When Kati Tamashiro moved to Canada ten years ago, she had formed a plan. With a strong affinity for mathematics and applied sciences, she would study engineering – a logical choice, but also one based on a sense of defiance. “I was told it is a very male-dominated field, and it would not be the best place for me. That just made me think it would be a great challenge,” suggests Tamashiro.
Her determination took her to the University of British Columbia, where she studied Civil and Transportation Engineering. During her first internship in the private sector, working for a transportation engineering firm, Tamashiro realized she had a passion for transportation planning. Until then, she hadn’t really decided how she would focus her career, but seeing how designing for the way people move through a city impacts the built environment, she fell in love with it.
“Transportation has that public touch that I really enjoy. There are a lot of dynamic projects and relationships that can be built in the transportation field, as opposed to other areas of engineering,” she explains.
After graduating, Tamashiro spent several years working in the private sector as a Transportation Engineer, having the opportunity to connect with many planners in transportation and land use at the City of Vancouver. The relationships she built became integral when an opportunity arose to move to the public sector and join the engineering team at the City, where she has happy worked for the last two years.
"Getting Them to the 'Ah-Hah' Moment."
In her most recent role at the City, Tamashiro has made the switch from Transportation Engineering and Design to Planning, namely as the lead on the Active Transportation team. She believes this plays to her strengths and passions, namely getting to interact directly with the general public to address concerns and educate citizens about the benefits of building complete streets.
“Through the process of meeting with the community, what excites me is working through the challenges, talking to residents and educating them about the positive changes, and getting them to the ‘ah-hah’ moment.”
Getting to that moment of revelation is something Tamashiro can appreciate, having experienced it herself when she moved to Canada from Peru, where life was very different from how she lives today.
Tamashiro grew up in a heavily car-dependent city, and one where walking on your own as a young woman was very dangerous. So when she came to Vancouver, accepting a new way of getting around was a difficult transition.
"I Come from a Place of Appreciation and Not Judgment."
“At the time, comfort to me was being able to drive my own car,” admits Tamashiro. Having to take public transit everywhere, she began to realize that getting around by bus was changing her way of thinking. “On the bus, I can relax more, listen to music, read, and even socialize, and it was more convenient.”
In truth, growing up with different transportation choices than what is available in Vancouver made her appreciate the variety. “Today, my independence means having the ability to pick a travel mode that works for me, to have all the choices available. That to me is really all about freedom.”
Having had to learn to adapt herself, when Tamashiro meets with residents about upcoming projects, she can relate to the resistance to change many experience, and it helps her better inform and educate. “I come from a place of appreciation and not judgment,” she emphasizes.
This mindset has certainly been helpful during her work on the Cambie Corridor project, one she has been heavily involved with since its inception. Currently in the third phase, Tamashiro has been actively working on the walking and cycling planning, the end goal being a complete street. Thanks to the Canada Line, many people in the area have adapted their travel habits in the last seven years, and are therefore positively engaged in the process and more receptive to change.
"We Have Sidewalks and Roads Everywhere. Why Not Bike Lanes?"
However, she admits bike lanes are always a challenge. “There is always a need for more information and education, with the main struggle centred around loss of space and parking,” Tamashiro points out. “It is about providing for all modes. We have sidewalks and roads everywhere. Why not bike lanes?”
But she remains hopeful and enthusiastic. “I feel like I’m working towards a greater goal and objectives that will improve the community.”
Tamashiro looks forward to a point when conversations don’t focus on opposing one particular mode of transportation, but rather on trying to achieve a balance for all modes. Where residents are demanding complete streets, and where city building is proactive in a way that is flexible enough to adapt to the changes if the future.
Although still relatively fresh-faced at the city, Tamashiro feels her excitement and passion for transportation planning won’t fade over time. “It really is the pulse of the city, and what neighbourhoods are built around or complemented with.”