2023 40 Under 40: Jill Gibson

Aug. 22, 2023
Jill Gibson, Transit Practice Leader, Kimley-Horn

One word to describe yourself: Persistent

Alma Mater: Covenant College, BA; Cal State University, Fullerton, MA

Fast fact about yourself: Ten years ago, for North County Transit District’s Coaster Holiday Express Train, I played the Grinch. It was so much fun being in costume and making all the passengers laugh. It was such a joyful celebration of the holiday, trains and community.

Jill Gibson brings more than 15 years of experience in capital planning development and project delivery to her role as transit practice leader at Kimley-Horn. Throughout her career, Gibson has left an indelible mark on transit planning initiatives for numerous cities and transit agencies, including the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), Caltrain and North County Transit District (NCTD). Notably, her leadership came to the fore where she led the Kimley-Horn team serving VTA's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Silicon Valley Extension project, navigating the intricacies of planning services, stakeholder engagement, third-party concurrence and community outreach.

At Kimley-Horn, Gibson’s leadership continues to shine as she spearheads Caltrain's Corridor Crossings Strategy. Collaborating with 21 jurisdictions, regional transit agencies and stakeholders, she is crafting a comprehensive approach to grade separations along the Caltrain corridor. Her work spans technical rail planning, streamlined project delivery and the establishment of a long-term vision and stakeholder coalition. These efforts are poised to facilitate the implementation of grade separation projects that enhance mobility and connectivity in the region.

Gibson’s commitment to fostering equitable engagement is a central pillar of her approach. She skillfully brings together stakeholders, leveraging her relational skills to identify innovative transit solutions. This is evident in her involvement with projects like the Oklahoma City EMBARK Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Alternatives Analysis, which saw her facilitating collaborative efforts to assess existing transit conditions and development of community-centric BRT corridors. Through meticulous coordination of public involvement efforts, meetings, surveys and studies, Gibson and her team created data-driven BRT alternatives that cater to diverse public needs.

Gibson’s involvement in transportation associations further underscores her commitment to transit solutions for communities. She has served a five-year tenure on the National Steering Committee (NSC) at Rail-Volution (now Mpact) and was a part of planning and presenting at the annual Transit and Community Development Conference, which underscores the significance of livable, equitable and sustainable communities through substantial transit investments. Additionally, her active participation in the American Public Transportation Association showcases her dedication to advocating for modernized mobility to cultivate thriving communities.

Gibson’s ability to foster collaboration and secure buy-in from a diverse range of stakeholders has consistently yielded successful outcomes that exceed expectations.

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

I benefitted early on from exposure to different perspectives and many facets of transit. I began my planning career with a city of San Diego internship focused on land use and access around existing trolley stations. This was formative for me to start with the human scale of station area planning, including placemaking, equitable access and safety. Then I worked for a couple of years on the other end of the scale, working on very large and complex environmental documents for California High-Speed Rail. I learned the regulatory requirements, environmental processes and all the elements that go into planning a mega-project.

I also worked directly for two California transit agencies: NCTD in San Diego and Caltrain in the Bay Area. At the transit agencies, I learned how challenging and critical it is to plan, develop and construct capital projects on active railroads. Through my work on projects like Positive Train Control, grade separations and capacity enhancing projects, I saw how critical thoughtful interagency, jurisdictional and community collaboration is to the success of transit projects.

I am grateful for my planning experience in different roles: City, transit agency and now consultant. Ultimately, planning at its core is about taking a broad view of all the different perspectives and going through a process to incorporate a variety of technical, stakeholder and community perspectives to make well-informed decisions. I am able to do this well in part because I have a first-hand experience of different agencies’ perspectives, priorities and challenges.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love challenging myself and team members to achieve our transit clients’ objectives. I particularly enjoy project challenges that are technically complex, require multidisciplinary collaboration and involve a lot of people.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

As a consultant, it can be a challenge and an opportunity to tackle a client’s problem on their behalf. The main challenges are knowing the right questions to ask, seeing opportunities to connect new dots and bringing new ways of thinking to the table.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

I am most proud that transit agencies have entrusted myself along with my Kimley-Horn team to deliver challenging, transformational and priority projects.

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

It is important as a leader to cultivate a culture of curiosity and courage. The posture of curiosity is the desire to learn more, explore what you don’t know and remain open to new data to inform your position. Courage is needed to continually prioritize excellent outcomes over the fear of failure. This includes encouraging your team to challenge assumptions, experiment with new ideas, take risks and fail and boldly advance the best outcome.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.