New York’s Transportation Data Whisperer – Next City

New York’s Transportation Data Whisperer

Photo by David McKay Wilson

Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders.

Name: Veronica Vanterpool
Current Occupation: Executive Director, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Current City: Westchester County, New York
Twitter Tag: @Tri_State, @veevanterpool

I drink: coffee with boiled milk and sugar (Puerto Rican style)
I am an: extrovert
I get to work by: walking and train
The area I grew up is: Castle Hill neighborhood in the Bronx, NY

What is your favorite city and why? The Bronx is my favorite city because it is a city of dichotomies and complexities that very few take the time to explore. Like any city, the Bronx has its ills, but there is unimagined beauty and history hidden in plain sight in its vast parkland, nature preserves, historic homes, and cultural communities. Most NYC residents and visitors don’t know that Pelham Bay Park is three times the size of Manhattan‘s Central Park or that the Bronx has many homes worth over a million dollars. Or that you can canoe on 8 miles of Bronx River and see beavers, heron, and egrets. Then there is the music —The Bronx is the birthplace of salsa and hip-hop; it’s full of musical energy that is palpable regardless of the season, or neighborhood.

Did you always want to be an environmentalist? Yes. As a little girl, I picked up litter on the floor and worried about pollution. I think I was influenced by being so close to natural resources that had been so neglected and abused; we couldn’t enjoy the creeks, rivers, and forests near my home because of pollution. I was the rare teenager who declared her college major — environmental science — in high school! I entered college more than two decades ago when environmental science was an emerging field, so most colleges only offered it as an elective, minor or class. One of the reasons I chose Binghamton University in upstate New York was because it had an entire environmental studies department with seven concentrations; I double majored in environmental policy and political science which was the perfect foundation for the work I do now.

What do you like most about your current job? Empowering the public by making hard-to-find and arcane transportation data and numbers accessible and holding elected and agency officials accountable to the public they serve.

What is the coolest project you worked on? For fourteen years, we have been part of a coalition called the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance working to repurpose an underutilized highway in the South Bronx called the Sheridan Expressway. The community vision included new housing, green space, jobs, and community resources in the footprint of the highway. NYC conducted a study that recommended turning the footprint around the highway into a boulevard—an idea that incorporated much of the community’s vision. While the project still requires various approvals and funding, the vision has come a long away. It’s cool because this could be THE signature project knitting together NYC’s affordable housing, improved access to green space, job creation, and Vision Zero goals.

What are the hard parts about your job? Transportation policy is about following how transportation dollars are spent; if you follow the money, you see decisionmakers’ priorities. But transportation projects have price tags in the millions and billions, solutions are often many years away, and people are skeptical about how agencies spend the money. These all make it difficult to keep people informed and engaged. It’s also difficult working with elected or agency officials who are obstinate without solid evidence to support their positions.

What makes a successful leader? Confidence, openness, and a passion for the work. A successful leader needs to be confident, open to change and welcoming of other people’s ideas. He or she must genuinely believe that the work being done is important.

What’s the best professional advice you have received? Don’t stress out about the number of emails in your inbox; stay focused and prioritize.

Who do you most admire? My parents, because they never stop wanting to learn and being engaged. I am proud of the way they champion issues of sustainability and equity. They marched with me and my son in the People’s Climate March. They are installing solar panels on their roof.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Learn a little bit about as many issues as you can outside of your field, and build strong partnerships with non-traditional stakeholders. Having a holistic understanding of urban challenges leads to the most successful solutions.