Toole Design's New E's--Equity

Yesterday at Toole Design we launched the New E’s. Our President, Jennifer Toole, stated that:

The conventional Three E’s approach of engineering, education, and enforcement, first introduced in 1925, doesn’t provide the guidance or moral compass we need to plan, design, and build a transportation system for the 21st century. We must look beyond traditional professional disciplines and across conventional boundaries to make our streets safe and comfortable for everyone.

It’s time for a new approach to transportation that is centered on the values we want to see reflected in our communities. We need to view transportation as the vital means of attaining health, happiness and fulfillment, not as an end in itself.

Since then there has been a ton of positive response. There has also been some skepticism on if this can work and how it will look for places that might not be ready to do things differently. Part of why I joined Toole Design is because I realized it was a place with people who didn’t just wait for others to be ready to do the right thing. We help people get to the ethically right and equitably just place with empathy and patience. We didn’t embark on this journey with the New E’s because we thought it would be easy. We did it because these are the values that ground and lead our work. We did it because it’s what is right. The changes we want to see won’t happen overnight. It’ll take hard work. There will be mistakes. But we won’t stop striving to be better. Unveiling this new campaign wasn’t the end goal. It was just the beginning. I’m excited to see what’s next. But for now, here are a few of my thoughts on equity. More to come. More work to do.

fannie lou.jpg

It’s a common scenario: transportation planners, who are mostly white, male, and able-bodied and have spent relatively little time with people who are different than them, ask themselves how to bring more people of color and more low-income people to the table. They question why more women don’t show up to their meetings. They don’t think about the accessibility of their space or written materials, but wonder: “How do we get more people in this room?”

The reality is that the room these transportation planners and engineers want more people in simply is not the right room.

From redlining to urban renewal to Jim Crow, many communities across North America have been excluded from the decision-making process that shaped their built environment, and that built environment has in turn cut these groups off from access to opportunity. As transportation professionals, we wonder why “the public” doesn’t understand our work or speak our language, when we should be trying to make sure we make our work accessible, relatable, culturally competent, and linguistically appropriate.

Our country was built on a foundation of racism, inequity, and making sure certain groups of people were kept on “the other side of the tracks.” These inequities are alive and well today, and continue to be closely tied to race. So why would we expect people to come to us if we only hold meetings during the daytime, or don’t offer daycare or refreshments, or have the meeting notices and materials available only in English?

We can and should make our meetings better,  but we also need to realize that no matter how many changes we make, the communities we want to reach are already gathering, before we ever show up. Instead of making them come to us, it’s time for us to go to the high school football game, or farmers’ market, or swamp meet, or church picnic. It’s time to for us to figure out how to show up differently, in community spaces, and learn new ways of talking about our work. We have to be willing to go outside our comfort zones to be with the people we say we want to help.

Beyond that, are we willing to acknowledge that we aren’t always the experts? The data we use and our years of training provide us with valuable knowledge. But we also have to realize that our most valuable asset is the ability to listen and appreciate. Listen to the community experts who are on the frontlines of dealing with our decisions each and every single day. Appreciate the expertise that is formed from being in the community and experiencing how our work impacts people. We must realize that not all expertise comes with a degree. Once we are able to listen and appreciate, we can expand our definition of expertise and compensate those who have the most to offer—especially when what is being requested is their time away from family, work, and other responsibilities.

Equity means distributing resources to people in a just and impartial way. It’s not giving everyone the same thing, but rather giving everyone what they need today while considering how existing power structures have governed resource distribution in the past. Not everyone has equitable access to safe, comfortable, affordable, and healthy transportation options, and the burden of isolation, disconnection from economic centers and services, and traffic violence are not shared equally.

The beauty of our profession is that we have the tools to help people connect and move freely. Yet we often fail to acknowledge that this profession—and those same tools—have been used to keep people apart and stifle mobility. To make transportation equitable, we must commit to addressing historical and present-day inequities as we move together towards mobility justice.

That commitment can, and should, start with each of us. How will you address inequities in your work?

Tamika Butler, Esq.

Director of Planning, California | Director of Diversity and Inclusion

See more and read about all of the new E’s on the Toole Design website

Tamika Butler
Downtown Denver Partnership 64th Annual Meeting Keynote Speaker - Tamika Butler

For 64 years, the Downtown Denver Partnership has led the way in building an economically healthy, growing and vibrant center cit, convening partners and civic leaders to drive progress forward. In 2019, we celebrated a year of 'Building Together' and invited Tamika Butler to the stage to share her robust knowledge and expertise on building equitable, inclusive ecosystems that will help us continue to build a city for all.

Check out Downtown Denver Partnership to learn more about their organization.

