Car-Free Vacationing

While I recently returned from a ten-day family vacation, I already feel the need for another vacation because my family vacation was stressful. Exploring Philadelphia was fun but being stuck in my parents’ van for seven days and dealing with my parents’ unwillingness to effectively communicate with their in-laws was not relaxing. It felt awkward to tell my boss and others that I did not have a relaxing vacation because most people assume you return from vacation rejuvenated. The main reason I was willing to give up a relaxing vacation is that both of my grandmas are in their 90s. I am not sure how many more times I will get to share experiences with them.

Thankfully, I still have opportunities to have relaxing vacations. A cool benefit of working at Clackamas Community College is three-day weekends during the summer term, which is from the last week of June through Labor Day. In addition to getting every Friday off during summer term, I only have to work 36 hours Monday-Thursday to get paid for working 40 hours. Since not everyone gets Friday off, I have missed off-campus meetings that are scheduled on Friday. The meeting organizers update me after the meeting so I stay informed.

I found writing this post interesting because I started writing it in 2015. I have 46 draft posts that I have not published. The Willamette Week link I inserted in the 2015 draft no longer sends people to an article about taking the bus to hike in the Portland region. The below photo is from the 2015 article.

Map showing it is possible to hike by using transit

Map showing it is possible to hike by using transit

As the below map shows, transit services to the Columbia River Gorge have greatly improved in the past four years. The Columbia Gorge Car-Free website helps me plan my weekend vacations without using a car. While I visited The Dalles for a Transportation Options Group of Oregon meeting, I was not able to stay in The Dalles long enough to really explore.

Gorge Transit

Map of transit services in the Columbia River Gorge. Source: Gorge TransLink

Since I want to do more than hike in the Columbia River Gorge, I am excited to see that the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is almost completed! I will be able to take transit from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge to hike and bike. The below videos explain the history of the 100-year-old Historic Columbia River Highway, what is being done to convert it to a trail, and how the local communities feel this new trail will impact their communities.

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Source: ODOT

I am also excited about the Salmonberry Trail, which will someday allow me to bike from the Portland region to the Oregon Coast.

I also enjoy traveling beyond Oregon. I can use Amtrak, Greyhound or BoltBus take car-free weekend vacations to places like Seattle, Vancouver (BC), and California. I will be presenting on a panel at the Association of Commuter Transportation (ACT) Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Forum in Seattle on November 12-13. This provides me a great opportunity to explore Seattle and Vancouver during the weekend before my presentation. November will be a busy month for me because I will also be taking the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Exam.

ACT-2019-TDM-Forum-SEATTLE

Source: Association of Commuter Transportation

Since my 29th birthday is in September and my work projects should be less busy in September because there will be no CCC Xpress Shuttle service most of September, I am thinking about taking a long vacation in September. The PSU Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Travel Program has a nine-day Costa Rica Unplugged tour in September that includes exclusive discounts of up to 15% off per trip! The trip is limited to 18-35-year-olds. I prefer to avoid tourist traps so I enjoyed reading how this trip has “Local Guides who make tourist traps a thing of the past.” The tour starts on a Saturday and ends on a Sunday, so I thought I would only need to take five days off work. Since the tour does not include roundtrip San Jose flights and each flight takes a day, I would need to take seven days off work. Unfortunately, I do not have this many days saved so I will need to think about this trip next year.

I would enjoy learning about how other people plan car-free vacations. Have you tried to plan a car-free vacation? Where did you go? Did the transportation services connect smoothly or did you experience barriers? Would you do it again?

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Columbus at Eye Level

“Columbus at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. My family vacation is coming to an end. My parents and sister (brother had to stay in Charlotte) dropped me off in Columbus earlier today so they could drive back to Kannapolis. I am at the Columbus Airport waiting for my flight back to Portland. While I did not enjoy spending days in my parents’ van instead of biking, my grandmas are not getting any younger so I felt the need to spend time with them. Grandma Stoodt is on the left in the below photo, which was taken at Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Since my grandma uses a walker, I was thankful that the trail was ADA accessible.

While I have not thought about visiting Columbus before, I urged my family to visit Columbus during our vacation because Columbus won the USDOT’s 2016 Smart City Challenge. Since I thought Columbus would use some of the grant funding to create dynamic pricing for parking, I was surprised to learn from Robert Ferrin that about 1% of the grant funding has been used for upgrading the parking system. Robert and I met at UNC Charlotte when we were geography students. We both were born and raised in the Charlotte region.

