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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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.

dc_streetcar_diagram

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”.

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.

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.