Transportation and Land Use in Ray’s Housing Decisions

As you may have noticed, it has been a few months since my last post. I’ve had a burning desire to write, but kept telling myself that the topics are work sensitive or too personal to share publicly. After reading this GGWash post and discovering that I haven’t written a post about my current and previous housing decisions, I finally found a topic that I feel comfortable writing about publicly. Since I have lived in Arlington for almost a year, which means my year lease ends on October 31, this is a good time for me to start reflecting on whether I want to stay put or move nearby. I enjoy my job so I plan to stay in Arlington. My year lease states that I must give my landlord 60 days notice, so I need to make a decision before the end of August.

Through this process, I keep comparing my current housing decision with my previous housing decisions in Charlotte, Silver Spring, and Portland. The below post compares and contrasts these decisions. Since I didn’t choose to live in Kannapolis, which is where my parents raised me after I was born in Charlotte, I didn’t include Kannapolis. As this post discusses, the Kannapolis home I was raised in has a Walk Score of zero!

Kannapolis Walk Score (zip code)

Arlington, VA

Even though I was rushed to find housing in a competitive market before starting my new job, I may have found the cheapest housing within a walkable distance of a light rail station, frequent service bus lines, and several regional trails. I’m paying less than $900 per month (plus $50 for water and $35 for my portion of WiFi) for a room in a 10-room house. I earn enough through my job that I could spend more on housing, but I don’t see the need to spend more when I’m already close enough to my destinations to continue living car-free. Plus, good housemates aren’t guaranteed when renting so I treasure this at my current home. I can use the savings to go on more expensive vacations and prepare for owning a condo or house.

1117 N Taylor St, Arlington, VA Walk Score

Arlington, VA Home

While many of my NC family and friends have been shocked by how much I pay for housing, I think they find it challenging to understand how much I save by living car-free. Most people don’t calculate all the costs involved with owning, maintaining, and driving an automobile. For example, I think most people don’t calculate parking costs (could be hidden if their employer takes parking out of their paycheck or doesn’t pay them more because their employer is paying for expensive parking), poor mental health from being stuck in daily traffic congestion and not spending much time with their family, poor physical health from not exercising enough and becoming obese, etc.

My boss covers most of my transportation costs, so I pay almost zero on transportation each month. He provides me with a free Capital Bikeshare maintenance key that I can use for all my trips, including personal trips. He also provides me with a SmarTrip card for all my work-related transit trips. The largest transportation purchase I have made so far is for this $800 bike that I mostly use for shopping and trips where Capital Bikeshare isn’t located yet.

My housing decision makes using these transportation options much easier because I can easily walk to the Ballston Metro Station to ride transit throughout the DC region and bike throughout the DC region on regional trails or low-stress neighborhood streets. While I rarely use it for personal trips, the DC region also has great carsharing and car renting options and Uber/Lyft.

Since I started this blog with the intention of following my life’s journey from living in Kannapolis to where life takes me, I want to share how my current housing decision relates to my housing decisions in Charlotte, Silver Spring, and Portland.

Charlotte, NC

My car-light lifestyle started when I moved to Charlotte in 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. While I lived car-free when I was in Charlotte, I needed a car to go home to Kannapolis so I barely lived car-light. Even though I sometimes think about how I used to pay about $400 per month for housing in Charlotte, which is less than half of what I currently pay in Arlington, the location of my housing in Charlotte lacks the transportation access that I currently enjoy in Arlington. While I was within easy biking distance of a regional trail that started at UNC Charlotte, the trail didn’t provide me with much transportation access so it was mostly a recreational trail. In addition, I couldn’t walk to any transit stations and the local bus was unreliable. I found it faster to bike on unsafe roads throughout Charlotte than wait for transit to arrive.

The Edge Charlotte Walk Score

The Edge at UNC Charlotte

Silver Spring, MD

My fully car-free lifestyle started when I moved to Silver Spring in 2014 to become a Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group. While I didn’t have many choices where to live in Silver Spring because I was seeking short-term housing for just the summer, I was lucky to have a Charlotte friend that had a connection to someone who owns a home in Silver Spring. Thankfully, the home was located in a prime location to live car-free.

