Minnesota Connection: Mass Transit Magazine’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40 List

Mass Transit magazine recently recognized 40 individuals under the age of 40 for “their contributions and who have shown a capacity for innovation, demonstrated leadership and a commitment to making an impact in transit.” Minnesota has a strong showing on this list:

  • Lyssa Leitner, AICP is a Gold Line BRT Project Manager for Washington County.
  • Chang Yang is a Assistant Transportation Manager for Metro Transit.
  • Avital Barnea, a policy analyst with the United States Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary began her career in the transit control center for Metro Transit.
  • Benjamin Owen, a Community Planner for the Federal Transit Administration is from Minnesota and is a team lead for Twin Cities area projects.

Congratulations Lyssa, Chang, Avital, and Benjamin!

A Personal Connection

I may have missed the chance to recognize these transportation stars if it hadn’t been for my personal connection to one of the recipients. While working as a career counselor at Grinnell College, I reviewed Benjamin Owen’s resume. I remember talking about his internship in Germany where his interest in mass transit was sparked. Perhaps we both made an impression on each other as I have a sincere interest in transportation and land use issues and in his video he talks about the importance networking made on his career.

Because Benjamin is a friend of my sister’s, I was able to contact him to congratulate him on this recent honor and also to ask him about his thoughts on transit related projects and trends in Minnesota. This is what he had to say:

It seems to me that transit in the Twin Cities has a constituency now that it didn’t really have 15 years ago or that wasn’t as apparent anyway, that a lot of people now realize transit is important for the region in different ways — for quality of life, (re)shaping communities, the environment, regional competitiveness, et al. — even if politics, especially at the state level, have been a challenge at times. A couple of years ago as part of a visit for work I spent much of a week just touring proposed transit corridors, ranging from fairly far along in their planning to pretty conceptual. I wouldn’t have thought even ten years ago that there would be so much activity. Goes without saying that the fairly new regional sales tax for transit administered by CTIB helps immensely with that. Also, as someone who first experienced transit riding the bus in St. Paul as a kid (and has fond memories of it), I’ve been glad to see that the bus system hasn’t been cut back as new rail lines have opened, and that routes have been restructured to make the overall system more useful and effective.
I really enjoy biking in the cities (Minneapolis in particular) when visiting in the summer. The trail system is pretty extensive as far as US cities I’ve visited are concerned, there are a lot of on-street facilities nowadays, and I always see a lot of other people biking and enjoying it.

2017 Nominations

It’d be great to see another group of Minnesotans recognized next year. Visit Mass Transit magazine’s nomination form for for more information.

Janelle Nivens

About Janelle Nivens

Janelle is an urban explorer who likes to challenge herself to walk long distances (40 miles is her record). She lives in southwest Minneapolis with Scott and their adorable dog Stewie and works at the University of Minnesota. Janelle documents what catches her eye on long walks in hopes of inspiring others to discover hidden gems in their own communities. Walk with her on Instagram, Twitter (@Janellie23), and FitBit.