Ray’s Crash Course in Respectability Politics

The power of social media, especially Facebook, helped me learn about respectability politics. I had never heard of respectability politics before today. As my below Facebook post shows, I thought I was helping to improve bike advocacy efforts by policing badly behaved cyclists.

For example, I saw a cyclist go through every stoplight on Fairfax Drive in Arlington, VA last Wednesday during afternoon rush hour. Since I’m tired of hearing well behaved cyclists and motorists tell me how badly behaved cyclists are ruining the image of all cyclists, I tried to chase down the badly behaved cyclist and tell him to stop breaking the law.

While I wasn’t able to catch up with the badly behaved cyclist, I’m thankful I posted this experience on social media. My friends were able to educate me about respectability politics and why it doesn’t work. Even though I was convinced I was doing the right thing by policing badly behaved cyclists, I’m thankful my friends stuck to their reasoning and waited patiently for me to show them that I understood their viewpoint. It took a few days for me to stop arguing my viewpoint and finally understand their viewpoint. Now I can share their reasoning with others that may not fully understand respectability politics.

In case you haven’t heard of it before, respectability politics “refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.” Instead of policing cyclists, my friends suggested I encourage people to do the right thing. As Zvi Leve, who is an experienced cyclist living in Montreal, wrote, “I find that positive reinforcement is a far more effective strategy to encourage people to ‘do the right thing’.” Zvi also shared the following CityLab article, which discusses Sweden’s Vision Zero approach to education and enforcement.

Vision Zero Enforcement

Source: CityLab

Speaking of Vision Zero, I’m currently working with GGWash‘s staff to publish my next blog post about why Sustainable Safety, which is the Dutch alternative to Vision Zero, is more effective than Vision Zero.

Cheapest Way to Bring Dutch Bike Infrastructure to the US

I usually write factual posts and not opinion posts so I want to add a disclaimer that this post is an opinion post. I’m open to criticism so feel free to share your criticism. I’d especially enjoy reading criticism if you feel there is a cheaper way to bring Dutch bike infrastructure to the US.

The idea for this post came about when I got my new 2017 Breezer Uptown 8 LS (LS stands for low step) on April 1. Before getting my new bike, I was riding Capital Bikeshare for all bike trips except shopping and bike touring (long-distance) trips. As the below photo shows, I was riding my road bike to shop and for bike touring. While I always find it stressful to mount and dismount my road bike, the two stuff panniers made it even more challenging to swing my leg around the back of my seat when mounting and dismounting my bike.

Due to this mounting and dismounting challenge, I’m loving the step thru design of my new bike. I no longer have to stress about swinging my leg around the back of the seat so I feel much more relaxed when biking!

The relaxed feeling is why I think my step thru bike, which is similar to a Dutch bike, is the cheapest way to bring Dutch bike infrastructure to the US. My step thru bike feels like I’m riding in the Netherlands, which I have done through two study abroad trips, without spending millions on building protected bike lanes. I still support protected bike lanes, but realize they are expensive to build. I wanted to share a cheap way to feel relaxed when biking without waiting for protected bike lanes to be built. I never felt comfortable on my road bike so I’m thankful I decided to buy my step thru bike. While Capital Bikeshare feels comfortable, it doesn’t go everyone I want to go yet. I wanted a new bike that felt as comfortable as a Capital Bikeshare bike so I got my new step thru bike.

As an added bonus, several women, who I have never met before, told me that my step thru bike looks cute and they wanted to find a similar bike. I’m not sure whether this is because they think step thru bikes are supposed to be only for women or because they think my bike is actually cute. I believe few Americans know that Dutch bikes are unisex and step thru so I want to point out that I see my step thru bike as a unisex bike and not as a women’s bike. Yes, the American manufacturer labels my bike as a women’s bike, but the bike would likely be labeled as unisex in the Netherlands.

Since I’m single, have been dating, and would love to go on a bike ride with my girlfriend, it would be cool if I can use my step thru bike to attract women who find my bike cute. The only men that have said anything about my bike are the bike shop mechanics that built my bike. I want to clarify that the main reason why I purchased my new step thru bike is because I can easily step thru the bike. I wasn’t thinking about attracting women with my bike before I purchased it, so this is an added bonus. Since American women bike less than American men, I’d love if my bike can encourage more women to bike because they find my bike cute and they end up buying a similar bike.

Tim Kelley shared this video with me and it relates to the road bike mounting challenges I have experience. I found the video to be useful and funny.

Neighborhood Greenways Are Cool, But Oasis Greenways Are Awesome!

