Employee-Owner Spotlight: KC Atkins Highly Regarded for Her Multimodal Expertise, Passion for Complete Streets Design

August 17, 2021

This spring, Senior Professional Engineer* and Project Manager KC Atkins joined SEH – bringing with her 14 years of invaluable leadership experience in urban and multimodal transportation engineering, planning and design, and a passion for “making streets work for everyone.”

*Registered Professional Engineer in IA, KS, MN, MO, ND, OH, SD, TX, WI.

KC is highly skilled in preliminary and final multimodal street, highway, trail and roundabout design, along with traffic engineering and safety analysis. Showcased through her character and the projects she’s led throughout her career, KC cares deeply about providing sustainable infrastructure and inclusive transportation options for communities of all sizes.

Her most recent experience includes leading multimodal design trainings, including the Federal Highway Administration’s Bikeway Selection Guide; contributing to Minnesota’s Best Practices for Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety; as well as designing and implementing the University of Minnesota Protected Bikeways in Minneapolis and Capital City Bikeway in Saint Paul.

We’re thrilled to have KC join our team at SEH. Beyond being a great person and teammate, KC brings unique urban and multimodal design experience and industry leading expertise to the SEH civil engineering team. Her presence enhances our ability to serve our clients, specifically in urban environments.
Toby Muse, Civil Engineering Twin Cities Metro Regional Practice Center Leader

We recently sat down with KC to learn about the transportation challenges and solutions facing project owners today, what excites her most about the work she does, why she joined SEH now and the goals she has for her team, and much more. Get to know KC below!

Why join SEH? What led you here?

One thing that really stood out to me about SEH is our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). As a 100% employee-owned company, I understand completely where the company stands, what our goals are and where we're headed. We’re all rewarded when the company does well.

I also appreciate SEH’s commitment to urban corridor design. Growing this realm of engineering, designing and planning has been part of the company’s goals for years, and I really wanted to be part of that – to help lead it. I felt like now was a great time to dive in and help accomplish these goals.

Lastly, SEH’s commitment to work-life balance has been incredible. As a mom of two young kids but also dedicated to my career, with SEH I’m able to prioritize both. I can work from home, focus on my family, and reach across our regions all at the same time.

What excites you most about the field of transportation and the work you do?

Without question, it’s the people. The type of work I do is about people. It's not just about someone driving in a car but, rather, how to re-balance the streets within our communities so that they work for everyone. In an urban environment, for example, there are so many competing interests for space within an existing right-of-way. So, how can we balance that – not only for vehicles on the road but for the people who are walking, rolling, biking and relying on public transit? How can we make these spaces comfortable, safe and the best experience for everyone?

In transportation at SEH, we get to answer these questions every day.

There's only so much space within our communities today. We can't keep taking buildings down or building higher. We need to look at the space we have, figure out how to make the best use of it, and also recognize that not everyone has access to a motor vehicle. There are always tools in our toolbox to create options for all types of people and the ways they choose or need to travel.  

I have a conventional highway background as well as a safety engineering background, combined with my more recent experience in urban and multimodal planning and design. As leaders in this industry, we must apply all our knowledge to uncover best practices. Every community is different; what works for one community doesn’t always work for another. I enjoy finding the best-fit solution for each community’s needs, not only for today but for what will best serve them 40-50 years into the future.

Related Content: How to Address 8 Common Challenges of Complete Streets Design

What challenges in the near and long term should project owners stay focused on? How can they begin to tackle and overcome these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry today is overcoming the perspective that everything should be designed solely with motorists in mind.

As different kinds of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure becomes more prominent – such as protected bikeways or separated bike lanes, or even just wider sidewalks and green stormwater infrastructure – best practices and trends are going to continue to be learned and developed. As an industry, we should be open to experimenting with different design treatments, able to monitor their impacts and adjust when necessary. Whether community leaders or the engineering consultant, we need to keep our eyes on these trends because our communities need them as we all work toward more inclusive and all-encompassing streets, sidewalks and trails.

There’s fear with urban corridor design that the pedestrian will be forgotten, or vice versa that the driver will be forgotten, if one is prioritized during a given project. This is absolutely a valid concern. But more complete streets ultimately benefit everyone: local businesses and property owners, families, drivers, non-motorized users and the community as a whole.

What will it take for our communities to have truly inclusive, safe and accessible complete streets in the years ahead?

It’s important for communities to have one or multiple champions, and to view complete streets as the investment they are. Further, to be inclusive, safe and accessible, be mindful of how peoples’ needs change as they age.

Many seniors desire a more walkable community. They want to be able to walk to the pharmacy or the grocery store and not have to rely on a motor vehicle. It’s often the same for teenagers, who are in many instances putting off getting a driver’s license because it’s cheaper and easier to walk, bike, skate or roll.

The same can be said for transit. We need to understand all ages and demographics and recognize their different needs. Having a champion who is motivated to uncover and share the research, trends and best practices is really helpful to gaining buy-in from those still unsure. It is possible to find a solution that works for everyone!

Ultimately, we're not just planning and designing for today. We're planning for 40-50 years from now. Think about how much has changed just over the past 10 years. Scooters just recently came online, and they’ve opened a whole new world of people being able to safely travel through an entire community without worrying about parking or accidents or the cost of gas. Forty years from today, automated vehicles may be the norm and so much more.

So, as communities plan for today and the future, it’s important to have champions who can help all stakeholders understand that it’s possible to meet the needs of today while carefully considering what tomorrow may bring.

Related Content: 8 Reasons Your Community Should Invest in Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure

What’s the most important component in a successful consultant-client relationship? 

Transparency. I always appreciate clients who are real and open with me, whether about victories or challenges. Share what you’re really, truly dealing with.

The same applies to consultants. It’s on us to be genuine, transparent and proactive with the communities we’re working with. We need to be a safe space where clients feel comfortable and confident, and we also need to be capable of leading discussions that help reveal these critical pieces of information.

Transparency, communication, nurturing the relationships we’re building – these are all so important to successful consultant-client relationships.

What motivates you outside of work? How do you spend your free time?

I enjoy spending quality time with family and friends, whether chatting over coffee or meeting up with friends at a park and watching our kids play. I have a young family, and it's so exciting to see young children experience the world – like a butterfly flying by or an airplane passing overhead. This takes me back to my childhood when everything was new, and everything felt possible.

I really enjoy biking with my family. We ride along lakes, stop for ice cream and explore local trails. I love running, biking and working out. Lastly, my family recently took up geocaching, which is a treasure hunting game where you use GPS to hide and seek containers (called “geocaches”) with participants from across the world. My 4-year-old loves searching for “buried treasure” and leaving new treasure for the next geocacher to find.

I’m also hoping to start an SEH kickball team!

Connect with KC on LinkedIn to learn more about her career, professional passions and experience. Interested in having a conversation about transportation within your community? You can reach her directly at katkins@sehinc.com.

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