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Meet three SDOT professionals working to make Seattle greener every day – Sonia Palma, Katherine Rice, and Ben Rosenblatt

Katherine Rice (left), Sonia Palma (center), and Ben Rosenblatt (right) smile in front of eSwingo, one of SDOT’s 100% electric bike lane sweepers. Photo credit: Linda Lam

Blog stats: 3,200 words | 12-minute read


  • As we continue to celebrate the important work underway to address climate change in Seattle and beyond, we want to share the stories of some of our dedicated employees working on these issues.
  • Check out our Roadside Chat with three SDOT staff members via links below:
  • We hope you find these conversations informative, uplifting, and empowering as you consider low-carbon and carbon-neutral options in your daily travel patterns.
  • Let’s take the next step together to address climate change!

Sonia Palma

A woman wearing sunglasses smiles at the camera on a sunny day outside while attending an event. A sign behind her reads "Electricity Expo".
Sonia Palma

Tell us about yourself – what is your current role at SDOT and how long have you worked at the City?

I joined the City of Seattle, specifically SDOT, in February 2009, so I’ve been a public servant for 15 years now. I’m an Operations Manager with a varied portfolio, encompassing different teams including: Customer Service, Radio Dispatch Center, SDOT Response Team, SDOT Fleets, and Radio Communications.

I’m originally from Argentina and spent my childhood between Buenos Aires and New York. I attended Hofstra University in New York, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a minor in Anthropology. Years later I attended the University of Washington to complete a Certificate in Construction Management.

You lead fleet electrification and decarbonization work at SDOT, piloting new technologies at an enterprise scale. How does SDOT use innovative, cutting-edge practices to pursue more electric vehicles and equipment in its fleet? How is the effort going so far?

In December 2022, Mayor Bruce Harrell signed an executive order on climate justice and transportation, which has served as the foundation of my work on decarbonizing the SDOT Fleet. One of the requirements listed on the executive order is for SDOT to lead EV pilot projects, in partnership with the Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) Department.

This work entails talking to our existing vendors and also going outside the box and reaching out to other vendors and manufacturers who are making strides in the electric vehicle and equipment industry. Our approach has been to test and pilot equipment that is available to ensure it performs in a manner that meets the expectations and requirements of our crews and staff. Thus far, we’ve been able to test twelve (12) different types of all-electric vehicles and equipment, ranging from street sweepers to paving rollers, and participated in the demonstration of another two (2) vehicles and equipment.

I am happy to say that my colleagues, the crew members in particular, who are using the equipment, have been open-minded to trying out this new technology.

Can you share an example of one or two top projects you’ve been involved with during your career at SDOT? What stood out most to you and what did you learn from working on them?

During my career at SDOT, I’ve been fortunate to work on several different projects, such as setting up a consolidated SDOT Customer Care Center, working with underserved communities by utilizing my bilingual skills, the transition of Parking Enforcement to SDOT and then the Seattle Police Department; and now having the charge of decarbonizing our fleet to reduce carbon emissions.

I’ve learned that it’s best to work collaboratively with stakeholders, partners, customers, and colleagues. Sharing your vision, listening to their feedback, and adjusting as needed helps create buy-in and brings people together to accomplish the goals in a more cohesive manner.

In regards to decarbonizing vehicles and equipment, the industry still has to make greater strides as not every piece of equipment that we need to perform our work for the City has an electric counterpart that can do the same job.

What makes you excited about your work – can you share any personal or professional experiences that have shaped your interests or perspectives?

As a high school student, I worked in the office of the shop where my dad was an autobody painter. Fast forward into the future, as a public servant, I am proud to be working at SDOT, where we are dedicated to making a difference in our community by testing new all-electric vehicles and equipment. I feel empowered to be part of SDOT’s efforts to address climate change. In a way, this work is a nod to my father and the sacrifices my parents made for my education, which has helped me get to where I am today.

Katherine Rice

A woman smiles at the camera while standing outside in front of a tree and several flowers and plants in the background.
Katherine Rice

Tell us about yourself – what is your current role at SDOT and how long have you worked at the City?

I am a Transportation Planner on the Curbside Management Team and manage our climate and electrification projects. My program portfolio includes managing the installation of curbside electric vehicle (EV) chargers alongside Seattle City Light (SCL), developing and launching programs to help our business and freight community adopt zero-emission delivery modes, and leading our team’s Curbside Management Climate Plan, which we launched for the first time in 2023.

I have been at SDOT just over two years and it’s been great to see our department advance many strategic plans on how we plan to address climate and see relevant projects come to fruition.  

Your role covers a lot of ground – how do you juggle managing climate and electrification projects in Seattle’s curb space, including curbside electric vehicle charging and a proposed e-cargo bike program, all at the same time?

I feel lucky to work on a team that provides incredible support to our growing climate program portfolio, and that I can lean on resources both within our team and in other supporting City departments. Many of our climate programs, including the curbside electric vehicle charging pilot, are made possible by collaboration across workgroups. We all bring an important piece of the puzzle to the conversation, and our programs are made stronger when we all work together to inform the approach.