I was a block from the Sligo Creek Trail, which provided some transportation access in addition to recreation usage. Since I wanted to explore the entire DC region, I enjoyed having access to the car-free (just on the weekend) Beech Drive in Rock Creek Park and Capital Crescent Trail. While the Silver Spring Metro Station was further from home than the Ballston Metro Station is to my current home, I enjoyed having better transit access than I had in Charlotte.

8410 Galveston Rd, Silver Spring, MD Walk Score

Silver Spring, MD Home

Portland, OR

The last place I lived before moving to Arlington was Portland. My apartment was next to the SE Salmon/Taylor neighborhood greenway, so I had easy access to a low-volume, low-speed walking and biking route. Sunday Parkways went along this route both years I was in Portland, so this route is prime for walking and biking. While I miss Portland’s neighborhood greenways because Arlington has nothing similar yet, I don’t miss Portland’s hills. Since I have an extreme fear of heights, I didn’t enjoy biking downhill to cross the Willamette River. Yes, Arlington also has hills but I rarely have to bike down them because I work from home and usually do field work in locations with few steep hills.

I also miss being within easy (two Portland blocks, which are 200 feet) walking distance of a grocery store in Portland. I enjoyed having the flexibility to walk to the grocery store to get one or two items instead of waiting until I’m almost out of groceries. Since the nearest grocery store to my Arlington home is .6 mile away, I wait until I need enough groceries to fill both bike panniers.

While walking and biking from my Portland home to my destinations was easy, transit wasn’t easy. The Hawthorne and Belmont buses came about every 15 minutes and most of my bike trips only took 15 minutes, so I rarely took the bus. I wasn’t near a MAX station so I couldn’t ride light rail from home.

1117 SE 27th Ave, Portland, OR Walk Score

Portland, OR Home

Future Blog Post

My boss and I were selected to present at the North American Bikeshare Association Conference in Montreal on August 31. We will be presenting during the session titled The “Perfect” Site. My only conference presentation occurred when I presented my high school senior exit project during a poster session at the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in 2008. This means the presentation in Montreal will be my first time presenting as a speaker. It will also be my first time attending a conference outside the US. My boss asked me to create our presentation, so I plan to use this presentation to write a blog post.

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How Ray’s Blog Got Started

Several people, including my new Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) mentee, have asked me recently why I started blogging. Even though I wrote this post about what my blog title “0 to 100” means, I’m shocked I never wrote the story about who inspired me to start blogging. Stephan Hoche and I were catching up during Spring 2014 at Zada Jane’s Corner Cafe in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood Neighborhood. I remember Zada Jane’s Corner Cafe because we were playing shuffleboard. Stephan and I were close friends at UNC Charlotte so Stephan constantly heard my passion. I was preparing to move to Maryland for an internship at Toole Design Group then Oregon for grad school at Portland State University so Stephan encouraged me to blog about my passion and my upcoming adventure. He even helped me come up with my blog title “0 to 100”.

stephan-and-ray

Ray (Left) and Stephan on November 26, 2016

As people ask me to reflect on my blog, I have reflected on what I was thinking when I started blogging during Spring 2014 and how my thoughts have changed over the years. When I started blogging during Spring 2014 I felt near complete freedom to blog about any topic. I didn’t have a job so I didn’t feel a need to be careful about what I wrote on my blog. Fast forward to today and I now have a full-time job that involves consulting for several governments in the Washington, DC region. These governments work on projects that I want to blog about so I have to be more careful what I write than I expected when I first started blogging.

Even though it wasn’t a major focus when I started blogging, my APBP mentee asked me whether I started this blog to help me get noticed by employers so I could get a job. While many employers asked me about my blog during job interviews, I believe my blog may have actually scared many employers away from me. Many employers told me during my post-grad school job interviews that based on what they read in my blog posts they were concerned I was too passionate and wouldn’t give up if they told me “no” to a progressive idea.

I know Stephan reads my blog posts. Since I can’t tell you thank you in person for inspiring me to start blogging, I hope this blog post will serve as a thank you.

Walking, Biking and Riding Transit in Portland, OR vs. Washington, DC

Since my car-free travel behavior has changed dramatically between Portland and DC, I want to compare how my walking, biking, and transit riding habits have changed between living in Portland and now living in the DC region.

