Ray Improving Project Management Skills

I am excited to share that I am starting classes again this fall to earn my Associate of Applied Science degree in Project Management at Clackamas Community College! I admit that you likely would not have seen the words “project management” written by me during high school and my first undergrad experience at UNC Charlotte. I observed geographers and planners work on projects when I shadowed them and worked with them during internships, but I doubt I realized that project management existed and what it really meant.

CCC Project Management

Screenshot: Clackamas Community College

My First Project Schedule

My name was included in a project schedule for the first time when I worked on launching Philadelphia’s Indego bikeshare program during Summer 2014. I worked on this project as a Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group in the Washington, DC office. I cannot publicly share the project schedule, so the below photo shows Indego. My name was included in project schedules throughout grad school at Portland State University (PSU) and work at MetroBike. Since I applied to PSU before interning at Toole Design Group, gaining project management skills likely was not something I thought I would learn at PSU. My name is currently included in project schedules at Clackamas Community College. I think this shows how much I have grown as a professional.

Indego banner

Photo: Bike Share Philadelphia

Getting Certified

Now that I better understand what project management is and why it is so useful for my career, I am excited to hone my project management skills by taking classes at Clackamas Community College. Since college tuition is not usually free in the US, I am thankful one of my work benefits is a full tuition waiver. I still have to pay college fees and for textbooks. These minimal costs should be worth it when I graduate and become eligible to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam. According to the Project Management Institute’s Earning Power Salary Survey, “those with a PMP certification garner a higher salary (20% higher on average) than those without a PMP certification.”

I am still planning to take the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam in May or November 2019. I will have at least two years of full-time planning experience by late 2018 or early 2019. This is a requirement to be eligible to apply to take the AICP exam. I may also take the Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) and Congress for the New Urbanism-Accredited (CNU-A) exams. There are so many certifications that interest me!

Using My Certification(s)

While being certified is great, I want to use my certification(s). As I mentioned in this post, I will have a new student assistant starting on Monday, September 10. She will work for me until the end of Spring Term 2019, which is in June. Besides the student assistant I briefly supervised for one week during Spring Term 2018 and the high school student I volunteered to supervisor as a part-time Outreach Intern at Charlotte B-cycle during Summer 2013, I will be supervising an employee for the first time in my life starting this fall.

Since I want to be prepared to supervise my new student assistant, I have been working with my boss during work time and my Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) mentor during personal time to create a 2018-19 academic year project schedule for myself and my student assistant. I plan to write a future post about how this project management experience went for us.

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Living Car-Free in American Suburb

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I’m 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’ll admit that I didn’t 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’m 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’m 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’m confident that if I worked in a large city I’d be in a large transportation department with many staff working on active transportation planning issues. While I’m 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’m an entry-level transportation planner, I keep thinking about how much more difference I’m 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’m the only transportation planner. Since I was micromanaged at a previous job (purposely not giving specifics because I don’t want to embarrass a previous employer) and this overwhelmed my supervisor and me, I’m thankful my current supervisor isn’t 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 couldn’t 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 isn’t 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 aren’t 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’s 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 can’t reach all my work trips by walking, biking and riding transit. Since I didn’t want to buy a car for work trips, my supervisor helped me reserve the below hybrid electric car, which CCC owns. 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.

2018-06-13 08.57.34

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 haven’t decided what my next blog post will be about, but it’ll probably be something about what I’m experiencing in Oregon. Thanks for reading my blog!

Walkable Retirement Complexes Surrounded By Automobile-Dependent Land Uses

I have been on countless family vacations but my family’s most recent vacation was very unique for one major reason: transportation. From Saturday, December 24 to Friday, December 30, I was a van passenger and stayed with my family in hotels that are located in automobile-dependent areas adjacent to I-495 in Alexandria, VA (suburb of DC), adjacent to I-90 in Erie, PA, and adjacent to I-480 in North Olmsted, OH (suburb of Cleveland). Since my dad values easy interstate access, we have stayed in automobile-dependent areas during most family vacations throughout my life.

As soon as I had the freedom to choose where I wanted to stay, I escaped the suburbs and stayed at an Airbnb in a more walkable and transit-accessible location in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. I walked and rode transit everywhere until flying back to DC on Sunday, January 1. The below tweet shows the reaction I received from locals after they asked me what I was doing in Cleveland. Since this blog post was getting long, I moved the “Cleveland at Eye Level” section to my next blog post.

Visiting Grandmothers

Since I’m aware that this blog post could be seen as me complaining about not having freedom to explore outside of my family’s van, I want to clarify that my dad mostly chose to stay in automobile-dependent areas because we were visiting my grandmothers in automobile-dependent areas of Erie, PA and Westlake, OH. The retirement complexes where my grandmothers live are walkable only within the confines of their retirement complexes. Both retirement complexes are surrounded by automobile-dependent land uses so my grandmothers can’t safely walk beyond their retirement complexes. As an active transportation planner, this was very depressing to see.

Thankfully, catching up with both of my grandmothers wasn’t depressing. I enjoyed seeing how networked my Erie grandmother is into her retirement community. After eleven years at her retirement community, she literally knows everyone by name and everyone stops to talk with her. I loved seeing and hearing this! I also enjoyed chair yoga with her and my twin sister.

Since my Ohio grandmother just moved into her retirement complex the day before we arrived, she isn’t networked into her retirement community yet. However, I enjoyed seeing and hearing her take the initiative to meet people in her retirement community. I also enjoyed playing Kings in the Corner with her and my family.

Part 2 of 3 about my family trip can be read in my next blog post.

Car Dependence to Car Free

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

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

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

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

Ray's 50+ mile bike ride on July 4

Ray’s 50+ mile bike ride on July 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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