It’s similar to thinking about the many elements that make up our streets across Seattle. An accessible and sustainable transportation system is made by the sum of its parts. I think this also applies to how we can think about supporting a healthy climate overall. Many times, the issue may seem daunting when you attempt to address it individually, but our climate crisis is a shared issue. When we tackle work together, we make a greater impact.

How do you see electric vehicles and e-cargo bikes being a key piece to the puzzle of providing access to more carbon-neutral and low-carbon transportation options for the traveling public?

As a City, we are committed to ensuring that anyone who wants to drive an EV has access to a reliable public charging network. Personal vehicle trips still make up the majority of trips in Seattle and are a major contributor to our emissions. The adoption of electric vehicles has been steadily growing in King County year over year, and our growing program portfolio reflects that as well. The Curbside EV Charging Pilot that we have been working on with SCL since 2022 offers public EV charging in residential areas for those who do not have access to charging at home. And we aren’t stopping there. Our role in the electric vehicle conversation is to support private development where we can and fill gaps where City programming can support our communities.

This year we are working with multiple car share companies to see if we can also electrify shared transportation. Oftentimes, when people think of EVs they think of purchasing a new personal car. At SDOT, we are working to provide resources that get our communities to think about mode shift overall: taking an electric bus to work, using a scooter or bike to meet friends, and maybe even walking to the grocery store. The more options that we can provide will make the transition easier for all of us.

As for our upcoming e-cargo bike program, this is something I am personally very excited about. In our Seattle Transportation Electrification Blueprint, we have a goal to achieve 30% zero-emission delivery of goods in Seattle, by 2030. To reach this goal, we have to be creative when we look at how businesses currently operate and how we can encourage this shift. Goods delivery access is an essential service that businesses and residents alike rely on every day. While our freight transportation may make up a smaller percentage of our overall transportation emissions, it’s unfortunately one of the dirtiest sectors. Many other cities in the US have seen improvements in overall air quality and decreases in congestion after launching programs that support business adoption of e-cargo bikes for last-mile delivery and we are excited to soon do the same. These smaller delivery modes can be used for delivery of last-mile goods between businesses or directly to customers.

I started developing our Commercial E-cargo Bike Program in 2022 and we are looking forward to bringing legislation to the City Council this summer and launching the program later this year. Some companies, like Pagliacci Pizza, already use e-cargo bikes for delivery and love the addition to their overall delivery operations. In Curbside Management, we talk a lot about critical access needs, and ensuring that residents and businesses can receive goods and services reliably at the curb.

My job is to think about how we can keep the same reliability while promoting sustainability and emissions reduction. Commercial e-cargo bikes will offer businesses a new opportunity to shift to zero-emissions delivery modes, open up our curb space to new vehicles, and present an opportunity for the city to be a liaison for businesses looking for a way to decarbonize their deliveries. We want to work side by side with businesses in this transition, and our programs reflect that.

How did you get into this field? We’d love to hear more about your career journey and life story that brought you to this point, and how it prepared you for your current work at SDOT.

I always knew that I wanted to work in a role where I could champion our environment and do my part when it came to addressing climate change. After moving from California to Washington, I was always in awe of the beautiful spaces we get to call home. As I got older, it became more apparent that we could do more to protect these spaces. It was shocking to me that the progress of developing urban spaces often came in conflict with sustaining our natural environment.

I earned my degree in Environmental Policy and the Science, Technology, and Society program at University of Puget Sound, which allowed me to start to analyze the unique ways in which the built and natural environments coexist and how we can support the longevity and health of both. Before coming to SDOT, I worked at Tacoma Power in Energy Research and Development, which gave me a background in the utility side of city work and my start with the development of clean transportation programs. I was proud to work on programs that supported adoption of electric school buses in local school districts, and was proud to develop partnerships with local community groups and encourage the adoption of EVs. I would always get excited driving down a street where I could see one of the chargers we had installed.

When a position opened at SDOT, I knew I could carry my experience in environmental policy development and electric vehicle program management to Seattle and continue to push the barrier on how we can create a clean, safe transportation system for all communities that live in Seattle. SDOT continues to push the boundaries of what is possible and always champions climate, equity, and safety-centered values that I work hard to carry through my work as well.

I’m approaching seven years of managing programs for EVs and clean transportation, and still feel there is something to learn each day which is the best part of the job. Addressing our climate crisis takes all of us and pushes us to be creative and bold when it comes to finding solutions that support the long-term health of our city and our climate. That’s something that I will always feel proud to be a part of.  

Ben Rosenblatt

A man smiles at the camera with plants in the background.
Ben Rosenblatt

Tell us about yourself – what is your current role at SDOT and how long have you worked at the City?

