Great Falls Park Transportation History

I wasn’t planning to write a post about my trip to Great Falls Park today because I assumed all that I would see and learn about was Great Falls.

I quickly realized how Great Falls Park’s transportation history directly impacted my transportation options to reach Great Falls Park from Arlington, VA. The visitor center at Great Falls Park has an exhibit devoted to the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad, which used to operate a trolley from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Great Falls Park, so I enjoyed learning more about the railroad and trolley. The trolley, which is shown in the below map, was in operation from 1906 to 1932.


Map shows trolley route from DC to Great Falls. Source: Wikipedia

While I was frustrated because I felt forced to drive to Great Falls Park today, I’m hopeful a new trolley system to Great Falls Park is built someday. Since the Great Falls Park parking lot was packed even in winter and many people in the DC region likely would prefer to leave their car at home, I assume a new trolley system would be successful. Surprisingly, the DC to Great Falls Park trolley line wasn’t originally built to take people from DC to Great Falls Park. Instead, the trolley line was built for people commuting from Fairfax County, VA, which is where Great Falls Park is located, to Washington, DC.

Since the trolley line wasn’t attracting enough customers on the weekend, the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad built the Great Falls Amusement Park, which had more amenities than the current park, to attract people to use the trolley line on the weekend. According to the visitor center exhibit, the Great Falls Amusement Park was a huge success and most people arrived by trolley. Since the trolley took 45 minutes and horse and buggy took 2 hours, I can see why the trolley was so popular. As is common with trolley systems throughout the US, automobiles proved to be faster and became more popular than trolleys so the DC to Great Falls trolley closed.

I realize a new trolley line isn’t coming anytime soon so I looked for other options to get to Great Falls Park. While I saw a group of training cyclists risking their lives on Old Dominion Drive, which is a curvy, two-lane rural road where they were biking, I wasn’t willing to risk my life biking on Old Dominion Drive so I’m thankful I chose to rent a car through Turo and drive to Great Falls Church. Since I used Getaround one time in Oregon to go hiking with Gerald and my dad used Turo to rent a car when he visited me in Portland for my graduation, I compared Getaround and Turo. I found more cars available in Arlington and cheaper cars through Turo so I rented a car through Turo. Yes, I drove a car for the first time today since driving from Kannapolis, NC to Charlotte during winter break in December 2015. I get very anxious when driving and feel more comfortable walking, biking, and riding transit so I’ve been trying to avoid driving.

Even though the rental car turned out to be useful, I didn’t originally get the rental car to go to Great Falls Park. I was originally planning to use the rental car to drive to Columbia, MD to meet Belita, who is a Nigerian (born and raised in Nigeria) woman I met through OkCupid. While normally I wouldn’t drive 80 miles round-trip to meet a woman, Belita lives in a famous planned community called Columbia, MD so I was already planning to visit Columbia someday. Having the opportunity to meet someone new, especially an attractive woman, is an added bonus. Plus, Belita offered to give me a personalized tour of her hometown and invited me to experience mass with her. If she gives me permission, I plan to interview her for a blog post about growing up in Nigeria, moving to the US, and her experience living in the planned community of Columbia. I’m looking forward to meeting Belita and visiting Columbia!

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”.


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.

Ray Does Have Multimodal Experience

While I still plan to write more about my study abroad trip last summer to the Netherlands, I have been surprised by how some people think I am only focused on bike planning. I want to resolve any confusion people may have about my multimodal experience. Since my resume mostly shows bike planning experience and this blog is mostly about biking, I have been asked during job interviews whether I have any transportation planning experience beyond bike planning. Some of my bike friends in Portland have told me that they have also been asked this question during job interviews and believe it is a common question for any Portland-based transportation planners applying for jobs outside of Portland. They told me the question is most likely due to the fact that Portland is known mostly for bike planning outside of Portland. Yes, I have extensive experience in transportation planning beyond bike planning. Through this post, I plan to show a variety of transportation planning projects I have worked on.

Pedestrian Planning

“Whether you live in a city or a small town, and whether you drive a car, take the bus or ride a train, at some point in the day, everyone is a pedestrian.”
Anthony Foxx
United States Secretary of Transportation

I believe in prioritizing people and creating human-sized cities. In case you are wondering what I mean by “prioritizing people”, read my previous blog post about advocating for people. Since everyone is a pedestrian and pedestrians are a vulnerable road user, I feel it is important to showcase my pedestrian planning work first. While I have worked on many pedestrian planning projects, the biggest pedestrian planning project was my planning workshop project during winter and spring terms at Portland State University. My planning workshop group, which consisted of a total of four Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students, worked with Tigard, Oregon and State of Place to create a walkability and economic development plan for the Tigard Triangle.


