For too long, say critics of the city’s long-term transportation planning, the bureaucracy’s car-centric mentality has focused primarily on accommodating auto traffic and improving roads rather than enhancing all modes of transportation, including buses, walking and cycling.
So the city has hired a transportation planner with experience in Florida and the Washington, D.C., area to improve that balance as the director of the city’s newly formed transportation department.
Tomika Monterville, who starts her new job Feb. 2, impressed several City Council members last week when she was briefly introduced at a committee hearing.
“She really has a lot of enthusiasm, and I’m thrilled that they found a Black female,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said. “She said that transportation was her ‘personal ministry’ and that she was a big proponent of mass transit. I liked that.”
Monterville said via a city media officer that she would rather not comment about her new job until she is officially on duty next month.
She will report directly to Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez, whose boss, City Manager Erik Walsh, led the effort to separate transportation planning from the more nuts-and-bolts infrastructure duties of the public works department, thus creating Monterville’s job.
She was most recently the director of planning and development for the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which serves a 2,500-square-mile area in three counties around Orlando with a population base of 1.8 million, matching San Antonio’s. There, she dealt with a bus system, LYNX, that is similar in scope to VIA Metropolitan Transit and a 49-mile commuter rail network known as SunRail.
Before Orlando, according to a city news release, Monterville worked as the transit manager for Lake County, Fla., and in several transportation roles with Prince George’s County, Md.; the Federal Transit Administration; and Washington, D.C.’s transportation department. She got her bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a master’s in American studies, focusing on historic preservation, from George Washington University. She got a second master’s in transportation planning from Florida State University.
In San Antonio, she will inherit a staff of at least 13 transportation planners and engineers, public works spokesman Paul Berry said.
Gonzales, an early advocate of splitting off transportation policy and planning from the department that builds roads, believes that creative transportation ideas often got stifled within the former Transportation & Capital Improvements Department, which was formed in January 2014 to oversee completion of voter-approved bond projects.
“Erik (Walsh) has helped change that,” Gonzales said, “and I hope we’ll get more visionary recommendations in the future because of it.”
“It’s just harder for great ideas to come out of such a large department,” Councilman Roberto Treviño said of TCI’s 800-person roster. “Separated, there will be fewer hurdles and red tape to creativity.”
Among the many tasks facing Monterville will be getting her new department to “serve as the lead” — Walsh’s words — for the city’s ConnectSA effort, a wide-ranging strategy that promises $1.36 billion in transportation improvements including wider roads, increased bus service, plus more bike lanes and sidewalks.
While echoing Walsh’s hopes for the new position, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he specifically would like to see Monterville and the council “get serious” about developing safe bike lanes, accelerating the bike master plan and more fully connecting all the linear creekway parks with bike paths.
Nirenberg also wants to see an enhanced city commitment to VisionZero, a broad nationwide initiative to “eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries nationwide, while increasing safe, healthy and equitable mobility.”
Gonzales agreed and said the city’s $3 million allocation to VisionZero was not nearly enough “to make us a true VisionZero city.”
Monterville won’t be the only new face on the transportation planning front.
Businessman Fernando Reyes has been approved as the new chair of the VIA board, replacing Hope Andrade. And the city’s still fairly new pedestrian mobility officer — some call him “the pedestrian czar” — Timothy Hayes, has now been appointed a special projects manager.
Treviño, who pushed for the creation of Hayes’ old job, said Hayes had done “outstanding” work and that the city would embark upon a nationwide hunt to replace him.