Kannapolis is Changing at Eye Level

“Kannapolis is Changing at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. As you may know, I was raised in Kannapolis, NC. I lived in Kannapolis from when I was born in 1990 to when I moved to Charlotte in 2009 to attend UNC Charlotte. I also lived in Kannapolis from 2013-14 between graduating from UNC Charlotte and starting my Transportation Planning Internship at Toole Design Group in the Washington, DC region. While I did not plan to visit Kannapolis in 2020, the coronavirus forced me to work remotely and only fly within the US. Since spas inside resorts were closed due to the coronavirus, I decided to visit Kannapolis during my 24-day workation.

As the below 2020 photo (right) shows, the reconstruction of West Avenue in Downtown Kannapolis was completed in time for me to check it out during my visit. While I wish Kannapolis planners had constructed back-in parking because it is safer for all road users than front-in parking, I am impressed with how Kannapolis planners revitalized the deteriorating West Avenue. Since I grew up in Kannapolis, I remember how West Avenue looked in the 2017 Google Street View, which is on the left in the below photos.

Before (2017) and after (2020) West Avenue in Kannapolis. Source: Google Street View (2017)

Many people are unfamiliar with what back-in parking is and the benefits of this parking for all road users. Due to this, I wanted to share how Charlotte, NC has been using back-in parking before I continue to share about the changes to West Avenue. For readers unfamiliar with where Kannapolis is located, Kannapolis is a suburb of Charlotte. While I realize the big city usually implements new things before the suburbs do, I was hopeful that Kannapolis would implement back-in parking when it redesigned West Avenue because Charlotte has been using back-in parking for several years.

Instructions for Back-In Parking in Charlotte, NC. Source: City of Charlotte, NC
Source: City of Charlotte, NC

Since my dad needs me to help him move things around the house before I fly from Charlotte to Minneapolis today, I am going to write the rest of this post later. I took about 50 photos of the West Avenue changes yesterday. I plan to share many of these photos when I have more time to finish this post. In case Kannapolis planners read my blog, I wanted to thank you for making the changes to West Avenue. While I wish back-in parking was constructed, I enjoyed most of the changes so great work on revitalizing Downtown Kannapolis!

Planning for People Over Cars in Downtown Oregon City

Since I am the Transportation Advisory Committee’s representative on the Downtown Oregon City Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Implementation Working Group, the City of Oregon City invited me to join this group on a tour of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project and Downtown Oregon City. In case you are unfamiliar with the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, I recommend watching the below video.

Even though the working group knows we need to prioritize people over cars because there will not be enough space to park all the cars on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project site, I found it interesting that the first thing the tour guide showed us was where cars would be parked on the future site. The tour guide even shared a specific location for the interim on-site surface parking lot and an estimate on the number of cars that could be parked in this lot.

While I assumed the tour guide was referring to parked cars because most people in Oregon City drive, he only said “parking” so I asked the tour guide to clarify what type of parking and whether there would be parking for bikes. My assumption was correct that he was only referring to car parking when he said “parking”. Thankfully, he said there would also be parking for bikes because the City requires bike parking. However, he was unable to provide a specific location for bike parking and how many bikes could be parked.

According to the below diagram, car “parking supply at full build-out of the site is estimated at 1,150 spaces off-street, and 85 spaces on-street.” Even though the City requires bike parking, I could not find any diagram for bike parking. This shows me that the project vision prioritizes car parking. On a positive note, minimum car parking space requirements may be reduced by up to 50% because the site is part of the downtown parking district.

In addition to being excited to hear about the potential for a 50% reduction of car parking, I was excited to hear that City staff are considering whether to remove mandatory car parking minimums in the downtown parking district. While I am sure there will be internal and public resistance, City staff want to give developers the flexibility to decide whether or not to include car parking in their projects. City staff said the mandatory car parking minimums have prevented many downtown developments from being built because the projects could not pencil out. As the below map shows, there is an international movement to remove car parking minimums.

While I was not satisfied with the tour guide’s answers, I was told that we would discuss bike parking more at a later point in the planning process. Even though I am used to bike parking being an afterthought in Oregon City, I was still frustrated that I had to ask for “parking” to be clarified and request that bike parking be discussed. Do Dutch and Danish planners have to ask for this clarification or do their tour guides automatically specify which type of parking?