I’m a Principal Planner on SDOT’s Policy and Planning team. We’re a group of about 15 people charged with thinking big: how do we connect the dots to frame SDOT’s strategy to advance a safe, equitable, and climate-friendly system? I’ve had the privilege to lead the group that’s working on SDOT’s climate portfolio for the last few years, but the end goals for climate, safety, and equity are often similar. It’s inspiring to work with colleagues and leaders who are committed to moving Seattle in a direction that centers people, and not just car movement.

I joined SDOT in 2018, working with large employers and property managers on ways to promote sustainable transportation options. Back before the pandemic, there was a big focus on reducing congestion downtown during rush hour, which of course has a direct link to our climate response. Have you met Sal the Salmon? She was born in a different world, but even with changes in travel patterns, her message of ‘Flipping your Trip’ still resonates when we consider the impacts of driving on the climate crisis. It was great fun from a professional standpoint to work with the team in bringing Sal to life.

Can you share a brief overview of the Climate Change Response Framework and how it was developed? How does it relate to other plans like the Seattle Transportation Plan?

Sustainability is one of SDOT’s core values, and we like to say that all of our work is – or can be – climate work. We are already doing a lot, like installing transit-priority infrastructure, street trees, and places for people to safely walk, roll, bike, and gather. But while we have an overall strategy on safety (Vision Zero) and equity (our groundbreaking Transportation Equity Framework), we realized we didn’t have a place to capture our integrated approach to climate action. That’s where the Climate Change Response Framework (CCRF) comes in. We got down into the numbers, and it was clear we weren’t making nearly enough progress in reducing the miles we drive and the emissions associated with transportation. We needed a framework to advance that conversation and give us something to be accountable to.

The CCRF gives us a realistic path for the next few years on potential benefits we can see with accelerated investment across the board: continued transit infrastructure and programming, making short trips easier to make by walking or biking, more people streets and public spaces, programs to support flipping your trips, freight and goods movement strategies, and continuing to work with our partners to electrify driving trips when another travel option isn’t an easy choice. Basically, it puts a climate lens on SDOT’s entire portfolio. What can we do more of, and how can we do it more effectively?

The CCRF was well timed as it informed everything in the Seattle Transportation Plan (STP). We made sure that STP strategies and “Key Moves” were supportive of our CCRF. And we’re hoping that a subset of the STP can be implemented over the next several years, as our financial position becomes clearer.   

What are the real-world impacts of this planning and policy work? What would be the positive effect of successfully reaching the targets established in the climate response framework?

This is what gets me up in the morning to come to work. Climate investment isn’t just for the planning and science nerds to measure emissions trajectories and consider doomsday scenarios! It provides communities with cleaner air to breathe, safer streets on which to travel, and destinations and places that will allow our local economies to thrive. We actually estimated these “co-benefits” of our climate investment: every $1 we put into climate-friendly transportation can provide a return of up to $10 in societal benefits. This means making it easier and safer to get to school, the doctor’s office, you name it. And it means lower household costs for travel, if we can make it easier for you to ditch the car for some of your trips, even if it’s not all of them.

But most importantly, we want to implement these strategies in ways that advance climate justice. This means people who bear the impacts of climate change should benefit most from our investment, while the burdens and responsibilities for addressing them should be taken on by groups and communities who can more easily afford it. It’s a very easy connection to everything in our Transportation Equity Framework. If we can bring everyone along and especially help those most vulnerable to impacts like extreme heat, heavier precipitation events, and wildfire smoke, it’s a win-win. And if our work helps move the world ever-so-slightly closer to keeping planetary warming in check, under 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius… we’ll gladly take that too.

Why is this work important to you? Are there any pivotal moments in your personal life or professional career that have made you so passionate about climate change?

As an urban planner, adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change are always front and center. And this just continues when you read the news and see what’s happening globally. There’s always something bad happening being attributed to climate change, and it’s scary.

Back in the early 2010s, when I was just starting out in planning, I was living in New York and “Superstorm” Sandy hit while I was taking a course on environmental hazards; needless to say, the semester pivoted quickly and we had a real live case study! It was a scary time; many people I knew were flooded out and without electricity for weeks. The storm caused a ton of damage and it didn’t even land as a hurricane. A couple years later I collaborated with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Department of Transportation on a climate plan for transportation, and the creative juices were really flowing.

Moving out to Seattle, the summer of 2021 was very impactful as well; the heat wave in June and July was a wake-up call that we’re not immune from climate-related danger in the Pacific Northwest. I got into transportation planning because of the power to connect people and keep people safe on streets, but now I can’t think of how you can separate the climate emergency from anything we do. It’s omnipresent. I get motivation to keep going from my family, including my 3-year-old, who needs to inherit a world that has some time left. And from my supportive colleagues. We have tried to bring the concept of climate optimism – that there is hope and we all have the power to make a difference – into the collective consciousness at SDOT. The world, and the region Seattle sits in, is a beautiful place, and we have so much that we can still save.

Thank you to Sonia, Katherine, and Ben for your time, inspiring ideas, and steadfast dedication. Your work to advance sustainable transportation in Seattle is greatly appreciated!