Community Voices: A Metro Field Trip Opened Our Eyes to How Women Guide Public Transportation

By Franklin High School students Yuki McKenzie and India Unwin

For our recent field trip to Bellevue as part of the Women’s Transportation Seminar Transportation YOU program , we were told that we would be taking a bus, so we expected a regular yellow bus rental. What we got instead was a chartered King County Metro bus with “SPECIAL” on the LED display! On our way across the lake, we happened to pass by some new Sound Transit Light Rail construction.

The beginning of our day was spent in an office building in downtown Bellevue, where we met several women who worked in a variety of  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and transportation careers, a public outreach coordinator, a few civil engineers, and more. Several of them were women of color, which was especially nice to see for us as two young Asian women.

Franklin Students
Franklin High students (Quakers) on the field trip.

A few engineers who we met work on the I-405 corridor, and they were able to show us examples of their projects. One woman let us see a fascinating computer-generated video of a new three-level interchange that was designed to ease traffic and move people through efficiently. That video was one of our favorite parts of the trip. Another thing the engineers explained was how much work goes into making design elements like light posts and fencing consistent across miles of roadway.

From there, we walked to Bellevue City Hall, where we met with a traffic manager named Darcy. She showed us the software that she uses to access all of the city’s traffic cameras to watch the lights at particular intersections. Her workspace was filled with screens mapping various traffic concerns in real time, which was fascinating to watch. She also told us she has the ability to press crosswalk buttons remotely and explained how sensors under the asphalt work like metal detectors. In Bellevue, they’ve even painted little bike symbols where cyclists can stop on the sensors for maximum sensitivity! Later, as we crossed through the intersection she was watching, we waved at the camera.

Meeting the people who worked at the East Base facility gave us insight into the variety of jobs in the transportation field as well as how employees can advance their careers within King County Metro. We had opportunities to talk with operators and bus mechanics to learn what their day-to-days were like. Several of the bus drivers who we met were relatively new to the job, and we found their perspective intriguing. Talking to them, it was easy to see how high school students like us could develop very rewarding jobs in transportation. They offered us insight into a range of stages in drivers’ careers and were successful female role models who we could relate to. It was interesting to talk to women who worked at various levels throughout the agency, many of who had begun as part-time operators. It gives us something to think about every time we board a bus or see a training coach around town.

Touring the maintenance garage was less about our prospects as potential Metro employees and more about cool mechanical stuff. This was a compelling view into how the Metro bus system operates behind the scenes and the jobs that people do there. We were able to see how people service, clean, and circulate buses between bases.

The variety of careers that we got to see throughout the trip not only taught us worlds more about how transit systems are built and operated but also made us think about how we would fit into the system. And the Light Rail construction that we passed in the “special” bus on the way to Bellevue?  By the end of the trip, we had lots more insight into what that construction will become.

India Unwin is a junior at Franklin High School and enjoys using public transportation.

Yuki McKenzie is a junior at Franklin who uses public transportation every day.