As you know, I will be presenting on a panel at the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) Conference in Portland on August 26 from 1:45-3:15pm (here is the agenda for August 26). Several Dutch and Danish planners that I have communicated with will be at this international conference, so I plan to ask them the above parking question.

Ray’s Behavior Change from 2009-2019

While I now get frustrated about having to clarify “parking” and request that bike parking be discussed, this shows how much I have changed over the past ten years. As I wrote about in this 2014 post and the below 2009 article shows, I used to advocate for cars by supporting the widening of North Carolina Highway 3 in Kannapolis. I said the below statement during my senior year at Northwest Cabarrus High School and just a semester before I started at UNC Charlotte. I was actually one of the few residents that supported the widening project. As this article shows, most people opposed the project because they wanted to maintain the rural character along this section of Highway 3. They felt widening Highway 3 would bring too much dense development and traffic congestion. Since I tell people that I was raised in a suburban area, it feels weird to see the articles described my home as being in a rural area.

Not everyone was opposed to the idea of a wider N.C. 3. Ray Atkinson lives about a mile off of the highway.
“I think it’s good to plan for growth,” Atkinson said. The N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis would benefit from the proposed improvements, he added.

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Kannapolis Citizen article from January 28, 2009

Translating My Kannapolis Experience to Oregon City

Even though most people on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project and Downtown Oregon City tour saw me as the bike advocate, I am curious how much their perception of and interaction with me would have changed if I shared my Kannapolis experience. In addition to advocating for cars in Kannapolis, I experienced the closure of Cannon Mills (aka Pillowtex) in 2003. I have followed the redevelopment of this closed mill site into the North Carolina Research Campus. The redevelopment has also included areas beyond the closed mill site in Downtown Kannapolis. This redevelopment had such a large impact on me that I studied it for my high school senior exit project in Fall 2008. The Willamette Falls Legacy Project and redevelopment of Downtown Oregon City reminds me of my work in Downtown Kannapolis.

High School Senior Project

Mrs. Andersen, who was my high school teacher and advisor for my senior exit project, and I looking at a 1950s map of Kannapolis, NC in Fall 2008.

Translating My Tigard Experience to Oregon City

I also see similarities between my work in Tigard and Oregon City. As this 2016 post shows, my PSU planning workshop team consulted for the City of Tigard and worked with State of Place to conduct a walkability study in the Tigard Triangle and Downtown Tigard. The Downtown Oregon City TDM Implementation Working Group plans to work with City staff to conduct a walkability and bikeability study in Downtown Oregon City. I plan to write a future blog post about this study after it launches.

Opposing Viewpoints On Vision Zero During My Family’s 1st Hawaiian Vacation

As many of you know, my dad and I have opposing viewpoints on many controversial topics. Since our discussions frequently get heated and we were on vacation, I tried to avoid discussing controversial topics. Plus, the rest of my family does not feel comfortable engaging in these heated discussions. The below pedestrian safety issues were too much for me to hold my tongue, so my dad and I got into a heated discussion about Vision Zero. For those who do not know what Vision Zero is, the goal of Vision Zero is to achieve zero traffic fatalities. While my dad understands what Vision Zero means, we disagreed on whether it is a realistic goal, who should be held responsible if the goal is not achieved by the agreed upon date, and whether millions of dollars should be invested in a project to prevent one death.

My dad and I agreed that the pedestrian crossing flags shown in the below photos show that the government recognizes the safety issue and is trying to resolve the issue. I tried to convince my dad that pedestrian crossing flags have been proven to not prevent crashes. I found several intersections with pedestrian crossing flags on the Big Island. While I saw people walking in urban areas, cars dominated the suburban and rural areas. The Big Island has many pedestrian safety issues. As a conservative, my dad did not want to spend millions to prevent a crash from happening. This was especially true when we saw no one walking, which is seen in the top photo.

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Kona side of Hawaii Island (aka Big Island). Photo: Ray Atkinson.

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Kona side of Hawaii Island (aka Big Island). Photo: Ray Atkinson.

