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.

Ray’s Interview with Perils for Pedestrians

While I am excited that my interview with Perils for Pedestrians from early 2013 has been posted online, I am frustrated that the bicycle and pedestrian safety issue I was interviewed about has become reality. Here is the video, which should be forwarded to when my interview takes place at 10:33.

In case you are unfamiliar with Charlotte, I have provided a map below that shows where the Mallard Creek Greenway is closed at North Tryon Street. As you can see, this closure is near an entrance to UNC Charlotte so people commuting from across North Tryon Street have few, if any, safe routes to arrive on campus by walking or biking.

The intersection on February 22, 2013

As any good advocate does, I took photos of the intersection on February 22, 2013. While looking at the below photo, where should pedestrians and bicyclists safely cross North Tryon Street?

Mallard Creek Greenway looking west towards North Tryon Street

Mallard Creek Greenway looking west towards North Tryon Street

If you expected people to safely walk or bike across North Tryon Street, please look at the below photo. Automobiles travel about 50 mph through here. The nearest signalized pedestrian crossing is about 1/3 miles north at Mallard Creek Church Road, but I highly doubt anyone is going to walk that far to use the crosswalk when this section of North Tryon Street has no sidewalks.

Would you walk across North Tryon Street?

Would you walk across North Tryon Street?

Phase I detour: August 2014-May 2015

Since I am currently living in Portland, I don’t have photos of the detour. I’m hoping one of my Charlotte friends will help by sending me photos of the detour. Thankfully, I found a University City Partners blog post from July 1, 2014 that discusses the phase one and two detours. The detour during phase one, which started in August 2014 and may have closed in May 2015, involved a temporary detour path along North Tryon Street’s southbound lanes, which were closed to automobile traffic during the detour. The below map shows this temporary detour.

Mallard Creek Greenway Detour Map

Mallard Creek Greenway Detour Map

State engineer Ron Graham said the greenway detour path traveled up a gravel access road to North Tryon Street and onto a temporary paved path along the edge of the closed southbound lanes to Mallard Creek Church Road. People using the detour path crossed Mallard Creek Church Road and North Tryon Street via existing pedestrian crossing signals. An existing sidewalk led them to the Kirk Farm Fields Park and the start of Mallard Creek Greenway. A short walk back up the greenway connected with the Toby Creek Greenway bridge and access to UNC Charlotte. Even though I didn’t see the detour or walk it, I’m impressed with reading this detour.

Phase II detour started in May 2015

Unfortunately, the phase two detour is very disappointing. As I expected because I already knew the Barton Creek Greenway was being delayed when I asked Gwen Cook, Mecklenburg County’s greenway planner, about it in 2013,

“Design challenges have delayed a hoped-for second detour path – Barton Creek Greenway to University Place and UNC Charlotte. As a result, we may face several months in late 2015 without a greenway alternative.”

According to the blog post, phase two has no detour for pedestrians and bicyclists!

Once the state reopens the southbound bridge in May 2015 and reroutes northbound traffic onto the new bridge, the state must close the temporary greenway detour path, Graham says.

I find it interesting how the state “must” close the temporary greenway detour path. The main reason why NCDOT “must” close it is because NCDOT prioritizes automobiles over walking and bicycling.

Ray’s proposal for a phase II detour

Since I feel people in the United States often dismiss Dutch and Danish transportation infrastructure because they feel their city is too automobile dependent and doesn’t have funding to spend on bicycle and pedestrian safety projects, I’m very thankful inspiration for my phase two proposal comes from the United States. As I was biking along the Mount Vernon Trail near Fort Hunt National Park in Alexandria, VA on August 17, 2014, I was amazed by the below bicycle and pedestrian detour. To see all 22 photos of the detour, view my facebook album (sharing is set to public so anyone should be able to view it).

Bicycle and pedestrian detour along the Mount Vernon Trail

Bicycle and pedestrian detour along the Mount Vernon Trail

The below photo show the detour being routed onto an entire lane of George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is a state road maintained by the National Park Service. The reasons why I pointed out that it is a state road is because local jurisdictions have less control over what they can do with the road and North Tryon Street is a state maintained road. This is why many jurisdictions try to transfer state roads to city roads.

Let’s return to the NCDOT statement where Graham said, “the state must close the temporary greenway detour path.” Another option could have been to close the right southbound lane on North Tryon Street to automobile traffic so cyclists and pedestrians could have safely biked or walked to the signalized intersection at Mallard Creek Church Road. Was this option even discussed? If it was, I’m sure someone at NCDOT said, “motorists are going to hate us if we remove a travel lane!” I’m confident motorists didn’t enjoy having a travel lane removed on the George Washington Memorial Parkway either. Why did the Mount Vernon Trail have such a great construction detour for bicycle and pedestrian traffic while the Mallard Creek Greenway has no construction detour for bicycle and pedestrian traffic during phase two?

Mount Vernon Trail detour routed onto George Washington Memorial Parkway

Mount Vernon Trail detour routed onto George Washington Memorial Parkway

Phoenix’s Traffic Barricade Manual

John Wetmore informed me about how effective Phoenix’s Traffic Barricade Manual is for requiring contractors to provide a safe and convenient detour for pedestrians through construction zones. Here is a video of his interview with City of Phoenix staff about accommodating pedestrians through construction zones.

