Gina Thomas and her 1-year-old son, Oscar.

Creating a Sustainable Legacy

Blogger: Gina Thomas, Transit Engineer and Planner | Seattle, WA, USA
December 01, 2016

Many of you may be using our country’s sprawling network of highways to visit family and friends during the holidays this year. America’s highway system is an impressive feat of which we should be proud. It has brought the far reaches of this land, and its people, closer together.  

One day, my 1-year-old son, Oscar, may use those same highways to visit me, but I hope he has other options, too. I hope he lives in a world where transit is one of them. And not just because I design transit infrastructure, but because of why I design transit infrastructure. I am what some would call a “plangineer.” That is to say, I am a planner and an engineer — and I choose to work in transit because of the sustainable value it brings to communities and individuals.

I want my son to know and appreciate the diversity of experiences within our country and around the world. I want him to be worldly. I also want him to be friendly. I don't want him living in a bubble. Transit brings together people of all backgrounds and walks of life, and helps us meet other members of our communities and feel more connected to them. It helps create a sense of belonging we all crave.

Transit is also good for the environment. While it’s bringing people together, it’s also consolidating them into fewer electric-powered vehicles — thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its infrastructure also reduces the amount of real estate we need for freeway off-ramps and parking structures.

That frees up space for restaurants, hotels, stadiums, storefronts and parks. Transit attracts walkable growth adjacent to its route and stations. It encourages compact, mixed-use and smart development.

Transit stimulates the economy, and you don’t need to be a transit engineer to understand why. During Oscar’s first year (he turned 1 on Nov. 17), he attended several transit grand openings with his father and me. It won’t take long for him to see the connection between transit and the development that follows.

Transit also often links underserved communities to opportunities by providing affordable transportation to jobs, healthcare and education. And transit creates jobs before, during and after construction, including those created by the new businesses that materialize around stations.

I want my son to grow up in a world where more people take transit, connect to their neighbors, care about the environment and feel they contribute to society through their work. It was encouraging to celebrate his first birthday and realize how many sustainable transit projects HDR has been part of, even within this past year.

Oscar will be at openings for many more projects in the years to come. It will be one of our fun traditions that we can enjoy as a family that will hopefully instill in him the values inherent in sustainable transportation. And later in life when he visits for the holidays by way of a rail transit line that I may have helped plan or design, perhaps he will reflect on its power to build communities while improving the quality of our lives. 


Photo caption: HDR’s Seattle-based Transit Engineer and Planner Gina Thomas and her 1-year-old son, Oscar, celebrate the opening in late September 2016 of Sound Transit’s Angle Lake Link light-rail extension, which HDR designed in partnership with VIA Architecture. The station was designed to be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®)-certified transit station in the State of Washington.



Reader Comments (19)

I agree Gina! It's exciting to see these sustainable transit projects and the impact they have. This summer we were in Seattle and loved the fact that we could return our rental car and walk (or bus or ferry or monorail) to many downtown area attractions. We got to ride the high speed rail to the airport, which was much more enjoyable than enduring the traffic on I-5. Keep up the great work!

Nicely written, Gina!

Thanks for the post, Gina.  Very thoughtful and thought provoking.  And, thanks for introducing Oscar to transit.  One year old's are not always so worldly and so focused on how to get from place to place in the real world.  Right now he's probably more concerned about crawling from place to place!  But, it won't be long before transit is part of his daily life!


Very good Gina, a very good outlook on the world you are passing on to Oscar.  And to be part of making it happen, is the icing on the cake!


Loved the article and I love that you're blending life and work.  I'm sure Oscar will always be proud and remember these moments that you share as a family.

Great post, Gina! I love the vision you paint and I cannot believe Oscar is already one!!!!

Beautiful story, Gina. 'Oscarito' really is a curious baby boy, and I love seeing how you meld your personal life with your career passions - alternative transportation options, connectivity, and community. Thank you for being an active member of the Sustainable Transportation Leadership team!

That easy transit connectivity is what I loved about living in downtown Seattle for a year!  It made it so easy for our families to visit us from out of town, too. Now we just need more rail transit for the communities around downtown!  With Prop 1 (ST3) passing during the November election, it's full steam ahead now :)

Thanks, Michaella!

Thanks, Dorri!  Oscar is already walking! which keeps us on our toeds. And he loves the people-watching available to him on all modes of transit...  bus, rail, and even airplanes. He's always smiling and making new friends.

Thanks, Jessica! You are my role model for balancing work and kids :)

Thanks, Christi!  Time flies, right?! Oscar has definitely helped solidify my love of transit; helping to make a better and brighter future for generations to come.

Janet, thank YOU for all you do to keep sustainability top-of-mind for all of us in the Transportation group. I'm so glad to be a small part of that effort!  Oscar wants to know when he'll get to see you next ;)

I just wanted to give a shout-out to Phil Stake for being invaluable in helping to put this blog post together, along with its subsequent social media coordination.  You are the best, Phil!

Thank you for your blog post Gina! Having children has made me think about the type of work HDR accomplishes and the daily choices we make. Keep it up!

Thank you for taking the time to share your insight with everyone.  Very compelling story and vision on shaping the future.  Oscar is a lucky toddler to have a role model like you as a parent.  So happy to see you balancing and embracing life-family-work with grace.  Keep up the great work!

Thanks, Blair! I agree that having kids really brings into focus the choices we make for our future generations. I hope to have the chance to connect with you on future projects :)

Thanks, Tracy!  Your mentorship and support since Career Skills has been so appreciated. Looking forward to catching up with you tomorrow!

Excellent article, Gina! You're an inspiration to future female engineers!

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