Short North Parking Changes

My dad and I met with Robert about the Short North parking changes that he managed. Short North is a Columbus neighborhood located between Downtown Columbus and Ohio State University. Even though Robert showed us how he improved parking conditions in Short North, the responses to the below survey question appear to show that people do not understand how the parking changes improved the parking issues. Does Columbus need to better educate people about the benefits of the parking changes?

71% of survey respondents think the recent changes make parking harder for customers in the District.

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Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Photo: Ray Atkinson

RayRay’s

I found another restaurant with my name! I was not even trying to find it. As you may remember, I found Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar in Philadelphia.

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Photo: Ray Atkinson

I need to board my flight back to Portland, so I am going to publish this post.

Philadelphia at Eye Level

“Philadelphia at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. I am on a Greyhound bus from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to be picked up by my family on their way to Erie. My family is driving from North Carolina. We are going to visit my grandma in Erie then my other grandma in the Cleveland region. Since I want to learn more about Columbus’ smart city projects, my family agreed to visit Columbus before taking me to the airport next Saturday.While the Greyhound bus has WiFi, it isn’t working to access WordPress on my laptop so I am writing this post on my phone. Due to this, I expect to write a short post. Since I want to focus on being with my family when I arrive in Pittsburgh, I do not expect to write a blog post when I am with my family.

Philadelphia’s Street Grid

Since typical neighborhood bike routes in other US cities have many turns, I was impressed that I was able to bike for miles in South Philadelphia without having to look for where to turn next. As the rose diagram in the below diagram and this link show, the entire Philadelphia street grid is not easy to use. However, my focus was on how easy the street grid was for biking, walking and riding transit. I did all of these modes in Philadelphia.

Due to the fact that most Americans are automobile dependent, I feel comfortable stating that the most direct streets in the US are prioritized for motorists. While this is still common in Philadelphia, I was shocked by how many designated neighborhood bike routes used the most direct streets. Unfortunately, these routes have stop signs or signals on almost every block so I was forced to constantly stop. I saw many local cyclists proceed through these intersections without stopping. I believe there were local cyclists because they were not riding an Indego bikeshare bike. Since Portland purposely flips the stop signs on the neighborhood greenways to have the stop signs be on the cross streets, I was amazed by how much of a difference this simple change makes on the biking experience.

In addition to critiquing the designated neighborhood bike routes, I critiqued Indego. Ever since I helped plan for Indego’s launch in 2014 during my transportation planning internship at Toole Design Group, I have been wanting to visit Philadelphia to see my work on the ground. It was an awesome experience!

While biking helped me move through Philadelphia faster, I found it easier to explore the city by walking. The Magic Gardens on South Street were amazing to explore! They also have rich and controversial history. Since Philadelphia mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar did not own the vacant land that he used to create the magic gardens, the gardens were almost destroyed when the developer that owned the land decided they wanted to build on the land. Thankfully, the community cared enough about the gardens to preserve them.

I also found this cool bar!

Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic

A major reason why I wanted to visit Philadelphia was to experience and learn more about its rich history. While many cities have rich histories, I doubt any city can compete with Philadelphia’s Independence Day history. As a geographer and planner, I was amazed by the Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic exhibit at the American Philosophical Society! I could spend hours reading and researching all the notes on this 1757 map for the British government. Museum staff said surveyors often spend hours reviewing this map. Since maps were used to remove Native American claims to land, I wish the exhibit included maps drawn by Native Americans.

My Greyhound bus is about to arrive in Pittsburgh, so I need to publish this post.

Ray’s Family Vacation to Ohio and Pennsylvania

I find it interesting to think about a place before visiting it for the first time. While I had a layover in Philadelphia as I was flying to the British Isles in 2003 (yes, I was 12 years old), I did not leave the airport so this does not count as visiting Philadelphia. I flew to the British Isles through the People to People Student Ambassador Program. Even though I have not really visited Philadelphia, I feel a strong connection to it because I cannot think of a better city to celebrate Independence Day. I also helped plan where to install Indego bikeshare stations in Philadelphia during my internship at Toole Design Group. I did the planning and GIS work in Toole’s Silver Spring, MD office, so I did not visit Philadelphia during this project.

While I know where the Indego stations are, I struggled to decide where to stay in Philadelphia because I wanted to avoid staying in the tourist areas. I wanted to find a racially diverse and affordable neighborhood where I could experience being a local. I finally reserved an Airbnb in the Lower Moyamensing neighborhood in South Philadelphia because this neighborhood appears to be far from the tourist areas and near racially diverse neighborhoods.