I submitted my contributor form to Greater Greater Washington (GGWash) today and GGWash’s staff gave me the green light so my first blog post should be published on GGWash sometime next week. Since GGWash’s staff asked me to write differently than I write on my personal blog, I wanted to share the version I wrote before GGWash’s staff asked me to shorten my blog post and make it less technical. As I wrote in this post, I knew I would have less control over my writing when I started posting on other blogs. I’ll share my GGWash post after it is published, but as a teaser I’m sharing my longer and more technical version below.

Update: here is my first GGWash post!

A bike boulevard (DC region refers to neighborhood greenway as bike boulevard) is an outdated idea currently being used by many US cities to improve safety for all street users. An oasis greenway is a new approach that represents the future of safe street design. An oasis greenway is a long series of interconnected low-speed, low-volume, shared-space, vegetated linear parks created from an assembly of residential streets. As the below video shows, an oasis greenway is based on the Dutch woonerf.

According to Tom Bertulis’ 167-page thesis, Oasis Greenways: A New Model of Urban Park and Bikeway within Constrained Street Rights-of-Way, the nine elements that any given facility must include to be called an oasis greenway are the following:

  1. Extremely low traffic volumes, including traffic diversion as needed. While many cities in the US are focused on traffic diversion on a street by street basis, several cities in the Netherlands are focused on traffic diversion on a neighborhood or citywide basis. Houten, The Netherlands, which is a suburb of Utrecht, has implemented a citywide traffic diversion plan.
    Houten Street Network

    Houten’s traffic diversion map. Source: ITDP

    As the below map shows, motorists are routed from their neighborhood road (green) onto a connector road (brown) that directs them to the outer ring road (yellow). Motorists must drive all the way around Houten until they reach another connector road that connects them to their destination. Since cyclists and pedestrians can travel through the traffic diverters, they can travel quicker than motorists through Houten.

    Houten Street Network zoomed in

    Neighborhood level of Houten’s traffic diversion map

    Watch this video to learn more about Houten.

    Since Houten was originally designed with traffic diversion, it is a unique city because it didn’t need to be retrofitted. Most, if not all, US cities will have to retrofitted with traffic diversion so here is a neighborhood retrofit example from Utrecht, The Netherlands. US cities should be able to relate to this retrofit example much easier than the approach that Houten took with its citywide traffic diversion plan.

    While no US city has implemented a citywide nor neighborhood network of traffic diverters, Portland, OR has several traffic diverters. Here is a diagonal traffic diverter in northeast Portland.

    2015-07-26 16.21.38

    Diagonal traffic diverter at NE Tillamook St and 16th Ave. Photo: Ray Atkinson

    Diagonal traffic diverter at Tillamook and 16th

    Diagonal traffic diverter at NE Tillamook St and 16th Ave

  2. Extremely low traffic speeds, including traffic calming as needed. Below is a bayonet traffic calmer in Delftweg, The Netherlands. While the street is two-way, the bayonet forces motorists to take turns going through the bayonet. Cyclists have a two-way trail so they can avoid the bayonet.

    DSCN0394

    Delftweg’s bayonet traffic calmer. Photo: Ray Atkinson

  3. Shared space, without sidewalks, with motorists sharing the space with pedestrians and cyclists, like a woonerf.

    Bell Street Seattle Before & After Shared Space

    Shared space on Bell Street in Seattle, WA

  4. Oasis greenways must be continuous for at least several blocks and have connectivity through busy intersections.

    Portland Neighborhood Greenway Crossing

    Portland neighborhood greenway crossing. Photo: Steven Vance

  5. Terminal vista. They must make use of the “terminal vista effect,” where the line of sight straight down the street is partially obscured, usually by trees or an on-street parking chicane. The below woonerf in Delft, The Netherlands shows the terminal vista effect.

    Delft woonerf

    Woonerf in Delft, NL. Photo: Ray Atkinson

  6. Parklike, which refers to using grasscrete as the default in areas that aren’t travel-ways for cyclists and pedestrians. The below photo from Haarlem, The Netherlands shows a grasscrete street.

    Grasscrete in Netherlands

    Grasscrete street in Haarlem, NL. Photo: Dan Burden

  7. Park and parking strip. They must have a wide area where on-street parking, parklets, trees, vegetation, and play areas are located.

    Oasis greenway park and parking area

    Rendering of park and parking strip. Rendering: Tom Bertulis’ thesis

  8. Minimal parking footprint. They must minimize the parking footprint based on a parking needs analysis. Use the below illustration to compare parking footprint of a traditional street with parking footprint of an oasis greenway.

    Oasis Greenway vs. Traditional Street

    Source: Tom Bertulis’ thesis

  9. Small and large play areas. They must have both small and large play areas, with the small play areas referring to the Park & Parking Strip and the large play areas referring to Oasis Greenway sections with “ultra-low volumes” where the play area temporarily becomes the entire cross-section of the street, not too different from when hockey is played in the street.