Tamika Butler
Asking Questions about Equitable Micromobility

It’s crazy to think that on July 7th at 11:30am this year, I was at a kids’ gym with a bunch of children celebrating my son’s first birthday. Three years ago in 2016, at that same moment, I was in downtown Los Angeles at Grand Park with a bunch of elected officials and bike advocates celebrating the kickoff of bike share in Los Angeles.


A lot has changed for me in the last three years. In addition to having a child, I left the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and the transportation world completely to lead a park equity organization. I came back to the transportation world at the beginning of this year, when I joined Toole Design. I’m so happy to be back, but as I’ve gotten my footing in transportation again, I’ve noticed that, while things appear to have progressed, some familiar issues have largely remained the same.

Everyone talked about making micromobility equitable, but what does that really mean?

The truth is, there are new components that look different, but for anyone who values equity in transportation, the same questions and concerns still simmer just beneath the surface. When I left bike advocacy, we were still trying to determine what bike share would and could mean for transportation within a region. We were still trying to figure out if bike share could be an advocacy tool and a key to accessibility to get more people riding and talking about the importance of bike infrastructure.

Thanks to a grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership, LACBC and I had the opportunity to explore these ideas in partnership with People for Mobility Justice and LA Metro to help make bike share more equitable for all to use it. Our goal was to figure out how students, seniors, and low-income people could better access bike share despite barriers like not having a credit card, or not knowing how to use the system.

Talking with our peers across the country, we learned that we all had the same fears and struggles in watching agencies try to make systems equitable by retrofitting them. What we learned and experienced was that bike share didn’t feel like something that was created by or for people of color. Equity was an afterthought, rather than an element built in from conception.

We also talked to people around the country who felt that — just as with other transportation work — bike share seemed to be led by, or heavily impacted by, people in decision-making positions who were predominately white. Our national network of advocates kept hearing community members say that they thought of bike share as city-run systems with clunky pedal bikes, long planning timelines and low funding. People were never sure these bikes would get them where they needed to go and the overall image was that bike share was still largely a young, white people thing. If you weren’t young, fit, white, and able-bodied, it didn’t seem like bike share was a transportation solution for you.

Read the rest on the Better Bike Share Partnership website

Tamika Butler
Parks: I still love you. We all need you.

I am proud and humbled to be honored today by California State Parks Foundation with the Grassroots Champion award at Park Advocacy Day. They asked me to write a blog about why park equity matters to me.

When I was a kid, my local park was my second home. I perfected my jump shot and gooooooooooal celebration there. I tried to look cool waiting for the girl I liked to walk home from school through the park. I tested my gardening skills in our park. I even studied physics and engineering as I built and destroyed a ton of creations in the park. I needed the park. I loved the park. I still love parks.

This fondness for parks is what took me to my job as the Executive Director of the LA Neighborhood Trust (Neighborhood Land Trust).

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust Team

I wanted to fight for low-income kids of color who loved and needed parks just as much as I did when I was a kid. This desire is also what led me to fight for Prop 68 when it was on the California ballot last year.

Read the full blog on Medium

Tamika Butler
You are Perfect

Reading at the 2019 LA Time Festival of Books: The story of how I fell in love years ago at Stanford Law School

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the LA Times Festival of Books. I was part of this amazing program put together by a dear friend, Brittany Ballard. With Hanna Bowens, she has put together this exercise in bravery and openness called Unsent. Like a modern day and even more revealing, Post Secret (I’m dating myself), Unsent is a live show where brave souls get on the mic and share that email, letter, or text message they’ve kept to themselves.

It was thrilling to get the piece off my chest. I followed it up by hoping on a plane and heading to the American Planning Association’s (APA)National Planning Conference in San Francisco.

The conference had a huge emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was even there to moderate an equity focused panel. Yet, I was in many sessions where I saw people of color, and specifically women of color, and specifically black women, get up and talk about the doubt they felt in the space. The space was supposed to be open, welcoming, diverse and inclusive. Instead, they talked about the contradictory feelings they felt in the space. They talked about how no one spoke to them, except other people of color. They talked about how people assumed they were students or nonprofit organizers, not members of APA. They talked about being skipped in line when people just simply went past them to help the white people all around them.

This feeling of being invisible is the exact opposite of what I felt when I was onstage in Los Angeles the day before. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling that many people feel way too often. Being in white centered professions, spaces, and institutions means constantly struggling to be seen. Sometimes it means struggling with self-doubt. Sometimes it means struggling to feel loved or appreciated.

The juxtaposition of these two experiences made me want to share about a time in my life where I saw someone and loved her. The video is linked above. The words are pasted below. This isn’t the final piece as I threw it together in 20 mins before going on stage. I’ll keep work-shopping it, but just in case it helps any of the folks out there struggling to be seen or loved or appreciated, I wanted to share.