Since we drove on many highways with few pedestrian and bike crossings on Hawaii Island, we saw many people jaywalking. My dad felt I put too much responsibility on the driver to prevent crashing into the jaywalker and not enough responsibility on the pedestrian. I called him out for victim blaming because he felt the pedestrian should walk out of their way to find a crosswalk, which could be miles away. My dad did not appreciate being told that he was guilty of blaming the victim. Before I proceed, I want to clarify that most of the responsibility to prevent traffic deaths should be on the government. The government, especially the traffic engineer, must approve project designs before they can be built.

While my dad wanted me to keep the jaywalking discussion on US law, I kept trying to force us to discuss Dutch law. As this post shows, the Netherlands has no laws about jaywalking. Pedestrians in the Netherlands can legally cross the street anywhere. I would love to see US law changed to allow this!

Jaywalking US vs Netherlands

What is forbidden in one jurisdiction can be encouraged in another jurisdiction. Above: a card that was handed out in the 1920s in the US to discourage ‘jaywalking’. Below how the city of Utrecht would like pedestrians to use a street (yellow lines) that they reconstructed in 2014. Source: BicycleDutch

I do not want to end this post by giving the impression that all my dad and I did during our vacation was argue. While the partial federal government shutdown gave us plenty of other heated arguments, we had plenty of calm discussions. My family thanked me for the countless hours of research I did to find us things to do every day during our vacation. Since I wanted to explore two islands, I flew to and from Honolulu, which is on Oahu Island. I explored Oahu Island on two weekends and Hawaii Island (aka Big Island) with my parents and twin sister on Monday-Friday. My brother could not join us because he is in graduate school at Pfeiffer University’s Charlotte campus and recently started a new job in Charlotte. Here is a selection of photos from my vacation:

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My 2nd cousin (right) and his wife (center) with me at their Honolulu oceanview condo. Since the lighting is horrible, I need to learn how to take better photos. Photo: Ray Atkinson.

Digital Camera

Bike attachment possibly used to transport surfboard. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Tour at Big Island Bees. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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We found green sea turtles at the Black Sand Beach. Photo: Ray’s dad.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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My dad exchanged the Kannapolis Rotary Club banner for the Kona Mauka Rotary Club banner. I used to be a member of the Kannapolis Rotary Club. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Rainbow Falls in Hilo. Photo: Ray Atkinson

Digital Camera

Whale and dolphin watching off Kona coast of Hawaii Island. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Snorkeling in January! Photo: Ray’s dad

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Maori (indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand) dance at Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Learned how to make coconut oil at Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo: Ray Atkinson

I have other photos from my Hawaiian vacation, but I have shared my favorite photos. I am back in Oregon City wearing winter clothes. I enjoyed escaping the cold and gray skies by vacationing in Hawaii, so I plan to do it again someday.

Transportation Logistics for My Family’s 1st Hawaiian Vacation

Welcome to 2019! I cannot believe my ten-year high school reunion is this year! In case my NC family and friends are curious whether I plan to fly back to NC for this reunion, I will decide this after learning what day the reunion is happening and whether I have enough vacation days available.

Adventure Cycling Association’s The Greg Siple Award

I applied for the Adventure Cycling Association’s The Greg Siple Award, which closed yesterday. If I receive this award then I may not have enough vacation days available to attend my high school reunion. Both of the Outdoor Leadership recipients receive a four-day Leadership Training Course of their choosing and a ten-day (some tours are shorter and some tours are longer) Self-Contained Tour of their choosing within 18 months of taking the Leadership Training Course.

gs-award_slider_greg-siple

Source: Adventure Cycling Association

Following the Leadership Training Course, recipients are required to complete the outreach project that they proposed in their application. Recipients are also required to write two blog posts, which will be posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog. One post will be about their experience taking their educational course and one post about the outcome of their outreach project. Finalists will be notified by February 8 and asked to submit a short video recording or do a live interview (no more than two minutes) in response to one question. Winners will be notified by March 1. I am excited about this potentially life-changing opportunity!

