Mar 172024
A Thrilling Night

Tuesday night brought an incredible event I have to capture: The Women in Transportation Seminar Puget Sound chapter named me Woman of the Year! I want to share my comments from the stage, or at least the version I had in front of me in print since I know I riffed a couple of times on my general thoughts.

Page from program labeled WOMAN OF THE YEAR. At left, photo of a smiling white woman with short blond hair wearing dark blue glasses, a light grey dress, and pearl earrings. Text: BARB CHAMBERLAIN, ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION DIVISION, WSDOT
Barb Chamberlain is a tenacious champion of building pedestrian and bicyclist networks that serve all ages and abilities. As WSDOT's first-ever Active Transportation Division Director, she raises awareness about active transportation safety, equity, and accessibility across the state and at the national level. Barb led the development of WSDOT's award-winning Active Transportation Plan, which is grounded in equity analysis and serves as a decision-making tool for active transportation projects across the state. The effects of her leadership are seen in the historic levels of active transportation funding in the 2022 Move Ahead Washington package. Barb shares her wisdom and expertise through multiple national organizations, raising the bar for transportation plans, standards, guidelines, and professional practice.

Thank you, WTS! I’m so incredibly honored and proud to receive this award. This is truly a pinnacle moment in my career.

I have the great joy of working with an incredible team of talented people and I had no idea they were doing this. That’s my immediate team in the Active Transportation Division (who were hooting and hollering from their table). We’re 80% women and we hired the best in every position we added in the last year. I also love working with my colleagues across WSDOT, and some of you in the room who’ve been involved with our work.

A few years ago for a conference I was asked to describe my career path in six words, which was challenging because it’s been pretty serendipitous. I came up with something that became my personal motto: Always doing work I believe in.

When we recruit new people (and by the way we’ll have an engineering position and a GIS/data analyst position opening soon, I’m always proud to say we’re a leading division in a leading agency in a leading state—in a nation that needs a lot of work. Work to make transportation safe and connected and comfortable for everyone of any age or ability, mode, income, zip code, race, gender across the spectrum, native language—anyone. Everyone.

That’s the work that inspires me: Expanding access.

That means expanding who’s hired, who’s listened to, who leads.

We have more women in more positions than ever—but not everywhere. We’ve inherited a transportation system designed for Ozzie and Harriet and we’re not all Harriet. For that matter, we’re not all Ozzie either and some of you don’t even recognize this reference.

I’ve been so, so fortunate to have people along the way who encouraged me to speak my mind, starting with my mom, who would not be surprised that my job involves talking. She taught me from early childhood that I was a really lucky girl—something I’ve learned to recognize as privilege—and that I needed to pay it forward. It’s now my job as I see it to expand access to opportunity.

WTS does that with its scholarships and Transportation U. We all can.

Each of us, no matter what position we hold, has the power and the responsibility to consider the effects of our plans and projects. Who benefits at whose expense? I think about how we can collectively commit to expanding the voices we listen to, so everyone gets heard when they speak up. I watch a lot of superhero movies and it’s like what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: With great power comes great responsibility.

There’s the saying about speaking truth to power. I try to lend my power to truth, and I hope you do too.

Everything from HR and recruitment to the timing of the pedestrian lights to decisions about maintenance priorities—you have a superpower beyond Spiderman’s.

He was only saving one life at a time—you and I have entire systems to change.

This award is really for all of us working for that change, for everyone.

Photo of a glass award with scalloped edges in the shape of a teardrop or wave with the tip pointing left. Tet on it: "WTS Advancing women advancing transportation Puget Sound/Deattle. woman of the Year Barb Chamberlain Active Transportation Division, WSDOt. For recognition of your exceptional achievements advancing women advancing transportation.
Below the award, a name badge with Barb Chamberlain, Washington State Department of Transportation, and a blue ribbon reading AWARD WINNER at the bottom.
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