Nadine Lee came into her position with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation two years ago after learning about its mission.
The office is tasked with developing a vision for the future of mobility in Los Angeles. The word “extraordinary” denotes the office’s mission to do things differently and to change the way people in Los Angeles County think about mobility and public transportation.
“Sometimes I joke, if you don’t understand why “extraordinary” is there, you might be missing the point,” says Lee.
In 2015, Lee was working for Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) and participating in a leadership program with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). For her program, Lee was asked to interview Phillip A. Washington, the former CEO of RTD and current Metro CEO. At the time, Washington had just announced the creation of the Office of Extraordinary Innovation.
“After interviewing Phil and learning more about what he was doing, I said, who am I kidding, that is exactly the job I want,” says Lee. “I ended up writing to him personally — that was the first time I had done something like that in my career.”
ROLE FOCUS. Lee was eventually hired as the deputy chief innovation officer. The position was in complete alignment with everything that she had touched in her career prior. She is a passionate public transit advocate and has been a part of several large-scale, innovative transit endeavors.
A trained civil engineer, Lee was a project manager within RTD’s FasTracks program. Worth $6.9 billion, it became one of the largest voter-approved transit expansion programs in the country.
This eventually morphed into the Colorado Department of Transportation-led U.S. 36 project, to which Lee was a contributor. U.S. 36 brought 18 miles of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service between Downtown Denver and Boulder, Colo. The Flatiron Flyer is now the official name for the new and improved BRT service.
“Within the first few months, the ridership skyrocketed by 40 percent,” says Lee. “The reason it was so successful is because we reconfigured the routing of the bus system. We didn’t add stations or parking, but we priority-managed lanes on the highway with high-frequency services going in both directions throughout the entire day.”
FRESH CHALLENGES. Currently, Lee and her staff of 13 employees are in charge of strategically laying out the road map for mobility improvements in Los Angeles County over the next 10 years. The office also oversees Metro’s Private-Public Partnership program. The program allows the agency to receive outside ideas for improvement plans to its infrastructure and services through its unsolicited proposal policy and review process. Metro hopes to engage the private sector in order to find ways to deliver products faster and cheaper through partnerships.
“I have learned over the course of my career that you have to focus on the bigger goal, which is improvement of quality of life with transportation,” says Lee. “We want to work together to figure out how, in a city with some of the worst traffic congestion, we can improve people’s opportunities with efficient and improved travel so that riders have more time to spend enriching their lives.”
INVOLVEMENT. In addition to her full-time work, Lee is also active in both WTS and APTA. She was WTS’ Colorado chapter president from 2005 to 2006 and served on the international board from 2010 to 2014. Lee says her involvement has served her well over the past 25 years and inspires her to provide support to other industry employees as a mentor.
A big believer in trying new things, Lee also took up ballet five years ago. She takes lessons three times per week and had her first performance in May. “You can start anything as an adult, as long as you’re really committed to it,” says Lee.