Ray’s 1st Hawaiian Vacation

My last post discussed my work goals for 2019. While I need to be less of a workaholic and depart work before my boss tells me to leave, I have been planning a nine-day January 19-27, 2019 Hawaiian vacation that will force me to not be a workaholic. My parents and twin sister, who still live in North Carolina, will be meeting me in Hawaii. Since my brother is in graduate school and working a new job, he cannot take nine days off for this vacation.

Since Hawaii has six major islands, I decided to visit more than one island. I will start and end my vacation on Oahu Island. My dad’s optometry conference is on Hawaii Island (aka Big Island), so I will fly there and back from Oahu Island. Flying between islands is expensive and my dad would have had to pay for three people, so he decided that my parents and sister will only visit Hawaii Island.

Coordinating my flights to and from Oahu Island around my dad’s conference schedule were made more complex by the fact that our rental home on Hawaii Island is not easily transit and bike accessible. This means I cannot easily use transit or bike to and from the Kona International Airport. My dad, who rented a car, will have to pick me up and drop me off at the airport.

Unfortunately, car-free transportation logistics get even worse on Hawaii Island. Unlike Honolulu, which has bikeshare, no city on Hawaii Island appears to have bikeshare. I even tried to rent a bike on Hawaii Island through Spinlister, which just relaunched today. As the below map shows, Spinlister has no bikes available on Hawaii Island, which is the southernmost island.

Spinlister Hawaii

Source: Spinlister

While transit exists on Hawaii Island, it does not appear to be as reliable as what I am used to in the Portland, OR region. The below map looked great until I reviewed the bus schedules. My family will be staying in Waikoloa Village and my dad’s conference is in Puako. Since the car rental company only allows my dad to drive the car and my dad needs the car to attend his conference, my mom, sister and I will not have a car for several days. I hope transit proves to be more reliable than what the schedules show. If not, we will be spending more time that we want in Waikoloa Village. I could rent another car so my mom, sister and I can explore Hawaii Island while my dad is attending his conference.

Hawaii Island_bus_route_map

Source: County of Hawaii Mass Transit Agency

Even though I chose to have fewer days on Oahu Island than Hawaii Island because I wanted to spend time with my family, I may explore more on Oahu Island than on Hawaii Island. This is mostly due to how much easier it should be to travel throughout Honolulu and Oahu Island. Honolulu has direct (no transfer needed) bus service from Honolulu International Airport to my Waikiki (Honolulu neighborhood) hostel. Since I received a $20 off code, I reserved a free bike in Waikiki through Spinlister. Honolulu also has Biki, which is a dock-based bikeshare system. Ride Sharee operates a dockless bikeshare system in Honolulu.

Honolulu Biki Bikeshare

Source: Biki

Since many tour companies provide affordable transportation from Waikiki to throughout Oahu Island, I do not need a car on Oahu Island. While I am still stressed about transportation logistics on Hawaii Island, I am feeling prepared for transportation logistics on Oahu Island. If I do end up needing a car in Honolulu, my second cousin lives in Honolulu with his wife and baby. He offered to pick me up and drop me off at the Honolulu International Airport. He has also been helping me plan my Hawaiian vacation. I expect to be busy or relaxing on a beach in Hawaii, so I plan to wait until returning to Oregon to write a reflection post about how my vacation went. What do you have planned in 2019?

Living Car-Free in American Suburb

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I am currently living car-free in the American suburb of Oregon City, which is located at the southern edge of the Portland, OR region.

Portland Region Map

Oregon City is located at the southern edge of the Portland region. I live and work in southern Oregon City. Source: AARoads

I will admit that I did not envision living and working in a suburb similar to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, NC when I moved from Kannapolis to Charlotte in August 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. Since I hated feeling forced to drive an automobile for every trip in Kannapolis and loved the freedom of many transportation choices in Charlotte, I never imagined returning to a suburb after graduating from UNC Charlotte. As I hope this post shows you, returning to a suburb may have been the best decision for my career.

While I still prefer living in an urban area and miss living in Arlington, VA’s award-winning Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, I feel I am making a much bigger difference working in the suburb of Oregon City than I could have made working in a big city. This is mostly because I am the only transportation planner at Clackamas Community College (CCC) and one of the few active transportation planners in Oregon City.

