This is Me

Bike parking, what?

I always thought I was a better bike mechanic than transportation planner. Maybe I can do both. Well. Below is a cover letter from a recent job application. Above is a self-portrait of sorts; you’re not looking at me, but looking through my eyes at what titillates me. Exhibit A: the bike rack outside a MnDOT district office in February. At least make the token effort to clear the snow? The bus stop wasn’t much better. But, hey, the parking lot was spotless!

xxxx W——— Street
Saint Peter, MN 56082

May 23, 2023

Minnesota Department of Transportation
Active Transportation Division
395 John Ireland Boulevard
Saint Paul, MN 55155

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for the opportunity to apply for the position of Active Transportation Planner with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. I am applying for this position because I believe that I have the lived experience, professional knowledge, and vision to be successful in the position, while advancing Minnesota’s progress towards transportation that is safe, affordable, sustainable and equitable.

At present moment I am a bike shop owner and mechanic based in Saint Peter, Minnesota. Our family chose this city and our neighborhood because they allow us to reach most destinations without resorting to driving. Our children will grow up knowing their neighbors and be able to travel independently, because mom and dad won’t have to worry about missing infrastructure, dangerous roads, and ambient noise and air pollution. Ours is a life of privilege and that is unfortunate because all Minnesotans deserve the choice we had. I would go so far as to say such a choice is a human right.

My career in the active transportation field began in 2003, at the National Center for Bicycling & Walking, in the District of Columbia. Even with a Masters Degree in Public Administration, I started (figuratively speaking) on the ground floor, opening the mail. Within two years I was a lead facilitator for their Walkable Community Workshop program, which provided technical assistance to local governments and metropolitan planning organizations. In that position I saw nearly every corner of the country and I studied under the pioneers of the active transportation field. Two years later I was doing it again, this time under the newly funded federal Safe Routes to School program.

That early Safe Routes to School work was a formative experience because I had a boss who understood that federal money would flow to the communities ready to accept it. This often meant that places with the greatest need were passed over because they couldn’t raise the local match, or didn’t have a planner, or didn’t have a grant writer, or didn’t have… fill-in-the-blank. So with the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we designed a program to provide technical assistance to urban schools where walking wasn’t a choice and nearly 100 percent of students were on free/reduced lunch. In Brooklyn, Atlanta, Hartford, Camden, and other places, our walking audits and community workshops/listening sessions undoubtedly helped federal funding flow to places of great need, but more importantly our presence was the bridge between the community and the people who could help them. Elected officials, city staff, DOT staff, business owners, churches and other stakeholders fixed broken street lights, painted crosswalks, changed delivery schedules, and so on, all to help children get to school safely. Those problems were solved quickly and often cheaply; they couldn’t wait for whatever schedule the STIP dictated.

Throughout my career as a planner it has been my good fortune to always work for wise and fair people. They were good bosses who by example showed me when to be tough, when to meet people where they are at, and how to know the difference. That guidance and the work ethic I developed in the preceding years, allowed me to be successful when my office transitioned to remote work in 2009. From then until 2019, when I left the planning profession, I was the sole District of Columbia employee for the National Center for Bicycling & Walking. Working without someone in the next cubicle or office was an adjustment, but because I had built a network of trusted friends and subject matter experts, I was able to maintain a reality check to guide me in my next and biggest project: conference director of Walk/Bike/Place.

Walk/Bike/Place was a biennial active transportation conference of 600 people that fell into my lap when my organization merged with Project for Public Spaces. I ran it, I grew it, I earned a surplus for my organization, I helped set the agenda for the active transportation field, and I showed that an event could be profitable and not extractive of the host city. Our event got projects built and we sought out small, disadvantaged businesses for our contracts. Doing the right thing was rarely the easy thing, so many of those victories have stories and lessons learned. Along the way I formalized my planning credentials by sitting for the AICP exam. I maintained my certification from 2012-2019.

All of that is preamble to what I am now: dad to 2.5 year old twins, small business owner, and transportation planning whisperer to local staff and elected officials. It is in that last role that I have gained the experience which will be most crucial to my success at MnDOT. Answering my question of why our Main Street, which is a trunk highway, isn’t being designed, operated and maintained as a Complete Street, led me to appreciate the myriad ways that Department policies on Complete Streets, Towards Zero Deaths, and emissions targets are being interpreted and achieved/subverted/ignored at the district level. So after discussing my findings with my local elected officials, and my friends in public health and active transportation advocacy, we opted for the strategy of soft advocacy in the form of a regional active transportation summit. This fall we will convene a 1.5 day event that will highlight the reasons for investing in active transportation, bring the latest best practices in Safe Routes to School, Tactical Urbanism, Advocacy, Complete Streets, and other topics to local stakeholders, and tour some great streets and neighborhoods in Mankato. The summit will be held September 29-30, 2023.

Whether or not I am offered this position, I appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself and I look forward to working with your division and agency to improve mobility for all Minnesotans. Thank you for your consideration!


Mark Plotz (he/him)
p.s. It is likely now appropriate to attest that these words were composed by a human, and not a form of artificial intelligence.