2021 40 Under 40: Annie Dixon

Nov. 23, 2021
Annie Dixon, Planner I, Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization (IMPO)
  • One word to describe yourself: Curious
  • Alma Mater: DePauw University
  • Fun fact about yourself: I’m a total foodie and enjoy trying new restaurants.
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent: I didn’t ride it, but I did try to beat the bus up the hill of Castro Street in San Francisco once. I don’t remember who won the race, but I’m pretty sure I lost.

While she willingly pitched in with the usual intern roles and responsibilities during her initial stint with the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA), Annie Dixon also quickly demonstrated vision, insight and leadership, which eventually led to her current role, helping to plan Central Indiana transportation strategies with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization (IMPO).

First working with CIRTA as an intern during the summer of 2017 and then being invited back a year later, Dixon was hired as a travel demand planner when her second internship ended—a permanent position that was created to retain her. She quickly introduced new levels of data understanding and application to the organization, and, as a result, informed decisions about where services should be deployed.

When her supervisor left CIRTA 10 months later, Dixon was promoted to mobility manager, where she continued her behind-the-scenes work such as investigating the feasibility of new transit routes, managing three workforce connector operations and managing federal transportation grants and local financial audit; and represented CIRTA at panel discussions and testified about the organization’s work to the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Council. During this time, she also helped initiate a bus shelter construction project with a local municipality and build solid relationships with regional transportation providers. These more public opportunities put her in a position to be noticed and recruited by the IMPO, where she started as a Planner 1 in January 2020.

In 18 months in that role, she’s handled a variety of special projects, including researching and helping IMPO leadership develop new bylaws and COVID-19 policies. Her transit-specific work includes helping develop transit-oriented development (TOD) plans for Indianapolis’ new bus rapid transit Red Line and soon-to-be-built Purple Line (and future Blue Line). She demonstrated her ability to align the interests of varied stakeholders and persevere through politics by almost single-handedly updating the methodology of all three TOD strategic plans. In that process, she has helped to focus the plans on improving access to the economic opportunities enabled by the transit lines, driving housing diversity and integrating the city’s land-use and transportation strategies. The IMPO has forwarded her work to the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development to put them into action. At the same time, Dixon has helped to connect the city’s transportation plans and services to surrounding communities. In 2020, she was heavily involved in developing a transit plan for Hendricks County, one of the counties adjacent to Marion, which passed a transit referendum in 2016.

Now, she’s helping lead a transit plan for Johnson County, another county adjacent to Marion, and a regional Coordinated Public Transit Human Services Transportation Plan (Coordinated Plan) that aims to identify transportation needs and opportunities for coordination in the eight-county region with human services and public transportation providers. While these processes could have been crippled by pandemic restrictions, Dixon attacked it with a no-barriers attitude, working in a 100 percent virtual capacity that leveraged creative uses of surveys and polling software to keep meetings engaging and informative.

Part of what makes Dixon’s contributions to urban travel more surprising is the fact that she didn’t come to planning in a traditional sense. Instead, armed with an International Baccalaureate (IB) high school diploma that inspired her to consider the intersections of disciplines, she pursued a double major including environmental biology and an independent interdisciplinary urban ecology at DePauw University. Focused on the relationships among biology, climate change and urban studies led her to consider how alternative transportation modes could combat climate change.

Dixon’s colleagues say one of the things that makes her stand out is her commitment to asking questions. Meetings often include her asking such questions as, “Why have we always done things this way?” or “Is there another way to think about this?” While rising through the ranks, Dixon has maintained her dedication to the community. In high school, she completed more than 200 hours of community service in two years. And as a graduate fellow with the National Association of Development Organizations, she researched options and drafted a proposal for a consortium of native tribes in the Prince William Sound Economic Development District for establishing a ferry service between Alaskan communities Whittier, Tatitlek and more. More recently, she volunteered to hand out handwarmers and hats to people waiting in line during the last election and accepted an appointment to the board of the Urban Land Institute-Indiana. 

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

My interest in public transit started with it’s ties to climate change mitigation and the environmental impact of transportation. As part of the Environmental Fellows Program at DePauw, I did an urban sustainability practicum experience by combining an urban farm internship and interning at the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA) who is a transit provider in Indianapolis. I was hired back to CIRTA the following year after my graduation and worked my way up to a managerial position overseeing two of CIRTA’s three programs. For part of the time I was a manager at CIRTA, we did not have an acting executive director, so I often shouldered some of that work like representing the organization around the region and working on the strategic vision of the organization. That led me to be noticed and recruited by the Indianapolis MPO where I currently work. IMPO has given me the opportunity to do more planning work and make a slight shift away from transit operations.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

In my job, I never stop learning. There’s always another angle or school of thought on methodology, concept, approach, etc. There’s always someone willing to educate me on the history of an initiative or industry standard. As someone who never stops asking questions and is always pursuing the next rabbit hole, the best part about being surrounded by industry professionals, partner organizations, and members of the public, is that there is so much to learn from all of their unique viewpoints and experiences.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of the job is pressing forward in anti-racist work. This permeates beyond work hours. It is a constant but vital effort. As someone who tends to focus heavily on the details, I can sometimes lose sight of the big picture. I have to remind myself to think about the representation of perspectives and make sure I’m asking the right questions.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

I have enjoyed breaking into fields that intersect the one that I’m in. It keeps me engaged, curious, and continues my education, and I often discover more connections than I had previously thought existed.