I worked or interned in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Portland (OR), and the DC region, so I am confident that if I worked in a large city I would be in a large transportation department with many staff working on active transportation planning issues. While I am not trying to devalue the work that planners do in big cities, especially since they have to work on more complex issues than I have in Oregon City, how much difference does EACH of these planners have in creating change in their big city?

Since I am an entry-level transportation planner, I keep thinking about how much more difference I am making in Oregon City than I could have made as an entry-level transportation planner among many entry-level transportation planners in a big city. While I have to get permission to do things like apply for grants, I have been given plenty of professional freedom so far to pursue what I feel would be useful for improving multimodal transportation choices at CCC. This also means that I have to be more responsible for the decisions I make because I am the only transportation planner. Since I was micromanaged at a previous job (purposely not giving specifics because I do not want to embarrass a previous employer) and this overwhelmed my supervisor and me, I am thankful my current supervisor is not micromanaging me.

While I wrote earlier how Oregon City is a similar suburb to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, Oregon City has much better active transportation access to Portland than Kannapolis has to Charlotte. After biking from my home in southern Oregon City to Downtown Oregon City on almost completely connected bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows, I can ride on almost completely connected trails all the way to Downtown Portland. The regional version of the below trails map can be found here. I actually helped create this map during my internship at Oregon Metro.

Portland to Oregon City Trails Map

Regional trails between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Oregon Metro

The below map shows most of the bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Since Portland’s famous neighborhood greenways and Oregon City’s signed bike routes and sharrows aren’t shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Portland to Oregon City Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Google Maps

Unless I rarely wanted to visit Charlotte or spend lots of time and money on transferring between multiple transit systems in the Charlotte region (I can take unlimited trips on TriMet’s light rail lines and buses throughout the Portland region for $5/day), I could not have lived car-free in Kannapolis. While the Carolina Thread Trail is working to connect trails throughout the Charlotte region and I volunteered to help create the Carolina Thread Trail Map, it is not possible today to use trails or any other bike infrastructure to bike between Downtown Kannapolis and Uptown Charlotte. Since Charlotte’s bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows are not shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Charlotte to Kannapolis Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Uptown Charlotte and Downtown Kannapolis. Source: Google Maps

Oregon City has good biking and transit access to Portland, so I have been able to visit Portland frequently without driving. While some people in Oregon City have suggested I should buy a car so I can travel quicker, owning and maintaining a car is expensive. Plus, my job literally involves helping people to reduce car dependency. I can currently motivate people to reduce car dependency by telling them that it is possible to live car-free in a suburb like Oregon City because I live car-free here. How would they react if I told them I gave up and purchased a car for the first time in my life?

While I live car-free in my personal life, I cannot reach all my work trips by walking, biking and riding transit. Since I did not want to buy a car for work trips, my supervisor helped me reserve the below hybrid electric car, which CCC owns. This car is only available during the summer term because students learn how to reconstruct the car during other terms. Due to this, I have had to use expensive transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to travel for work trips during the rest of the year. Even though I was nervous about whether my supervisor would support my car-free lifestyle, he has been very supportive.

I have so far driven the hybrid electric car to and from the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4) Meeting near Mt Hood. Since this was the first time I drove after moving back to Oregon and I didn’t drive much when I lived in Virginia, I had to adjust to driving again. I have always been a slow driver, but Oregon drivers have been proven to be among the nation’s slowest drivers so I fit in.

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Hybrid electric car provided for work trips. Photo: Ray Atkinson

As my below Instagram post shows, the C4 Meeting provided me with good insights into Clackamas County’s transportation priorities. Unfortunately for my work to reduce car dependency, widening I-205 is definitely the top priority. Oregon DOT (ODOT), which presented about the I-205 toll and widening project during the C4 Meeting, has been trying to get support for widening I-205 by saying this will reduce traffic congestion. While traffic congestion may be reduced in the short-term, induced demand has shown that widening highways never reduced traffic congestion in the long-term. This is why ODOT needs to use the I-205 toll revenue to fund active transportation projects, which have been proven to reduce traffic congestion on highways. If ODOT is looking for an existing program to review, I recommend the I-66 Commuter Choice Program because revenue from the I-66 toll in Northern Virginia is directly funding active transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

I have not decided what my next blog post will be about, but it will probably be something about what I am experiencing in Oregon. Thank you for reading my blog!