    Street Hockey

    Street hockey. Photo: Jonathan Tavares

While no street in the US has been designed with all nine elements of an oasis greenway, a few cities have experimented with several elements of an oasis greenway so please don’t think that an oasis greenway can only be designed by the Dutch or Europeans. Would you like to see an oasis greenway constructed in your neighborhood? If yes, where? If no, why not?

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!

Future of Ray’s Blog

Since I have almost 50 drafts waiting to be published on my blog, I’m not concerned about not having anything to post on my blog so I feel my blog’s future is secure. Instead, I keep thinking about what I want the goals of my blog to be and whether I want to start posting on other blogs like GGWash.org. These thoughts intensified after I attended Greater Greater Washington (GGWash)’s blogging workshop last Thursday night. I didn’t realize GGWash seeks volunteer bloggers to post on their blog. After receiving feedback on my blog ideas and hearing their excitement for my blog ideas, I’m planning to give GGWash a trial run to see how the experience goes. I learned through the blogging workshop that the writing style I use on this blog is very different from the writing style they expect for posts on GGWash so I’m curious to see which writing style I prefer. The post I plan to write on GGWash is a post I have been planning to write on my blog so I plan to write one version on GGWash and one version on my blog.

ggwash-logo

Source: GGWash.org

In order to reflect on my experience blogging on GGWash and how I want to continue blogging on my blog, I need to provide my initial thoughts. Most of my blog posts have several photos and/or videos so I hope this post isn’t too boring to read. Even though I’m mostly writing this post for myself so I can easily reflect on my blogging experiences, I wanted to share my thoughts publicly in case anyone wants to share their thoughts or learn from my experiences. I know several of my friends are thinking about whether to start blogging so this post may be helpful for them.

With the background info covered, I have been thinking about my blog goals and goals for posting on GGWash. When I first started my blog during Spring 2014, one of my goals was to avoid posting on other blogs because I didn’t want people to prevent me from showing my full passion. While I’m still concerned about GGWash’s staff preventing me from showing my full passion in my posts, I feel my job has handcuffed me from showing my full passion on this blog. Due to this, I have become more comfortable with allowing people to filter my passion and not being allowed to show my full passion through blogging. Even though I’m depressed by this reality, I enjoy my job so I want to keep my job. I feel this means I have to sacrifice the true reasons why I started my blog or stop blogging all together.

Since I don’t feel I can continue blogging for the true reasons why I started blogging, what are my new blog goals? I still want to reflect on my experience growing up in a home that has a Walk Score of zero to now living in a home where I can easily live car-free. I want to keep sharing my blog with my family, friends, and future girlfriend so everyone can follow my life. I also want keep using my blog to help educate people on issues that are important to me and I feel educated enough to write about.

Due to my job, I feel handcuffed to use my blog as much for advocacy so I’m still thinking about my advocacy goal for my blog. I still want to use my blog to persuade people about my viewpoint, but I hate feeling the need to be careful about what I write when I try to persuade people. For example, I want to persuade people that Arlington County (my client)’s bike boulevard plans need to be more progressive. In order to do this, I feel I need to critique my client’s plans. I don’t want to publicly embarrass my client so how can I write an advocacy post about Arlington County’s bike boulevard plans without jeopardizing my job?

I discussed this barrier with GGWash’s staff and they understood why I feel handcuffed. They suggested I write about areas of the DC region where I don’t work. While this approach could work, I told them that Capital Bikeshare likely will keep expanding into all the suburban counties surrounding DC. I don’t want an advocacy blog post about a county I’m not currently working in to come back and haunt me 10 years from now when I start working in the county. GGWash’s staff understood my concerns so I look forward to working with them to see how I can write advocacy blog posts that won’t haunt me 10 years from now.

A major reason why I’m passionate to post on GGWash is because it has “200,000 unique visitors and more than 500,000 page views every month.” The blog visitors include “elected officials, reporters, urban planners, and civically engaged residents.” While I don’t mind not having too many visitors on my blog because it is mostly for me to reflect on my life, I’m excited about the potential to engage with 200,000 visitors on GGWash about topics I’m passionate and educated about. In the past, I have engaged with blog users in the comment section. After hearing passion from GGWash’s staff about my blog ideas and learning that no one has posted my blog ideas on GGWash yet, I feel I’m ready to take my blogging experience to the next level and post a high-profile blog post on GGWash.

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.

I enjoyed chair #yoga with my grandma and twin sister! #chairyoga

A post shared by Ray Atkinson (@rayplans) on

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.