If you don’t have time to read the entire plan, I would like to highlight the below map because it shows the importance of the plan. The State of Place Raw Score shows walkability scores for every road segment in the Tigard Triangle. Value per Acre shows economic development opportunities. Through the plan my group created, we prioritized walkability and economic development improvements in the Tigard Triangle.

Tigard Triangle Walkable Small Business

Map from Ray’s Workshop Project

Bicycle Planning

Since everyone already knows I’m passionate about bicycle planning and most of my blog has already been devoted to writing about biking, I’m not going to write much about my bike planning experience. This previous blog post shows a map I helped create during my Transportation Planning Internship at Toole Design Group.

Automobile Planning

Even though I am mostly passionate about pedestrian and bicycle planning, I do have automobile planning experience and do care about motorist safety. After all, motorists are people. During my Transportation Planning Internship at Charlotte DOT, I calculated Level of Service (LOS) for many intersections. One of my goals of calculating LOS was to improve motorist safety.

Transit Planning

All of my internships have involved pedestrian, bicycle and automobile planning so I don’t have too much experience with transit planning. However, as the below map shows, I did some transit planning during my workshop project.

Transit in Tigard Triangle

Map from Ray’s Workshop Project

I hope I have convinced you that I have well rounded transportation planning experience.

It is not the destination, but the journey.

I’m probably one of the few master’s degree graduates who has been looking forward to using some of my newfound free time to keep writing. Since I didn’t have enough time before fall 2015 term started to finish blogging about my study abroad trip last summer to the Netherlands, I want to keep blogging about this trip. Due to how much interest there is in the United States to learn from the Netherlands, I plan to use specific examples from the United States and the Netherlands to show how the United States can learn from my experiences in the Netherlands.

My graduation cap was inspired by my study abroad trips to Denmark and the Netherlands in 2012 and the Netherlands in 2015. The words, “It is not the destination, but the journey”, were inspired by The Slow Bicycle Movement.

2016-06-11 13.44.05

Ray Atkinson’s 2016 Graduation Cap

As I discussed in my previous blog post and the below video shows, most cyclists in the United States are too concerned about arriving at their destination as fast as possible that they forget about enjoying their journey. My study abroad experiences in Denmark and the Netherlands showed me that most cyclists in these countries enjoy their journey and don’t care too much about arriving at their destination as fast as possible. Through my bicycle advocacy work at UNC Charlotte and Portland State University, I tried to advocate for cyclists to shift from focusing on arriving at their destination as fast as possible to focusing on enjoying their journey. Wherever life takes me after graduation, I plan to continue advocating for this shift and hope to someday see most cyclists in the United States enjoying their journey.

I realize world-class bike infrastructure alone cannot achieve a culture shift in the United States from fast to slow biking so we need local, regional, state, and national comprehensive bike plans. Through my next blog posts, I plan to show how the Netherlands created and has been implementing local, regional, provincial, and national comprehensive bike plans. Since the United States is light years behind the Netherlands when it comes to local, regional, state and national comprehensive bike planning, I also plan to show how the United States can learn from the Netherlands.

Control and Release

After writing my previous post about how Oregon’s laws are terrible for vehicular cyclists and encountering motorists that have no idea what control and release means when I use it, I wanted to discuss the importance of why I use control and release. Since I’m assuming most people don’t know what control and release is, I have provided the below short video, which was produced by Cycling Savvy.

Even though the below photo shows the control signal used by a motorcyclist, I couldn’t find a photo of a cyclist using the control signal. This likely means that few cyclists are using control and release. As I will discuss more later in this post, I didn’t learn about control and release until earlier this year.

Control Signal

Control Signal

In case you are still wondering why controlling the lane is safer than always edge riding, Cycling Savvy created this animation comparing the hazards of edge riding with the safety of controlling the lane. Even though I provided the below diagram in my previous post, I want to make sure you understand the need to control the lane before I continue with discussing control and release.

