Youth Transportation Academy Engages Idaho Students in Community Improvements

October 15, 2012

Since receiving its charter in 2007, the Treasure Valley Chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) has been working to not only expand career development opportunities for existing transportation professionals, but to make the field more accessible to the community at large. The Youth Transportation Academy (YTA) is an example of this outreach. YTA’s mission is to “involve local students in all aspects of planning and implementing solutions to regional transportation problems.”

In 2010, YTA kicked off its first program by engaging students from Frank Church High School in Boise, Idaho to help plan a fixed-route transit service that would operate in the neighborhood around their school. Students evaluated the proposed route and were asked to provide feedback on which alternatives would best serve their community. They were guided in their thought process by WTS members and other volunteers who helped explain the considerations that a transportation engineer or planner would look at before making a final recommendation. A smaller group of students was asked to present their recommendations to the Valley Regional Transit (VRT) board, as well as to their peers at a school assembly.

“I was impressed by their ability to stretch themselves into a leadership position in their school with a type of project they’ve never had the opportunity to explore before,” says Kelli Fairless, Executive Director of VRT, former WTS Treasure Valley President from 2007 – 2008, and active YTA volunteer. Kelli hopes that the experience allows students to “go in a different direction in their life because they were able to experience something outside of what was normal for them.”

YTA works to ensure that its programs are improving transportation options for at-risk communities. Students attending Frank Church High School are at risk of not graduating from a traditional high school, and therefore were a good fit for YTA. A different strategy was chosen for the second program—high school students at Liberty Charter School in Nampa, Idaho are working to develop a strategic transportation plan that would serve the 45,000+ veterans that live in Treasure Valley area. Nampa mayor Tom Dale is chairing a VRT leadership group to support the project. Kelli says that Mayor Dale is “excited about the opportunity of getting students involved and looking at a strategic plan to serve one of the area’s most vulnerable and important populations.”

Liberty Charter School students have been working on the transportation plan since spring and hope to wrap up by the end of the year. On September 21, YTA volunteers (including representatives from VRT; COMPASS; Kittelson & Associates, Inc. (KAI); and the JUB Langdon Group) met with 20 students to participate in an all-day workshop focused on brainstorming which public transportation service options would best serve veterans, as well as ideas of how to engage the community in public involvement.

“We had a local veteran with sight impairment come and talk to the students about his challenges on a daily basis with transportation. The next steps of the project are to take the information from the workshop and begin to develop a formal plan for recommendations to the Leadership Team and the VRT board,” says KAI’s Andy Daleiden. “The students would present this information to the VRT board in the coming months and at a WTS luncheon in November.”

Looking forward, Kelli is hoping that other agencies will be able to come forward with projects that would be a good fit for the YTA. “It’s fairly flexible,” she says. “If we have a good project, we can find good students to do that project and vice versa.” Kelli envisions that future projects will involve planning for Safe Routes to School or improvements to transit or bicycle and pedestrian facilities that directly affect the students. WTS is always on the lookout for alternative or charter schools that would be a good fit for the program.

“We are hoping to broaden our involvement and get more folks involved,” Kelli says.

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