South Philly Race Map

Racial Dot Map of South Philadelphia. Source: https://demographics.virginia.edu/DotMap/index.html

I realize I am white but being surrounded by only white people in Oregon City feels weird and gets exhausting. While I often hate on the South because of the bad political and religious decisions, I miss the South’s racial diversity. Since I have not seen many non-white people for months, I would not be surprised if I experience culture shock in Philadelphia.

Oregon City Race Map

Racial Dot Map of Oregon City. Source: https://demographics.virginia.edu/DotMap/index.html

I also expect to be shocked by the weather in Philadelphia because the high in Oregon City has only been in the 70s with low humidity. Philadelphia has highs in the 90s with high humidity! Since I was shivering during Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride last Saturday evening, it would have been nice to have warmer weather in Portland. Yes, I biked nude in public through Portland’s streets with 10,000 other cyclists. This was my fourth World Naked Bike Ride. While many people have told me they think it is weird to be naked in public, I enjoy seeing how people decorate their bodies to protest automobile dependency. Since many people have body image issues, it is an amazing experience to feel comfortable enough with friends to be naked together.

It’s getting late and I have to work tomorrow. While I wanted to finish this post before departing on vacation, it appears I will have to finish writing it later.

Reflecting on my 1st year at Clackamas Community College and 2nd-year goals

I was planning to write this post on June 11, which was the day I started working at Clackamas Community College (CCC) in 2018. This was my first-ever full-time work anniversary. I moved back to Oregon to start this job so this also means that I have been back in Oregon for a year. Since I have been busier than usual and was involved with leading my first request for proposal (RFP) process, I had to postpone writing this post. I am going to use this 2018 post to help me write the below post. I want to share the below photo before diving into how these people helped me this academic year.

Successes

I spent most of the 2018-19 academic year applying for two grants. Since I received a $150,000 grant from Oregon Metro, my job is secure through June 2022. I also helped the City of Oregon City apply for and receive a $150,000 grant to build upon their 2017 Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Plan. The City asked me to serve as the Transportation Advisory Committee’s representative on the Downtown Oregon City TDM Implementation Working Group. The Oregon Metro grant will help fund this group’s work.

The other large grant I applied for and received was a $273,083.25 Oregon DOT grant. This grant funds the expansion of the CCC Xpress Shuttle through June 2021. Thankfully, the grant will be available again in 2021 so I can pursue the grant again to continue the expansion indefinitely. The shuttle expansion includes summer term service for the first time ever and extended evening service year-round when school is in session. As a result of the RFP process, which selected WeDriveU as the new shuttle operator, I have been able to improve the shuttle service. WeDriveU works with Tripshot, which provides the shuttle service with real-time ETAs. The shuttle service previously only used paper schedules and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data.

I want to thank Amy Cannata, who is the Grants Administrator, for helping me apply for the grants.

Struggles

While I had many successes during my first year, my reflection process also needs to include things that could be improved. I have been struggling to plan and fund an on-demand shuttle from rural Clackamas County to Oregon City. Even though I tried to convince Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) teams from Portland State University (PSU) to select my workshop project proposal, no team selected my proposal to create a Rural Access Plan for how to improve access from rural Clackamas County to Oregon City.

I also did not receive a $50,000 Transportation Options Innovation Grant from ODOT to fund the on-demand shuttle. This grant required a plan for guaranteed long-term funding when the short-term grant funding was exhausted. Unfortunately, I was unable to guarantee this long-term funding so ODOT was unwilling to provide short-term funding for the on-demand shuttle.

While I did not receive the Transportation Options Innovation Grant, ODOT provided me with a silver lining. Since I manage the CCC Xpress Shuttle, ODOT was able to provide me with free access to Remix. This includes free training and customer support. With help from Remix, I am self-teaching myself on how to use Remix for a variety of transportation planning.

My 2nd-Year Goals at CCC

I am constantly asked about providing transportation options to reach the Wilsonville campus and from rural Clackamas County. These are my top 2nd-year goals. Thankfully, Wilsonville’s SMART received a grant to subsidize vanpools to and from Wilsonville. We are planning to launch vanpools this fall between the Wilsonville campus and the other two campuses in Oregon City and Milwaukie.

In order to plan and fund the on-demand shuttle from rural Clackamas County to Oregon City, I am realizing that I need to take a different approach. Since the shuttle needs long-term operation funding, short-term grant funders will keep asking me to provide proof that I have a plan for guaranteed long-term funding. One way to show this proof could be to show that the shuttle is in adopted transit plans. The shuttle is not in any adopted transit plans so I have started the processes to include it in as many plans as possible. These plans will be used to decide what transit projects are eligible to receive long-term funding.