I plan to update this blog post after getting some photos of the phase two detour from a Charlotte friend and asking Gwen Cook for her thoughts on the feasibility of implementing my proposed detour for phase two.

First Impressions of Portland

I moved to Portland, Oregon on September 13 so I have lived here for over a week.  Before classes start on September 29, which is when I will need to focus much more time on studying and not writing my blog, I wanted to take a moment to share my first impressions of Portland. Since this is a transportation blog, I will start with comparing Portland and Charlotte’s transportation systems. I will conclude this post with discussing a few non-transportation topics that have impacted my transition to my new life in Portland.

Portland’s transportation system is much better than Charlotte’s transportation system. I rode transit, biked and walked in Charlotte and have been riding transit, biking and walking in Portland so will discuss these three modes. The main reason I love using transit in Portland is because TriMet, Portland’s regional transit system, is reliable. I downloaded one of the 50 or so third-party apps that were developed using TriMet’s open data. According to this article, “Rather than pay an in-house programmer, Oregon’s largest transit agency was the first in the nation to set its schedule and arrival data loose for outside developers to do with it what they may.” The below screenshots show the PDX Bus app, which has real-time arrival information and other information. The real-time arrival information is very accurate so I know exactly when I need to be at the bus stop.

pdxbus appHow does the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) compare to TriMet? Take a look at the lack of diverse CATS transit apps. I’m assuming CATS has so few transit apps because it does not provide open source data to third-party developers who could create a diversity of apps. In addition to not having a diversity of apps, CATS only offers approximate arrival information instead of real-time arrival information. Hopefully someday CATS will provide real-time arrival information with a diversity of apps to choose from.

My roommate, who is from Kansas and also an incoming MURP interested in transportation planning, and I live next to a neighborhood greenway so we constantly see cyclists. The below video, which was produced in 2010, shows what a neighborhood greenway is. I had never seen a neighborhood greenway in the United States before moving to Portland so assumed a neighborhood greenway was like an off-road greenway. While the neighborhood greenways have many benefits, which are discussed in the video, my roommate and I have experienced at least one issue while using them. The main issue my roommate and I have had with the neighborhood greenway next to our apartment is crossing busy intersections. In addition to the cross street having so many automobiles, many of the cross streets have sight issues because of on-street parking. We have to move far enough into the intersection to see past the parked automobiles. Due to this issue, we have considered avoiding neighborhood greenways and biking on arterials with stop lights so the stop lights stop cross traffic.

Our apartment is so close to everything that we have actually been walking to the grocery store, restaurants and bars. Since we only live about two miles from downtown Portland, there are sidewalks and crosswalks with pedestrian signals everywhere. Our neighborhood feels very similar to the NoDa neighborhood in Charlotte because it has concert and other ads posted on light poles, artistic graffiti drawn on buildings, and there are bars everywhere. I’m definitely not used to living in a neighborhood like this. However, I am growing to appreciate my new environment.

One area of my new environment that I am struggling to adapt to is the bar scene. While I knew before I moved to Portland that Portlanders and graduate students at any university love drinking alcohol, I am still out of my comfort zone. I almost never drank alcohol in North Carolina so have no idea what to order when I go to the bar with my roommate or other people. To make matters worse, the second year MURPs have organized bar socials this Friday and Saturday for them to meet the incoming MURPs. Besides when I attended graduate club meetings at UNC Charlotte, I never went to a bar so am nervous about how I will fit in with so many graduate students that probably have been drinking alcohol for years. It feels like Greek Life to me, which I avoided at UNC Charlotte, because I feel fraternity members have to drink alcohol to fit in with their brothers. Thankfully, my roommate and several other MURPs have told me they can teach me about alcohol. While I am open to learning, I haven’t enjoyed drinking alcohol so far. I prefer drinking milk, lemonade, orange juice, sweet tea, smoothies, and many other nonalcoholic drinks. I enjoy that nonalcoholic drinks are cheaper and most have free refills. I am also nervous about getting drunk. Since I have never been drunk, I don’t know my drinking limit. I have seen people get drunk before and it didn’t look enjoyable so I would prefer not ever getting drunk. In case you are wondering, I didn’t come to Portland for the famous beer and bars. I came to Portland to study the famous urban and regional planning.

Unlike UNC Charlotte’s main campus, which is located about ten miles from uptown Charlotte, Portland State University is located in downtown Portland. One of the biggest things I have noticed with attending school in downtown Portland is panhandling. While uptown Charlotte and downtown Portland have about the same amount of panhandling, I rarely went to uptown Charlotte so didn’t experience panhandling on a daily basis. I rarely experience panhandling outside of downtown Portland. Now that I have classes in downtown Portland almost every day, I will have people asking me for money every time I go to downtown Portland. Experiencing panhandling on a nearly daily basis gets depressing, especially when the panhandlers say things to put me down for not giving them any money.

While Portland’s transportation system is much better than Charlotte’s transportation system, Portland can still improve its transportation system. I am looking forward to studying urban and regional planning, which includes how to approach panhandling, more than drinking alcohol. Since classes start on September 29, my next post will probably be shorter but I hope to continue writing my blog during the school year.