Two-thirds of the employees at Atlanta, BeltLine, Inc. are women, many of whom hold executive and senior leadership roles. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re highlighting two of the powerhouse women behind the scenes of the Atlanta BeltLine project.
In a field where women make up only 14% of the workforce, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. is proud to have civil engineers Hope Gist and Nancy Newell as part of the project management team responsible for implementing ABI’s capital projects. Both joined ABI’s construction and design department in 2019, providing much needed bandwidth and expertise as ABI looks to complete the Atlanta BeltLine by 2030. Comprised of a small team of experts in architecture, civil engineering, landscape architecture, transportation, and arts and culture, the department oversees all infrastructural elements of the Atlanta BeltLine—trails, transit, parks, environmental remediation— from design to construction, until they are transferred over to the care of the City of Atlanta.
As project manager for the Southside Trail-West construction, Gist manages the construction of the 0.75-mile segment of the corridor. Her work involves liaising with the construction team, Astra Group, ensuring Atlanta BeltLine standards are maintained, resolving unexpected challenges in the field, as well as keeping the community and other stakeholders informed of progress. She is also in charge of the 1385 Ralph David Abernathy Access Point, which is currently in its design phase.
Similarly, Newell serves as project manager for the Ponce de Leon Avenue Streetscape and Capital Improvements of the Eastside Trail. Currently the project is out to bid, and, once a construction team has been selected, Newell will oversee the construction of a new access point to the Eastside Trail from Ponce de Leon Avenue along with new sidewalks, lighting, bike lane improvements, and more along Ponce de Leon Avenue from Boulevard to Freedom Parkway. She will also manage upcoming trail enhancements on the Eastside Trail that will improve the corridor experience for the 2.3 million users annually.
Civil engineering was a logical career path for Florida native, Nancy Newell. Good at math and science, she followed the career path of her father, as did her brother. With the full support of her parents, she began her studies at Auburn University, where she first encountered a noticeable minority of women entering the profession. Like Gist, her passion for engineering surpassed any unease with the gender disparity—even in the face of apparent discrimination. Initially focused on buildings, Newell found she had a knack for transportation and rather enjoyed it. As they say, the rest is history.
Following almost seven years in road design and shared-use paths around the Florida panhandle, Newell was ready for more field work and growing her construction experience. She had been to the Atlanta BeltLine previously while visiting friends and decided that Atlanta would be a great place to take the next step in her career. When the opportunity presented itself at ABI, she was ready.
Still relatively new to the team, Newell, who likes to go with the flow, has jumped in feet first, offering a hand wherever needed—from spending her weekend surveying the Eastside Trail emergency repair work to volunteering for staff committees. In addition to completing a few projects at Aluma Farm, such as a transfer switch and pond remediation, her work has been focused on researching and shadowing peers in preparation for when the Ponce Avenue Streetscape construction gets underway in the coming months. As a resident near the Eastside Trail with her dog, Dale, Newell is acutely aware of the need for better bike-friendly infrastructure in this dense area of town and is excited to lend her expertise to this project.
“I like being constantly challenged,” she said. “Each project I get to work on faces its own problems, so each project has its own solutions. I enjoy collaborating and working alongside my team for different perspectives and ideas.”
With almost twelve years of experience in transportation-focused projects, Hope Gist joined ABI following her time with the bike share system in San Francisco. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, she discovered Civil Engineering through an Architecture exploration class at the Corcoran School of Art & Design around the age of 13. It was a college Intro to Transportation class however, that helped solidify her decision to pursue a career path in Civil Engineering with a Transportation focus.
“My mom made a conscious effort live near a bus line, which she encouraged me to use,” Gist explained. From summer jobs and a federal intern job that provided a transit pass as a benefit, Gist took the bus and subway to work in DC and was exposed to how people interacted with transit. “Maybe I was naïve, but I listened to comments I heard from other riders about how to improve the transit system. Based on my lived experience, I understood how powerful transit was. After that, I knew I wanted to work in transit and active transportation.”
Her first project was a light rail project in the Washington, DC area where she learned more about incorporating trails into a transit design the engineering consulting world. A few years later, she first heard about the Atlanta BeltLine (and subsequently the streetcar) while working on the DC Streetcar team. Purpose-driven and perceptive, with a constant eye on what could be, she wanted to be part of an organization that was at the point of “actually building”; it didn’t matter that large transportation projects take time.
This kind of mindset is what ABI needs as the organization focuses on the next ten years of its mandate and the legacy aspect of a project which is redefining how Atlanta residents view mobility and connect to other neighborhoods. Put to the test at her first Southside Trail community meetings, Gist found her sweet spot.
“On this project specifically, I like having the opportunity to communicate with the public at community meetings to really understand how the design and implementation of the project impacts their daily lives and communities and how I can improve their transportation experience in a growing, evolving city.”
In accordance with the transit- and active transportation-centered values that influence her work and life, she walks or rides her bike to the office from her home near Grant Park, but considers these values “less related to the environment than to a holistic approach that is good for the body, the community, and the earth.”
“I want to put my energy towards biking, walking and transit so other people can have the opportunity and choice to safely enjoy or experience stepping out of their cars.”