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. As the below table shows, which I found in this article, walkable places reduce combined housing and transportation costs. 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.

traditional city vs sprawling city costs

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.

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!

Returning to the Netherlands

I am excited to be returning to the Netherlands from July 1-17 with Portland State University. I previously traveled to Denmark and the Netherlands for three weeks during the summer of 2012 with the University of Oregon.

University of Oregon Group Ride in the Netherlands

University of Oregon Group Ride in the Netherlands

As I discussed in my first blog post, the Walk Score of my home in Kannapolis, NC is zero so I was forced to be in an automobile for all my trips. This is a major reason why I am so passionate about helping communities provide transportation choices. I desire to see communities where people aren’t forced to depend on an automobile for all their trips like I was forced to do growing up. Since I am still learning how to help communities provide transportation choices, I look forward to learning again from the Netherlands about how it has been successful in creating communities with transportation choices.

Learning about the transportation infrastructure isn’t my only goal with this trip. The course requires a design project. Since my design skills are weak, I am hoping to learn design software so I can be more involved with the completion of the design project. I was involved with multiple group projects during my first year in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program that I was unable to fully assist with because I lacked the necessary design skills. I hope to improve my design skills enough this summer so I will be fully prepared to assist my team with our planning workshop project, which starts in the winter quarter.

I will be blogging throughout my study abroad trip so expect to see another blog post soon.

Forced to Get Driver’s License

In my previous post, I mentioned how living car-lite opened my eyes to the benefits of providing people with transportation choices and the negative outcomes of driving an automobile. While this is true, I believe my frustration with living in an automobile-centric society started sometime during high school when I could no longer take the school bus (started community college during high school) or have my parents drive me everywhere.

As many Northwest Cabarrus High School students experience, I was forced to get a driver’s license. However, I waited as long as possible to get my driver’s license. I got a driver’s license after I turned 18 when I needed to drive 1.5 miles from Northwest Cabarrus High School to Rowan Cabarrus Community College. If there was a bus to transport me, sidewalks, bike lanes, or a greenway, I probably would not have gotten a driver’s license during high school. I didn’t need a driver’s license at UNC Charlotte, so I’m not sure when I would have gotten a driver’s license if I didn’t get it during high school. Surprisingly, according to this article, I’m not the only teenager or young adult that doesn’t want to get a driver’s license.

Even though I didn’t care much about it before college, I wish I would have been able to walk or bike to school. As the below video discusses, only 13% of students walked or biked to school in 2009. This is down from nearly 50% in 1969, which is around the time when my parents went to school.

One of the reasons why I couldn’t easily walk or bike to school was how far I lived away from school. I lived 5.5 miles from Odell Elementary School, 4 miles from Northwest Cabarrus Middle School, 12 miles from the School for Environmental Studies (transferred here because I was in a wheelchair after an automobile crash in middle school), and 4 miles from Northwest Cabarrus High School. Even if I lived nearby, it wasn’t safe to walk or bike to school. The largest barriers to me walking and biking to school were no sidewalks, bike lanes, greenways, bike racks, and crossing two- or four-lane highways with a 55 mph speed limit.

Thankfully, it is possible to walk and bike to school in the United States. Portland, OR is working hard to make it safe enough to walk and bike to school. Watch the below video to learn about the exciting things that Portland is doing. I will be moving to Portland this Saturday so look forward to learning more about Portland’s Safe Routes to School program.

Advocating for Automobiles to Advocating for People

Before I started at UNC Charlotte, I actually advocated for automobiles because I advocated for NC 3 to be widened between Mooresville and Kannapolis. Even though I can’t see your face or hear your reaction, many of my college friends have been surprised to learn that I haven’t always advocated for people. When I say I now advocate for people, this includes people who drive automobiles. This article discusses how it is possible to advocate for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users all at the same time. The below photo shows one example because First Avenue in New York City was redesigned to accommodate more than just motorists. As the after graphic demonstrates, motorists, bicyclists and transit users all have dedicated space on the road.