Most common reasons to leave a bike lane

Most common reasons to leave a bike lane

While I have been biking daily since freshman year of undergrad (2009) and controlling the lane where it is unsafe to ride on the edge since I learned how to control the lane sometime during undergrad, I only recently learned about control and release. The below screenshot of my post in the Cyclists are Drivers facebook group shows that I learned about control and release in May 2015.

Ray Atkinson's post about control and release in Cyclists are Drivers' facebook group.

My post about control and release in Cyclists are Drivers’ facebook group.

I have only taken the League of American Bicyclists’ Traffic Skills 101 course, which didn’t teach control and release, and no courses through Cycling Savvy, which didn’t offer courses in North Carolina until after I moved to Oregon and doesn’t offer courses in Oregon, so my education on how to do control and release has been through the video I shared with you at the beginning of this post and learning by trial and error.

My trial and error experiences in Portland have so far resulted in motorists not waiting on neighborhood greenways and choosing to pass me by crossing the double yellow line when the motorists feel they can speed up fast enough to pass me before the oncoming traffic closes the gap. However, I have had at least one successful use of control and release where motorists waited patiently behind me when I used the control signal and didn’t pass me until I moved over to the right and gave them the release signal. When I mentioned in my previous post about how Oregon law should allow cyclists to control the lane on any road and drive as slow as they need to, especially when they are trying to avoid hazardous conditions, I feel education of both motorists and cyclists should be incorporated. Motorists and cyclists should be taught how control and release works. This should result in cyclists being safer and less delay and inconvenience for motorists.

Cyclist’s Safety vs. Motorist’s Convenience

I have been thinking about vehicular cycling and the law ever since I started learning how to control the lane several years ago. However, my frustration with the law reached a new peak this week when I read this recently published article about Bicycles May Use Full Lane (BMUFL) signs and attended the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Legal Clinic. The first half of this podcast covers almost everything that was covered during the Legal Clinic. My friend Gerald, who is also a vehicular cyclist and President of Bike PSU, and I asked Ray Thomas, who is a bike lawyer with decades of experience, about Oregon’s bike laws.

Before I continue, I should mention that I am not one of the vehicular cyclists that is against all segregated bike infrastructure. As my previous blog post discusses, I support segregated bike infrastructure that is safe, especially at intersections, which is very rare or doesn’t exist. The below diagram, which I found on Cycling Savvy, shows reasons why segregated bike infrastructure, especially bike lanes, isn’t safe. This animation, which was also created by Cycling Savvy, shows why lane control is so important for safety. Portland has plenty of on-street parking so I risk being doored while riding on door zone bike lanes every day.

Most common reasons to leave a bike lane

Most common reasons to leave a bike lane

Gerald and I were disappointed to learn just how bad Oregon’s bike laws are for vehicular cyclists. Even though neither of us have ever been pulled over by the police or given a ticket for vehicular cycling, we are concerned this could happen because the law is against us. As the below map shows, which I found on Dan Gutierrez’s facebook, Oregon isn’t the only state in the US to have laws against vehicular cyclists. Only two states, Arkansas and North Carolina, have equitable bicycling movement laws.

US States with Equitable Bicycling Laws

US States with Equitable Bicycling Laws

Using this legal bike guide, I will provide specific examples of how Oregon law is against vehicular cyclists. Since I didn’t want to overwhelm readers, I only copied the sections that I felt are most important so the entire statute is not copied. I also bolded the most important words.

ORS 814.430 Improper use of lanes; exceptions; penalty.
(1) A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic using the roadway at that time and place under the existing conditions and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway.
(2) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is not operating a bicycle as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway under any of the following circumstances:
(c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or other conditions that make continued operation along the right curb or edge unsafe or to avoid unsafe operation in a lane on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side. Nothing in this paragraph excuses the operator of a bicycle from the requirements under ORS 811.425 or from the penalties for failure to comply with those requirements.

ORS 811.425 Failure of slower driver to yield to overtaking vehicle; penalty.

While ORS 814.430 legally allows cyclists in Oregon to control the full lane, it limits where and under what circumstances cyclists are legally allowed to control the full lane. ORS 814.430(2)(c) and how it relates to ORS 811.425 concerns me the most. If Oregon really cares about Vision Zero, the speed of the overtaking vehicle shouldn’t matter because the cyclist’s safety should matter more than the motorist’s convenience to get places quickly. Cyclists should be allowed to control the full lane on any road and drive as slow as they need to, especially when they are trying to avoid hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, we live in an automobile dominated society and our laws reflect this.