What would Genest Landry be doing if she weren’t a multimodal transportation engineer? She has many answers to that question, ranging from financial advisor to remodeling expert to French scholar.
With such a wide range of interests, it took a few key moments in Genest’s life to set her on her current path. We are so glad that path has led to her new role as Toole Design’s Austin Office Director. Learn more about Genest’s journey and her vision for the Austin office.
How did you decide to become an engineer?
As a kid, I was always really good in math. My mother worked in an administrative role at an engineering company, and she pushed me to consider engineering. In college, I enjoyed my statics and dynamics classes and learning about forces, moments, and all those foundational concepts for structural engineering. I graduated and worked for a long time as a structural engineer designing bridges.
Bridge design takes a certain type of mindset and deep attention to detail. I found that I was capable of that detailed work, but I got more enjoyment from big-picture thinking. So I joined the City of Austin, where I worked as a project management supervisor, overseeing a team of eight project managers. I still got to use the detail-oriented part of my brain, but I got to see projects through from inception through construction, which was really satisfying.
What sparked your interest in active and multimodal transportation?
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around Latin America, and I observed things that made me think, “If they can do it there, why can’t we do it here?” I happened to be in Bogotá during La Cyclovía, when they make streets car-free, and people spend the day walking, jogging, bicycling, and skating around. I also visited Medellin, where they invested in a cable rail system through mountains to serve the poorest parts of town. They spent enormous sums of money on people who needed it most, which I found really inspiring.
In my personal life, I strive to make sustainable choices. As a family, we travel in ways that make sense for the world — which is not necessarily the same as convenient. I wanted to work on projects that aligned with my worldview. While at the City of Austin, I got to work quite a bit with the urban trails program, which is how I got involved with active and multimodal transportation design. And that’s how I got to know Toole Design, since the firm has dedicated team members serving as augmented staff for the City.
What’s your favorite way to get around?
On foot. My happy place is on a trail with a backpack for multiple days at a time. My family lives on a green belt, so we are lucky to have access to trails right in our backyard. We have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and we try to take them camping at least once a month.
What excites you about working at Toole Design in Austin?
It’s exciting to be starting a new office, paving our own path. Toole Design has had a strong presence in Austin for a long time, with Sean Corcoran and the rest of the staff augmentation team doing wonderful work. They have helped (and will continue to help) the City accomplish so much, with Safe Routes to School, ATX Walk Bike Roll, protected intersections, and more. Now I and our additional Austin staff, including Nan Jiang and Kamryn Long, have the opportunity to build on that work and grow into some new areas.
Texas is a big state full of small towns where a highway was either built right through the middle or it bypassed the town and people stopped coming. I’m excited to help make smaller towns and cities in Texas more pedestrian friendly and improve the quality of life for people living there and for people visiting. The Hill Country is full of tourist enclaves, and tourists are walking around places where there’s not really infrastructure for them. I see so much potential for the tourist industry to grow if the infrastructure is there.
What has been your favorite part of the job so far?
I’m enjoying learning the history of Toole Design’s work in Texas. Even without a local office before now, we have done a lot of work in this state. I’ve gotten to talk with interesting people and learn about some great projects. Toole Design has made a huge impact in small towns, such as Sulphur Springs and Denison, where we redesigned the downtown public realm to be more flexible, vibrant, and accessible. We’ve also done several projects in Tyler, including a transit route study. It’s fun to learn about these Toole Design projects in the region and see communities implementing our plans and designs.
What is one thing you wish everyone knew about the transportation world?
I wish people understood how much work goes into implementing projects. Coming from the public sector, I know how much it takes to actually get a project built. It’s so much more than the design. Before you even start on the planning phase, you’re doing the needs assessment, coming up with funding sources, then you must figure out how to get it permitted, coordinate with other departments, and on and on. It’s a lot of work.
What is something about you that we couldn’t learn from your LinkedIn page?
Well, I’m originally from south Louisiana, and I’m really proud of my Cajun French heritage. I guess my name gives that away (Genest: je-NAY). I considered minoring in French in college, but my advisor talked me out of it.
I do live in a bilingual household though. My husband is a Spanish teacher and fluent Spanish speaker. He speaks only Spanish to our children so most of our family’s conversations around the dinner table are in a mix of Spanish and English.