First Avenue in New York City

First Avenue in New York City

Even though the below photo may not be of First Avenue, it shows how pedestrians benefit from the road redesign because the crossing distance is shorter. Before the redesign, pedestrians didn’t have a pedestrian refuge island.

Pedestrians benefit

Motorists benefit from the redesign because there are left-turn pockets, which reduced the amount of automobile traffic delay on First Avenue. “No doubt many factors were involved, but a DOT spokesperson tells CityLab that the steady traffic flow was largely the result of adding left-turn pockets. In the old street configurations, cars turned left from a general traffic lane; in the new one, they merged into a left-turn slot beside the protected bike lane (below, an example from 8th and 23rd). This design has two key advantages: first, traffic doesn’t have to slow down until the left turn is complete, and second, drivers have an easier time seeing bike riders coming up beside them.”

Motorist benefits

Returning to how I advocated for motorists. I actually have proof of how I advocated for motorists through this Salisbury Post article from the week of January 23, 2009 (original article link was lost so article date is wrong). Hugh Fisher, who I am good friends with today, wrote the following in the article.

Not everyone was opposed to the idea of a wider N.C. 3. Ray Atkinson lives about a mile off of the highway.
“I think it’s good to plan for growth,” Atkinson said. The N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis would benefit from the proposed improvements, he added.

Since NC 3 between Mooresville and Kannapolis goes through low density land uses like farm land, I wouldn’t advocate for NC 3 to be widened today. Widening NC 3 where there is low density land use would promote sprawl. I may be open to supporting widening NC 3 if the area becomes more dense, but hopefully the area will only become more dense after fully developing the high density land uses within the city limits of Mooresville and Kannapolis. The following shows the article with a photo of me looking at maps of the options for NC 3.

Kannapolis Citizen article from January 28, 2009

Kannapolis Citizen article from the week of January 28, 2009

I said the statements during my senior year at Northwest Cabarrus High School and just a semester before I started at UNC Charlotte. What do you think I would say today with the below option as one of the choices?

Option B calls for a slightly higher residential zoning density and would allow more light commercial development in selected “neighborhood centers.”
That plan also calls for expanding N.C. 3 to a four-lane “rural parkway” designed to remain scenic, with a grassy median and no sidewalks. There would be a separate path alongside the road for pedestrians and cyclists.

If the interview were today, I believe I would have expressed appreciation for including “a separate path alongside the road for pedestrians and cyclists.” This change in perception can most likely be attributed to my car-light lifestyle while attending UNC Charlotte. Once I realized the benefits of providing people with transportation choices and seeing all the negative outcomes of driving an automobile, I co-founded and was president of the UNC Charlotte Cyclists Club. I find it amazing how much living car-light impacted my future education and career. When I started at UNC Charlotte, I didn’t even think about attending the University of Oregon or Portland State University. Becoming a sustainable transportation planner wasn’t even on my horizon before I started at UNC Charlotte.

One career path that did remain consistent throughout my life was my passion for geography. I have always enjoyed reading and creating maps. However, how I use and create maps have changed over the course of my life so far. Even though I was interested in geography before I started at UNC Charlotte, I was more interested in becoming a meteorologist just a few years before I refocused on becoming a planner. The below photo shows what my 4th grade teacher gave me in 2001, which shows proof of my interest in meteorology. Meteorologists and planners both use maps so this is where the careers are similar.

Due to possible confusion with the title of this post, I want to discuss the significance of why I chose to use the word “automobiles” in the the title. Since automobiles are not people, why not replace automobiles with motorists? I purposely wrote automobiles instead of motorists to show the impact of planning for automobiles instead of people. The below photo shows how this difference in thinking makes a huge difference in how our world has been planned. How many people are in the top and bottom halves of the photo? As you count the number of people, please remember motorists drive automobiles. I differentiate between automobiles and motorists because you can’t see motorists from outside their automobiles. If you counted automobiles, please recount the number of people. Do you see the difference?

If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.

Another option for the title is “Advocating for Motorists to Advocating for People”. Since motorists are people, what is the difference between advocating for motorists and people?  The difference lies in the fact that not all people are motorists. In order to plan for people, planners need to plan for all modes of transportation and not just motorists. Surprisingly, I haven’t always thought this.