Except for the few months in late 2015 and early 2016 where I fully depended on walking and riding transit in Portland because I felt too anxious biking, I mostly walked and biked for all my trips in Portland. I was planning to also mostly walk and bike throughout the DC region because transit is expensive (not as expensive as owning and maintaining a car). While I still walk and bike in the DC region, my boss provided me with a transit card for work trips so I have been riding transit much more than I planned to when I moved here. My boss also provided me with a Capital Bikeshare maintenance key (no time limits like normal keys) for work and personal trips so I haven’t been riding my private bike as often. Since I can’t carry my panniers on Capital Bikeshare, I have been mostly using my private bike for getting groceries and other shopping trips.

Biking in Portland vs. DC region

I don’t live in DC so, while DC has bike racks almost everywhere and the bike racks are usually designed correctly, I have experienced no bike racks or poorly designed bike racks often in Arlington. The below photo shows a ladder or wheel bender rack at a grocery store near my home in Arlington. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with bike parking issues when parking a Capital Bikeshare bike because I have always found an empty dock.

 

Since I depended so much on the DC region’s great trail systems when I lived in the DC region during summer 2014, I was looking forward to depending on the DC region’s great trail systems again. Even though I rode a road bike last time I lived in the DC region, anxiety from my extreme fear of heights has gotten much worse so I have been struggling to ride on hilly trails like the Custis Trail and trails along steep cliffs like the Four Mile Run Trail. Since I doubt I will conquer my fear of heights soon, I’m planning to buy a $3-4,000 recumbent trike so I can reduce the anxiety I feel when biking on hilly trails and along steep cliffs.

 

While the trails are great for long-distance trips, they don’t go everywhere so I still have to use on-street bike routes. I forgot how bad most of the on-street bike infrastructure is in the DC region. Yes, I know DC has protected bike lanes, which are actually better than any protected bike lanes in Portland. However, protected bike lanes in the DC region are on very few streets so I rarely ride on them.

I’m missing Portland’s neighborhood greenways. I used to live at SE 27th and Salmon, which is on a neighborhood greenway, so I memorized the neighborhood greenways. I rarely had to ride on busy roads outside of downtown Portland because neighborhood greenways went almost everywhere. Thankfully, I have found one element of neighborhood greenways in the DC region. Sharrows are found throughout the DC region. Even though the DC region has installed sharrows, which is a critical and cheap element to Portland’s neighborhood greenways, the DC region has horrible wayfinding for cyclists so the sharrows aren’t part of a neighborhood greenway. Due to this, I feel sharrows are only used in the DC region to communicate to cyclists that the government believes that the street is safe enough for biking and to communicate to motorists that they should expect to see cyclists using the street. Sharrows do much more than this in Portland so I miss biking on Portland’s neighborhood streets.

Before I totally dismiss the DC region’s on-street bike network, I’m excited to share that the DC region has several Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) maps. As all the below maps show, the DC region has plenty of work to do to make their on-street bike network feel more comfortable and less stressful. However, I find these maps much more useful than normal bike maps. This is mostly because a normal bike map shows all bike lanes the same while a LTS map shows bike lanes by how comfortable or stressful they are to ride on.

Arlington County, VA 2017 Bicycle Comfort Level Map (click to download front and back of map)

Montgomery County, MD Bicycle Stress Map (click to view map)

montgomery-county-lts-map

According to a presentation by Stephanie Dock, who works for District DOT, at the Transportation Techies meetup in October 2016, District DOT will be publicly releasing their LTS map soon so I’ll add their map when it’s released.

This blog post is getting long. I try to keep my blog posts under 1,000 words and will go over 1,000 words if I keep writing this blog post. While I still want to compare how my walking and transit riding habits have changed between Portland and DC, I may have to write about them in a new blog post. Readers, do you want me to write about my walking and transit riding habits in this blog post or start a new blog post?

Returning to the Automobile Dependent South

My train leaves Washington, DC for Charlotte, NC this Saturday. The below photo shows how I transported everything one mile from the home I was staying in to the Takoma Park metro station then on the Red Line to Union Station.

Transporting everything I brought to DC back home to North Carolina

Transporting everything I brought to DC back home to North Carolina

While I am looking forward to catching up with family and friends before moving to Portland, OR in September, I am very nervous and frustrated about returning to the automobile dependent South. I have thoroughly enjoyed living car-free in the Washington, DC region since the end of June. During this time, I have been commuting to and from work, carrying groceries, attending meetings, and many other trips all by bicycle. In addition, I have been biking 100 miles over two days on some weekends. All of this will most likely change to near zero bike trips and near zero miles of biking everyday until I move to Portland, OR in September.