A work-related personal goal is achieving my American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification. Since I have a master’s degree in planning from a Planning Accreditation Board-accredited program and two years of full-time professional planning experience, I am eligible to apply to take the AICP Certification Exam in November. I applied before the Early Bird Deadline, so I should know by August 5 whether or not my application was approved.

Future Blog Post

Since my North Carolina-based family is planning a July 4-14 vacation with me to visit my grandmas, other relatives, and friends in Ohio and Pennsylvania, I plan to write a post about this. I will be in Philadelphia for my first time from July 4-6. In addition to celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia, I plan to check out Indego because I helped plan where to install the bikeshare stations during my 2014 internship at Toole Design Group.

After I take Greyhound from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, my family will pick me up in Pittsburgh to take me to Erie, which is where Grandma Atkinson lives. My family will then visit the Cleveland area, which is where Grandma Stoodt and my other Stoodt relatives live. Since Columbus won the USDOT’s 2016 Smart City Challenge, I asked my family to visit Columbus so I could meet with City officials working on making Columbus a smart city. I fly back to Portland in the evening on July 13 and return to work on July 15.

Making a difference on the Oregon City Transportation Advisory Committee

I serve on several advisory committees throughout the Portland and Charlotte regions through my job and as a volunteer. Yes, I still serve on the Advisory Council for Sustain Charlotte’s Transportation Choices Alliance even though I no longer live in Charlotte. While most of the committee members that I serve with understand their important role and how to make a difference, some of my fellow Oregon City Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) members have struggled with this.

In case they read my blog, I want to give them hope for how they can make a difference on our committee. Since we volunteer on the TAC and some of my fellow volunteers feel the City Commission is the only group that can make a difference, I hope this post shows them and other volunteers that it is possible to make a difference even when you have limited voting power.

Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay appointed me to my first three-year term on the TAC in January 2019. Since I have lived in Oregon City for less than a year, I am still surprised that I was the only new candidate that was appointed to the TAC. Even though there were three open seats and four candidates, an incumbent and I were the only candidates appointed to the TAC. The remaining open seat and another open seat were filled in March 2019. I got to interview the candidates and vote on who would fill the seats. This was an awesome experience!

Even though all of the other TAC members are much older than me (some of them could be my grandpa), I am the only transportation professional and car-free member so the other members and Oregon City staff have expressed appreciation for my valuable experience. Since the older members have lived and worked through decades of Oregon City’s rich history, they have their own valuable experience to share with me. As a millennial, it feels weird to share that older people can learn from my experience when they have lived and worked much longer than me.

In addition to helping Oregon City and Clackamas County prepare for electric-assist dockless bikeshare and scootershare expanding from Portland, I am making a difference on the Oregon City TAC through the following two topics.

Canemah Family Friendly Route

While the route signs and markings have already been ordered, which means I was too late to make changes, Oregon City staff told the TAC that the Canemah Family Friendly Route is the first pilot project and they are open to making changes in the future. In order to explain my proposed change, focus on the bike symbol in the two below signs. Since I want Oregon City’s Family Friendly Route to be as successful as Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway, I feel the Family Friendly Route’s bike symbol needs to show the target audience of relaxed, family biking. The current bike symbol shows a racing or training cyclist because the cyclist is leaning over and looks stressed to beat their personal record time.

In contrast, the bike symbol on Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway shows a relaxed cyclist because the cyclist is sitting more upright. This is how I see a family biking together because they are not trying stressed to beat their personal record time. Do you see the difference between the two bike symbols?

Family Friendly Route Sign

Oregon City’s Family Friendly Route Sign

Portland Neighborhood Greenway Sign

Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway Sign

Crash Instead of Accident

While I was nervous to publicly call out Oregon City staff for saying “accident” instead of “crash” when referring to a deadly pedestrian crash involving a truck in Oregon City, staff thanked me for correcting them and explaining why they should say “crash” instead of “accident”. The staff even said they will try to use “crash” in the future. The reason why this is important is calling it an accident assumes no one, including the government for design issues, was at fault and nothing can be done to prevent the crash. Since the crash could have been prevented, it needs to be called a crash instead of an accident.

Future Blog Posts

As I stated in my previous post, my one-year work anniversary at Clackamas Community College is in June and I will have been back in Oregon for a year in June. I plan to write a post about how my one-year goals went and what my two-year goals are. Since my North Carolina-based family is planning a July 4-14 vacation with me to visit my grandmas and other relatives in Ohio and Pennsylvania, I plan to write a post about this.

