Paving the way

Alicia Becker 225x150
Alicia Becker finds innovative ways to improve Flagstaff’s bus system.

Do you ever consider the level of complexity that goes into planning the route your bus takes while transporting you to class in the morning or taking you home from work at night? Alicia Becker does. In fact, it’s her job to design more efficient routes for public transit, and address any weather, traffic, and train roadblocks that arise.

Becker, who graduated in December 2012 with a degree in public planning, originally focused her studies on engineering. It wasn’t until she enrolled in an Introduction to Planning course that she uncovered her passion to work in city management and planning.

The road less travelled

As a public planning major, Becker worked on a variety of projects that served to further her education while helping improve the local community. But her senior-year internship with the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) gave her the best chance to choose her career path within the public planning field.

“With public planning, there are so many different areas,” Becker says. “I knew I was interested in transportation, so my professor connected me with the planning manager at NAIPTA. That’s when I knew transportation was the road I wanted to go down.” 

During her nearly yearlong internship, which was sponsored through the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit and Parks Program Grant, Becker worked to create a more rider-friendly bus system for Flagstaff. The challenges it posed helped her find innovative ways to optimize Flagstaff transportation while honing her skills for her future career.

“We took into account population density, where the commercial activity centers are, and how the system interacts with Northern Arizona University.” Becker says. “It was all about creating routes for the near future as well as the long term. We even worked with the Forest Service to plan an alternative transit system.”

Her hard work as an intern paid off; Becker was eventually promoted to associate planner, which gave her more responsibility and more interaction with primary stakeholders from the region, including the university. She says analyzing the comments that NAIPTA received through its public outreach efforts enabled her to gain a broader perspective of the Flagstaff community’s mindset toward transportation.

In her new role, Becker conducted research on how to improve Route 10, which runs through Northern Arizona University and surrounding areas. It was Becker’s responsibility to analyze data and find more efficient ways to accommodate Route 10’s largest group of passengers, which include students, faculty, and staff.

“There were a whole bunch of problems with that route because half the time, you couldn’t fit all the riders on the bus at the stops,” Becker says. “The trains really slow it down too.  So I had to figure out a way to adjust the schedule when buses left certain points to make the route more productive.”

The right connections

For her work both in and out of the classroom, Becker recently received the Public Planning Student Excellence Award from the Department of Geography, Planning, and Recreation (GPR). Though she admits working with full-time faculty helped expand her knowledge, Becker also believes that learning from adjunct professors, some of whom serve in roles with NAIPTA, provided a different type of educational experience that was just as valuable to her.

Says Becker, “There was a lot of interaction with the adjunct professors, and hearing about their experiences provided something you can’t learn in a textbook. I got to hear a lot of real-life stories about what they were working on.” 

Becker is now set to work with Valley Metro in Phoenix, a “dream” position where she can apply her education and professional experience. Becker believes her experiences both in and out of the classroom have prepared her for the next stage of her life and taught her the importance of making the right connections. 

“Northern Arizona University has really helped me find out what I want to do and how to get there,” Becker says. “I was introduced to a lot of people, and realized how vital it was to make connections with professionals. The university is very well connected in that way.”