Due to the Washington, DC region having such a great network of trails, almost the entire 100 mile distance was on trails. The below map, which I found here and was last updated in 2003, shows the locations of most of the multi-use trails in the DC region.

Map of DC Multi-Use Trails

Map of DC Multi-Use Trails

Since the multi-use trails are separated from automobile traffic, I didn’t have to deal with fast moving automobile traffic or stressed out motorists that don’t seam to care about other people, including other motorists. While the Charlotte region is improving its trail network, especially with the help of all the parks and recreation departments and the Carolina Thread Trail, it currently does not have long distance trail networks. The below map shows current and future greenways in Mecklenburg County.

Mecklenburg County Greenway Map

Mecklenburg County Greenway Map

Due to the Charlotte region not having the extensive trail network that the DC region has, I am going to be forced to bike on the road for most of my trips again. Since this is too stressful for me and the high risk of dying, I will most likely leave my bike at home and use my parents’ automobile again. I almost wish I wasn’t returning to the South before moving to Portland, OR.

Car Dependence to Car Free

I moved from Kannapolis, NC to Silver Spring, MD on June 29. I wanted to write a blog post before arriving in Silver Spring about how I expected my life to change as I went from being dependent on my parents’ car for nearly every trip to car free for every trip. Since I had to pack, keep up with emails and sleep at least a few hours per night, I ended up not having time to write this blog post.

Now that I am in Silver Spring, I want to reflect on my experience so far with living car free. In order to check how I am handling living car free, I wanted to hear whether I would ever say, “where is my parents’ car when I needed it?” I haven’t said this once. Instead, I have asked, “why are people driving an automobile in a region that has good (could be improved in many ways) walking, biking and transit infrastructure?” When I asked this, I actually looked at my driver’s license and noticed it expires on September 19, 2016. This will occur after I have graduated from Portland State University and hopefully have started a full-time job. If I find a job in a location where I don’t need to drive an automobile, which I am determined to find, I am seriously considering not renewing my driver’s license. For the reasons I have discussed in previous posts and many more reasons that I haven’t written about yet, I would never have thought this in Kannapolis. However, since I have been involved with bike planning meetings in Kannapolis, I would like to say that Kannapolis recognizes that people are asking for healthy and liveable communities so it is working hard to make Kannapolis more bike friendly. I look forward to someday returning to Kannapolis and biking safely to do all my trips. I am confident this day will come before I die.

Since the walking, biking and transit infrastructure is reasonable in the DC region, I have been walking, biking and riding transit for all my trips. This includes biking to work, walking to lunch, biking to the grocery store, biking and riding transit to downtown DC, moving from home to home by bike, and many other trips. While I can write an essay on my experience with each of these trips, I decided to focus this post on just a few aspects of my experience with biking over 50 miles in one day throughout the DC region. I included comparisons to the Charlotte region and the Netherlands.

What better way to explore the DC region than by bicycle! As the below map of my July 4 ride shows, I have biked over 50 miles throughout the DC region in a single day. I did another 50+ mile ride on July 20. Due to my cell phone dying both times, which I have been using for directions and counting mileage (both need constant use of GPS and 3G), I don’t have an exact number of miles. Having my cell phone die also brings up a very serious safety issue for me because I need a cell phone to call my cousin, who actually lives in DC, and police. I am currently looking at purchasing another battery and/or a bike computer so I can do everything I want to do and not risk my safety.

Ray's 50+ mile bike ride on July 4

Ray’s 50+ mile bike ride on July 4

Continuing with how I biked over 50 miles. The last time I biked over 50 miles in one day was when I was in the Netherlands during the summer of 2012. I have never biked over 50 miles in one day in the Charlotte region. While the bike infrastructure is slowly improving in the Charlotte region, which one can see with the Charlotte City Council’s vote to build the Cross-Charlotte Trail, not having biked at least 50 miles in one day in the Charlotte region informs me how terrible the bike infrastructure is in the Charlotte region. The main reasons I biked over 50 miles in the DC region was because the trail networks are well connected and last for miles and many roads like Beach Drive have slow-speed traffic and many cyclists to bike with.

