Active Alum: Cortney Geary
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“Every person and every place has a history that we can only begin to imagine, so we should reserve judgement and be kind and compassionate to everyone we encounter.”  --Cortney Geary

A native Texan, Cortney Geary was born in Houston and raised in Harlingen, in the Rio Grande Valley. Cortney first moved to Chattanooga to join the Chattanooga Ballet after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ballet from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Cortney performed, taught, and choreographed with the Chattanooga Ballet from 2007 to 2010, dancing on stages as diverse as the Tivoli Theatre to the Tennessee State Legislative Plaza. 

Becoming involved with the bicycling community in Chattanooga inspired Cortney to transition into a second career in transportation planning. Thanks to the mentorship of Phil Pugliese, Cortney gained exposure to the field by interning under Melissa Taylor at the Regional Planning Agency and helping to organize mobile workshops for the Pro Walk Pro Bike Conference, which was held in Chattanooga in 2010. While pursuing a Master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Cortney received numerous honors including Eno Fellow, Outstanding Planning Student from the American Institute of Certified Planners, Student of the Year from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, and the Women’s Transportation Seminar International Strategic Partner Scholarship.

While in graduate school, Cortney interned with the Dutch transportation consulting firm Goudappel Coffeng, where she adapted Dutch techniques for establishing well-balanced, multimodal transportation systems to the US context. Cortney has since applied these techniques to projects in US cities through ThinkBike workshops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Chattanooga, and Washington, DC.

After completing her Master’s degree in 2012, Cortney returned to Chattanooga and worked part time for Crabtree Farms’ local food programs and part time for the Regional Planning Agency’s (RPA) GreenTrips program, which rewards Chattanooga area residents for choosing alternatives to driving alone. In 2013 she accepted a full-time planner position with the RPA and quickly worked up the ranks to become the Senior Multimodal Transportation Planner.

Cortney serves the community not only professionally, but also as a volunteer. She served two years on the Board of Directors for the Main Street Farmers Market. Cortney currently serves on the steering committee of the Southeast Conservation Corps (SCC) and as a volunteer mentor for SCC’s Trips for Kids program, which engages youth in mountain biking and conservation service work. Seeing the pride in the students’ faces when they earn their own mountain bikes after completing the program brings Cortney great joy. In her free time, Cortney immerses herself in the natural beauty of the Chattanooga area – rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running, swimming, and canoeing.

Here’s more from our Q&A with Cortney …

Q: Which ACSP member school did you attend?
A: University of Oregon

Q: What specialty did you study?
A: Sustainable Land Use and the Built Environment

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: I entered graduate school with the goal of learning how to make it easy and attractive for people to bike for transportation in Chattanooga. My goal aligned best with the area of Sustainable Land Use and Built Environment. Through the course work and an internship in the Netherlands, my singular focus on cycling expanded, and I came to understand the need for a well-balanced, multimodal transportation system and the crucial role of integrating land use and transportation planning.

Q: Where do you currently work?
A: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency

Q: What are your job responsibilities?
A: My primary responsibilities involve pedestrian, bicycle, and transit planning for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), which includes:
- updating the pedestrian and bicycle elements of the regional transportation plan;
- supporting local jurisdictions with multimodal grant and training opportunities;
- updating the Coordinated Public Transit-Human Services Transportation Plan;
- leading the Federal Transit Administration Section 5310 project selection process for projects enhancing the mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities in the TPO area; and
- staffing advisory committees focused on multimodal and human services transportation.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: My favorite project was updating the bicycle and pedestrian elements of the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan. We updated GIS inventories of existing and proposed facilities, cleaned and geolocated crash data involving bicyclists and pedestrians, identified transportation disadvantaged areas, identified health-related destinations, identified corridors with high potential for mode shift to cycling based on the number of short car trips, and incorporated a level of traffic stress analysis into our bike network gap analysis. All of this information helped us to identify new bicycle and pedestrian projects for the regional transportation plan and better evaluate projects proposed by local jurisdictions. I'm hopeful that the data will help the local jurisdictions that are responsible for implementing the projects communicate the need for and benefits of the projects with the community and elected officials.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: Project management is one of my strengths and a skill that I was able to develop through University of Oregon's Community Planning Workshop. In my current position I primarily manage projects independently with guidance from our department's Principal Planner and Director and support from our Planner. I hope to have more opportunities to manage teams of planners on projects in the future.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: Planning school introduced me to new tools for structuring and organizing my work that I still use on a daily basis. I remember scoffing at the idea of setting agendas and taking minutes for project team meetings in graduate school, but I soon learned that without them we'd go off on wild tangents and not remember what we decided if we did happen to accomplish anything. I still use gantt charts to set deadlines and track milestones on complex projects and with all of the federal requirements we have to follow as staff for a metropolitan planning organization, the lessons instilled in me about documenting every aspect of the planning process serve me well.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: In 2nd grade I wanted to be a lawyer. By the time I reached high school I decided I wanted to be a ballet teacher. My first job out of undergraduate school at the University of Utah was dancing, teaching, and choreographing for the Chattanooga Ballet.

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I have lived in Harlingen and Houston, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Salt Lake City, UT; Eugene, OR; and Chattanooga, TN. I could see myself moving back to Salt Lake City or Eugene, but I'm really enjoying life in Chattanooga. I especially love the easy access to outdoor activities. My favorites are trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, and swimming.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I'd love to go to New Zealand for the beautiful landscapes and delicious seafood.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: This Side of Darkness - I was reminded that every person and every place has a history that we can only begin to imagine, so we should reserve judgement and be kind and compassionate to everyone we encounter.

Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: Blue - I would invite cyclists to opt into being tracked while riding and show their paths in bright blue across a black and white map at public meetings. I often hear people complaining that no one uses new bike infrastructure in Chattanooga. I think such a demonstration could help dispel that myth.

Click here to read more about planning careers in the ACSP Planner Profiles

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