs of our population and labor force.”
She said the RTA should consider equity in infrastructure investment to ensure transit accommodates people with nontraditional work schedules, those who cannot afford personal transportation, and other needs.
“Adoption of strategic policies that reduce congestion and travel times as well as support multimodal networks where travelers feel safe and assured that their trips can be completed in their desired timeframe contributes to improved quality of life for everyone,” she said.
Adams said that current RTA programs that assist new riders, provide travel training, coordinate transit planning in the region, and work with riders with disabilities are a good foundation for this work, but encouraged the agency to go further into communities and partner with other organizations to listen and provide opportunities for improvements. She also said that once the Regional Transit Strategic Plan is adopted (expected in January 2023), the RTA’s work is not done.
“It takes all of us to do this. Inclusion and diversity doesn’t end. It’s not going to end in two years. It is a mission, it’s lifelong, and we have to keep working on it forever,” she said.
The RTA will continue to hear from important voices in the transit world throughout the Making a Plan engagement period. If you would like to find out more about submitting a guest blog or to suggest an individual or organization we should consider, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive news from the RTA about future guest speakers, new guest blog posts, and other opportunities to get involved subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter.