Women in TransitTech: Rachel Zack.• 3 min read
In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series.
Challenging the status quo takes diligence, determination, and vision — especially when it comes to an industry that hasn’t seen a seismic shift since the automobile was invented. And, as it turns out, it’s often women who choose to challenge these norms. In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities and inspiring their peers. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series here.
Rachel Zack is the Director of Policy at Remix, where she focuses on ensuring the team achieves their mission of building more livable cities. Her passion for empowering planners with access to insights for better decision-making and collaboration stems from her many years of advising on cutting-edge transportation problems, such as transportation network company regulation, road usage pricing, congestion pricing, express lanes, and planning for autonomous vehicles. Before joining Remix, Rachel launched the Innovative Mobility arm of WSP, where her work in the field received the Caltrans Excellence in Transportation Award and the WTS Innovative Transportation Solutions Award.
What did 10-year-old Rachel want to be when she grew up? How did you evolve from there to your current position in transportation?
I had very little understanding of what jobs existed when I was ten, but I knew I wanted to be rich. Wealth represented having choices and being less vulnerable, which I had come to understand as important, being a Jewish kid growing up in a very rural, very impoverished part of the country. The inverse of this thinking made working in transportation so captivating to me. What if your freedom to move had little to do with your income? This is exactly the type of outcome we focus on at Remix.
What do you think are the most important qualities in a leader? Are there any leaders in particular you look up to?
The leaders that inspire me are authentic, visionary, and excellent communicators. Tamika Butler, Janice Li, and Jeff Tumlin are some California leaders in transportation who I find inspiring.
What are the big transit challenges in your community that your team is solving with innovative mobility projects?
One challenge we recently took on was helping cities’ Departments of Transportation (DOTs) deploy equity best practices around infrastructure. DOTs have a long history of harmful practices in Black and Brown communities and need better ways to understand the communities they are working in. We worked with equity advocates and DOTs to co-create the tools that would meet this challenge, and our advocate partners authored a white paper with advice for use. We are excited to see LADOT using the co-created features to deploy an agency-wide practice aimed to increase equitable infrastructure development.
In your view, what’s the biggest challenge the transportation industry as a whole will have to tackle in the next 2-5 years?
We have built and funded a transportation system that inherently privileges the car owner. Changing this incentive structure will be the biggest challenge that lies ahead, but it’s one we have to take on because it lies at the heart of achieving climate and social justice goals.
Tell us about a defining moment in your professional life that has helped guide you on your path.
Mentors played major roles in cultivating my interest in the field, as well as pushing me to work on new, emerging problems, with confidence. These mentors were men, women and non-binary, however, I had an incredible boss who looked like me, acted like me, and demonstrated what confidence looked like in a way I felt I could emulate. Her mentorship was a real turning point for my career. I want my Black and Brown colleagues to have the same experience — we need to diversify the leadership in our field.
And finally, what drives you? (Pun intended!)
The bus! Literally and figuratively.