Sections of Beach Drive are closed to motor vehicles on the weekends and holidays

Sections of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park are closed to motor vehicles on the weekends and holidays

I start riding on these trails and roads and forget how long I have been riding. It makes it even easier to ride for miles when I ride alongside a stranger or two as we discuss our histories, why we love cycling, how we would improve cycling in the DC region, and above all motivate each other to keep going. I can’t wait to do this with my future classmates and coworkers as we ride thousands of miles together!

I plan to bike over 50 miles every weekend I am in the DC region and continue biking over 50 miles per day as often as I can once I arrive in Portland. While the DC region has a great transit system, I find biking to be the best way to explore the DC region because I am not restricted to exploring where the transit system goes, it costs less to bike, biking is faster than walking, I enjoy getting lost in a neighborhood I have never been in before, I can stop where ever I want, I enjoy watching people as they move and interact, people on transit are usually glued to their cell phones or sleeping, and many other reasons.

Since my parents, especially my mom, have been asking me what I am doing at my internship, I will provide a quick overview. Even though my title is Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group, which I thought would have involved reading and writing transportation planning documents and less GIS analysis, all my work has been GIS analysis. In addition, the path to receiving my current internship was unlike any of my other internships and I have had several internships. Without writing another essay, I will just say that I applied for the internship in March after being recommended by a current employee in Toole Design Group’s Boston office for a full-time GIS Analyst position. I know the Boston employee from serving on the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP)’s Young Professionals Committee. I ended up applying for both the GIS Analyst and Transportation Planning Intern positions.

Continuing with what I am doing at my internship. After reading the internship responsibilities in March, I was informed what my internship responsibilities were going to be in June. Since I am currently working on a real project from the start of the project until I have to leave for Portland (short stop in Kannapolis), it was worth the wait to find out what my internship responsibilities were going to be. I have been using ArcGIS 10.2 and Google Earth so far to determine where 200 bike share stations should be located for Philadelphia’s bike share program, which will launch in 2015. I have been communicating with Toole Design Group staff in Portland, OR and Silver Spring, MD and City of Philadelphia staff. One of the things we communicated about was requesting data from the CyclePhilly App, which is shown below. I have never had an internship as fast-paced or involve as many people as this internship is. With the help of my supervisors, I have felt prepared for every challenge and am ready for what my next challenge brings!

CyclePhilly App’s first six weeks reveals where people in the Philadelphia region ride

CyclePhilly App’s first six weeks reveals where people in the Philadelphia region ride

I want to write about many more aspects of my transition from car dependence to car free, but will save these aspects for future posts and in person discussions. Since I am interning full-time, taking time to eat so I can try to gain weight while biking, doing all the house chores (living alone at the moment), biking countless amount of miles per day, and trying to get enough sleep per night, I am not sure when my next post will be. I am writing new draft posts every day when I see, hear, touch, smell, and taste something I want to write about. I have so far written nearly 50 draft posts, which are ready to be fully written so definitely have plenty to photograph, research and write about. Yes, my next post should have less words and more photos.

What does 0 to 100 mean?

My home in Kannapolis, NC has a walk score of 0! Even though I bike from here, which feels dangerous, it doesn’t even have bike or transit scores. Due to this, I am forced to use the private automobile for most of my trips. Even though this may appear like I am against the use of the private automobile, I see value in using the private automobile for long trips to remote locations where other modes of transportation may never reach. When modes other than the private automobile can reach my destination, I desire to walk, bicycle, use transit and the train, and any other sustainable mode of transportation. For me, it all comes down to the freedom to choose which mode of transportation I want to use.

Kannapolis Walk Score (zip code)

Toole Design Group’s Washington, DC office, which is where I will be a transportation planning intern starting in July, has a walk score of 98 and transit score of 91!

Silver Spring Walk, Transit Scores

Staring in September, I will be a Master of Urban and Regional Planning student with a transportation specialization at Portland State University, which is located in downtown Portland, Oregon. Portland State University’s Urban Center, which is where most of my classes will be located, has a walk score of 100, transit score of 90 and bike score of 91!

Portland Walk, Transit, Bike Scores

What is your walk score? Find out here!