Read more and watch the video on Medium

Tamika Butler

Earlier this month, Vox published an article by Sigal Samuel titled, “A new study finds a potential risk with self-driving cars: failure to detect dark skinned pedestrians.”  In January, new research from M.I.T.’s Media Lab found that the facial recognition software Amazon is selling to law enforcement falls short on tests for accuracy, misidentifying the gender of darker-skinned women about 30 percent of the time. And recently, my friend and fellow transportation practitioner Veronica O. Davis reminded me of the study showing how some automatic soap sensors couldn’t recognize darker skin tones.

For me, as someone with dark skin, none of this is new. From automated handwashing to biased facial recognition data, folks of color know all too well that technology is often not built for us.

Many people I respect have been a part of the tech industry and are committing their lives to disrupting and transforming everything from how we communicate to how we get from point A to point B. I think these people are smart. I think they care. I hope they are successful in their endeavors.

But still, something about the tech industry always has me on the lookout for something to go wrong or turn out to not be quite what it first seemed. I do not think everyone in Silicon Valley lives in a bubble with no concept of life outside of their industry—that would be an unfair thing to say. But it’s well-established that the tech industry is primarily white, male, and educated, which leaves me unconvinced that things that come out of the industry can reflect the experiences of those of us who are not. Even as the tech industry calls for more diversity and creates ethics boards, we see similar results.

Read more at Toole Design.

Tamika Butler

I cannot believe I’ve already been at Toole Design for a whole month! During this month people reached out wondering what my new job titles mean, sending congrats, and sharing surprise that I’ve moved from the nonprofit space to a private consulting firm.

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is, “How can you keep passionately caring at a consulting firm?” People are wondering if I’m still going to be outspoken. If I’ll still talk about things like equity and race. I get why people think something might change. Some things will. Like everyone, I’m constantly learning and growing and gaining new skills. I’m a mom now, I’m another year older, and the world around me continues to dynamically change. All of this would be true no matter where I worked.

But as to whether I can continue to care as a consultant–I have to! For me, consulting, like any profession, is made up of people. It’s not enough to throw up our hands and blame a system when fighting things like institutional racism. People make up these systems. And as people, we have a responsibility to take ownership for our actions. When choosing a firm to join as a consultant, I landed in a place made up of people who care. I’m not under any illusions– this is an imperfect business. But, how you do business matters.

Read more at Toole Design.

Tamika Butler

By June, I was completely exhausted, but also completely in love with my job. The month gave me a chance to connect and spend time with so many of our members and people in our larger bicycle community. It was also an important reminder of how much promise our movement has — and how much we are still falling short. To truly make transformational change for all people who bike, we have to go beyond a month. We also have to get beyond the narrative that the only people who bike, and are therefore worthy of our advocacy and celebration, are those who (too often self-righteously) make a lifestyle decision to do so. We have to get past a narrative that centers cisgender white maleness. We have to get past a narrative of exclusion. Once as a bicycle community we are able to get past these things, we will finally be to the heart of celebrating what Bike Month should truly be about. That’s what celebrating every single day on a bike should be about.

Read More on Medium

Tamika Butler
What’s Next?

With a special election coming up in my community on Tuesday and another death of a black man close to home in Sacramento, I’m thinking back to how I was feeling after the presidential election and still wondering…what’s next?

Read more on Medium. 

Tamika Butler
Why Does Black Scare You?

Cell phones. Skittles. Books. Hoodies. Wallets. Bike riding. Walking. Entering our home. Checking our mail. Being in our yard. Hanging with friends. Breathing. Doing nothing at all. You keeping track? When black is feared it’s hard for me to exist. #BlackLivesMatter

The death of Stephon Clark is just another reminder that black lives are not valued. This is something that weighs heavy on my mind each and every day. White kids are worried about getting shot at school and as black people, we’re worried about getting shot everywhere we are — even at home. As reports come out about cops fearing for their lives, but Clark being shot in the back, with nothing more than a cell phone, while standing in his own back yard, I’m reminded of something I wrote 2 years ago. Unfortunately, I feel it just as strongly today.

Read on at Medium. 

Safe Roads for All?

Vision Zero was invented in a European country far more homogeneous than the United States. When bringing this concept to the U.S., it is important to acknowledge, examine, and understand how the history of this country — marked with the scars of killing off the native peoples of this land, enslaving the native peoples of another, and the ongoing oppression of people of color — will influence our ability to save lives. Vision Zero cannot succeed in a vacuum devoid of context.


Read my full post on Medium.