Charlotte O'Donnell

BAUP 2007; Minor, Environmental Fellows Program; MUP 2008 (4+1)

What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?

I currently serve as the Bus Rapid Transit Project Manager in the Long Range Planning Department at Pace Bus in Suburban Chicago. I was hired by Pace shortly after graduating with my Master’s from DURP. I have served in a variety of roles within our service planning department working at the local and regional levels to deliver meaningful public transportation options to suburban Chicago. My training at U of I gave me the tools I need to analytically look at commuter, ridership and population data to develop transit solutions for a variety of high and low density. My focus in land use and environmental studies as well as my internship at the McLean County, IL Zoning Department, allowed me to bring a different perspective to the transportation planning realm. By approaching transportation issues with the notion that diverse mobility options start with good land use. 

My education at U of I helped me to gain a multi-faceted perspective when approaching planning issues. Currently, my primary focus is implementing a bus rapid transit system on major arterials, highways and tollways throughout Chicagoland. Pace is utilizing connected vehicles, intelligent transportation systems technologies, station areas as a means of place making, and shoulder riding as tools to make bus transportation more competitive with the personal auto. The implementation of this program requires constant coordination with large and small communities and their governing bodies to foster transportation friendly development around Pace’s investment. This coordination has required knowledge of local zoning, capital improvement plans, historic resources, utility location, engineering, public outreach, federal and state funding regulations as well as local politics. The curriculum of the University of Illinois’ DURP program touched on all of these aspects. When I began my studies in Urban Planning, I was overwhelmed by the lack of focus on one specific area, however, after completing my degrees at U of I and working in the field, I have discovered that the field is all encompassing rather than unfocused.

Why did you choose to study urban planning?

Urban Planners have the very real responsibility of creating the environments that we interact with on a daily basis I chose to study and practice Urban Planning because it allows me to make visible and lasting impacts on my community every day. There are very few fields where you can point to something in your community and say “I helped to make that happen.” 

What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?

Keep an open mind. While it is good to be an expert in one aspect of Urban Planning, your time at the University of Illinois will be well spent by taking advantage of the breadth of courses that are offered through DURP and throughout the university. Well-rounded planners are a great asset for our dynamic communities. 

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