Raising Awareness About Suburban and Rural Transportation Issues

As I approach my one-year work anniversary at Clackamas Community College in June and a year being back in Oregon, I have been reflecting on my new job and life in general. While I am excited to share that all three of my conference presentation proposals this year were accepted, all of the conferences are in Portland. As the below photo shows, I presented on a three-person panel (photo includes the moderator) on April 25 about Transit Connections in Suburban and Mixed Land Use Environments at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit in Portland.

Since I believe my session was one of the few sessions that discussed suburban or rural transportation issues, the audience thanked me for raising awareness about these issues. While it is helpful to learn about Portland’s issues and from Portland’s success stories, the audience agreed with me that we need to discuss suburban and rural issues and context-sensitive solutions more at conferences. We realize that conferences have limited space for sessions and most of the session proposals probably came from urban areas. Would moving conferences from Portland to a suburban or rural place at least every few years help change the dynamics of the conference enough to discuss suburban and rural issues more?

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Ray presented on a panel at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit about Transit Connections in Suburban and Mixed Land Use Environments. Left to right: Jeff Pazdalski, Executive Director, Westside Transportation Alliance; Ray Atkinson, Transportation Systems Analyst, Clackamas Community College; Erin Wardell, Principal Planner, Washington County; (Moderator) Stacy Revay, City of Beaverton

 

The second conference I am presenting at is the National Urbanism Next Conference in Portland. I was selected to present the below lightning talk (pecha kucha) on May 7 about the topic: How do we harness emerging technologies to reach desired outcomes?

The title of my presentation is Beyond Urban Areas: Providing Suburban and Rural Clackamas County with Reliable Transportation Options. Since the lightning talks organizer had to close the online RSVP form after over 200 people confirmed they are attending, I expect to present to a large audience. While I should have time after my presentation to talk with the audience about my presentation, the lightning talk format does not allow time for a question and answer period after each presentation nor at the end of all the presentations.

As the below list of lightning talk presenters shows, I am the only presenter representing a college or university. Do you think I will also be the only presenter that discusses suburban and rural transportation issues?

Ray Atkinson, Clackamas Community College
Chris Bonnarigo, bKl Architecture
Regina Clewlow, Populus
Paul Curtis, Vectos South Ltd.
Maya Krolikowski, Crandall Arambula
Stephanie Lonsdale, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Martin Schmidt, Graz Linien
Rick Stein, Urban Decision Group
Tiffany Swift, Walker Macy
Darby Watson, Parametrix

 

The third conference I am presenting at is the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) Conference in Portland. My four-person panel, which includes me and professionals from Chicago, Ottawa, and a suburb of Philadelphia, was selected to present on August 26 about The Multimodal Suburb: Transforming Communities Through Planning, Policy, Advocacy… and a Little Rule Breaking. I will add my presentation to this post after I create it.

How would discussions at conferences change if they were in suburban or rural areas?

While I enjoy visiting Portland, I am frustrated that all of the conferences are in Portland because I believe many Portlanders and urbanists, in general, have difficulty thinking outside their urban bubble. I was guilty of this when I lived in Portland during graduate school at PSU. Most of my volunteer advocacy/activist work from Fall 2014-Fall 2016 focused on Portland.

Even though I did my workshop project in Tigard, which is a suburb of Portland, I likely would not have thought about Tigard issues if my workshop team had not chosen to work in Tigard. I visited Tigard for the first time when my workshop team started our project. I had also never visited Oregon City before moving here for my current job. I realize some Portlanders leave Portland for more than just recreating in the Cascades or the Oregon Coast, but I believe my perspective is accurate for most Portlanders.

Since I am still a volunteer Portland advocate/activist, I know that Portland volunteers have limited bandwidth. As Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org tweeted, Portland volunteers are already getting burned out by their Portland advocacy/activist work. Due to this, is it reasonable to ask them to help me with my suburban and rural advocacy/activist work?

While I realize that many suburban and rural residents hate having Portlanders influence how their areas are planned, car-centric suburban and rural thinking is negatively impacting the entire Portland region. Widening highways and building more parking lots are hurting the entire Portland region, so Portlanders should be involved with suburban and rural decisions.

Future Blog Post

Since my one-year work anniversary at Clackamas Community College is in June and I will have been back in Oregon for a year in June, I plan to write a post about how my one-year goals went and what my two-year goals are.