Q&A with Tomika Monterville

Anna Stafford

Tomika Monterville is San Antonio’s Director of Transportation. We sat down with Tomika to chat about where the Texas city stands in its roll-out of EV charging stations, its Vision Zero efforts, and what else she’s excited about when it comes to the future of mobility.

CityAge: You have over 2 decades of experience working in city transit agencies and transportation departments on other levels of government too. What is the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your career?

Tomika Monterville: The most important  lesson that I've learned in my career is to not sell myself short. Several years ago I hired an executive coach to help me level up, to grow. I knew I wanted to be in a higher level leadership position and I think the biggest thing that was holding me back was my own fears, and a feeling of not being good enough. I think this is something that a lot of women and people of color experience. You're judging yourself based on how you see your peers moving in spaces. It's not that you don't have the skills and expertise, but you haven't had people validate you to the level that you believe you should be at…And I want other people and people of color to really understand, and women to understand, that you don't have to make yourself small to make other people feel big. You can be big. There's enough space for everybody.

CityAge: I’m glad you said that, because diverse leadership in transit agencies will lead to transportation systems and cities that reflect more than just the experience of white men, which will make those systems a lot safer and usable for more people. 

Is there any particular project or initiative you're working on right now that you're really excited about?

Monterville: The city received one of the first Safe Streets and Roads for All DOT grants. We are super excited here in San Antonio to install 8 mid block crossings on Zarzamora, one of our most dangerous corridors here in the city, one of our high injury network corridors. 

These will be pedestrian refuge areas so that little kids and adults can cross the street and not try to play chicken [across] six lanes [of traffic]. We also have an urban heat island issue here, not unlike many parts of the country and the world, but it's very very hot. And these eight mid-block crossings will represent an eighth of an acre of green space added. It's moving the needle in the right direction, and recognizing that our mid-block crossings and pedestrian refuge spaces don't have to just be concrete slabs. They can be something that's creative with low impact development, something that has vegetation, not just an asphalt and concrete village for people to walk through. That's really exciting for us.

CityAge: What’s top of mind for you when it comes to the city’s roll-out of EV charging stations?

Monterville: One of the key elements of charging is [about] where we locate these facilities…What we've seen in the past is that charging infrastructure is relegated to those higher income areas and locations along highways. But what we know for sure is many residents here in San Antonio [who live in low-income areas] don't have access to a vehicle. What is the pipeline for them to be able to afford and maintain an electric vehicle? I see the infrastructure charging, the effort to construct these facilities, as an opportunity for people to get jobs…Where are we identifying the path, the career ladder, for people who are not working? The city is doing that with our Ready to Work program. We have thousands of people who are getting free education, free training…it's a national model on how the city is investing through our tax program to fund this ready to work programming. 

CityAge: What’s something that you're really excited about, in terms of the future of mobility and future solutions, that you see coming down the pipeline?

Monterville: The most exciting thing to me about the future of mobility is that we are bringing people into transportation who have a desire to promote alternative options. Many engineers went into the industry to build highways. Now we have engineers who are saying ‘I want to build signals that include bicycles’. We are building a whole generation of people who recognize that the car is not our only mode, and when we talk about electrification, it's not just the vehicles. It's about electrifying our transit systems as well. We have to build the systems that we want for the future. We have advanced so much and actually recognize that you can focus on alternative modes and build a career in transportation on alternative modes.


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