Neighborhood Greenways Are Cool, But Oasis Greenways Are Awesome!

I submitted my contributor form to Greater Greater Washington (GGW) today and GGW’s staff gave me the green light so my first blog post should be published on GGW sometime next week. Since GGW’s staff asked me to write differently than I write on my personal blog, I wanted to share the version I wrote before GGW’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 GGW post after it is published, but as a teaser I’m sharing my longer and more technical version below.

A bike boulevard (DC region refers to neighborhood greenway as bike boulevard) is an outdated idea currently being used by many US cities to improve safety for all street users.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 (GGW)’s blogging workshop last Thursday night. I didn’t realize GGW 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 GGW 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 GGW so I’m curious to see which writing style I prefer. The post I plan to write on GGW is a post I have been planning to write on my blog so I plan to write one version on GGW and one version on my blog.

ggwash-logo

Source: GGWash.org

In order to reflect on my experience blogging on GGW 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 GGW. 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 GGW’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 GGW’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. GGW’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 GGW 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 GGW 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 GGW’s staff about my blog ideas and learning that no one has posted my blog ideas on GGW yet, I feel I’m ready to take my blogging experience to the next level and post a high-profile blog post on GGW.

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.

Shifting from Bicycle Boulevards to Neighborhood Greenways

While the following topic directly relates to my job because I consult for Arlington County, I’m hopeful I have some freedom to be an advocate during my free time. I love being an advocate but also want to keep my job so I’m feeling handcuffed. Even though I’m critiquing my client’s bicycle and pedestrian planning efforts, I’m not critiquing Capital Bikeshare so I assume the following topic is safe to write about.

With my background thoughts out of the way, what do you think of when you read “bicycle boulevard”? Did you only think of cyclists and wonder why I’m asking? Even though you may think only having cyclists prioritized on a slow speed neighborhood street is okay, I’m bothered by this. While Arlington has included several pedestrian projects in its bike boulevard plans, the public likely doesn’t realize that pedestrian projects have been included on a bike-specific project. This concerns me and should concern you!

While I’m not sure what percent of bike and ped projects are included in the overall bike boulevard plan, I assume that bike projects represent the majority of the projects because the title of the plan is bike boulevards. Even though I’m advocating for a shift from bike boulevards to neighborhood greenways, I have no idea whether this change will actually result in more focus discussions about ped projects. Since changing policy could result in focusing more on ped projects, I recommend Arlington adopt the green transportation hierarchy. According to the green transportation hierarchy, pedestrians should be prioritized over cyclists.

green-transportation-triangle

Source: BikePortland

While I’m not trying to insinuate that Arlington isn’t prioritizing pedestrians, I am stating that Arlington should use better language if it wants to prioritize pedestrians and attract pedestrian advocates to join the conversation. As the below video shows, Portland has been shifting from bicycle boulevards to neighborhood greenways. I believe one of the reasons why Portland chose to make this shift is because bicycle boulevards are seen as only for cyclists while neighborhood greenways are seen as multimodal. I hope Arlington will follow Portland’s lead and shift from bicycle boulevards to neighborhood greenways so pedestrians can be prioritized more.

Future Blog Post: Tactical Urbanism in Portland vs. DC

Since Catherine, who I have been dating for almost two months, thinks tactical urbanism events are awesome, I’m trying to find upcoming tactical urbanism events in the DC region. Even though I showed Catherine photos of tactical urbanism events, I feel you have to experience the event in person to fully understand and enjoy it. I’m hoping to take Catherine to a tactical urbanism event on a future date. While Open Streets DC has a website, I’m disappointed to read “One day a year, let’s open up those streets.” Only one day a year! Plus, I couldn’t find any upcoming open street events on the Open Streets DC website so I’m disappointed. I guess Portland spoiled me with five Sunday Parkways (open street events) each year!

Walking, Biking and Riding Transit in Portland, OR vs. Washington, DC

Since my car-free travel behavior has changed dramatically between Portland and DC, I want to compare how my walking, biking, and transit riding habits have changed between living in Portland and now living in the DC region.

Except for the few months in late 2015 and early 2016 where I fully depended on walking and riding transit in Portland because I felt too anxious biking, I mostly walked and biked for all my trips in Portland. I was planning to also mostly walk and bike throughout the DC region because transit is expensive (not as expensive as owning and maintaining a car). While I still walk and bike in the DC region, my boss provided me with a transit card for work trips so I have been riding transit much more than I planned to when I moved here. My boss also provided me with a Capital Bikeshare maintenance key (no time limits like normal keys) for work and personal trips so I haven’t been riding my private bike as often. Since I can’t carry my panniers on Capital Bikeshare, I have been mostly using my private bike for getting groceries and other shopping trips.

Biking in Portland vs. DC region

I don’t live in DC so, while DC has bike racks almost everywhere and the bike racks are usually designed correctly, I have experienced no bike racks or poorly designed bike racks often in Arlington. The below photo shows a ladder or wheel bender rack at a grocery store near my home in Arlington. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with bike parking issues when parking a Capital Bikeshare bike because I have always found an empty dock.

 

Since I depended so much on the DC region’s great trail systems when I lived in the DC region during summer 2014, I was looking forward to depending on the DC region’s great trail systems again. Even though I rode a road bike last time I lived in the DC region, anxiety from my extreme fear of heights has gotten much worse so I have been struggling to ride on hilly trails like the Custis Trail and trails along steep cliffs like the Four Mile Run Trail. Since I doubt I will conquer my fear of heights soon, I’m planning to buy a $3-4,000 recumbent trike so I can reduce the anxiety I feel when biking on hilly trails and along steep cliffs.

 

While the trails are great for long-distance trips, they don’t go everywhere so I still have to use on-street bike routes. I forgot how bad most of the on-street bike infrastructure is in the DC region. Yes, I know DC has protected bike lanes, which are actually better than any protected bike lanes in Portland. However, protected bike lanes in the DC region are on very few streets so I rarely ride on them.

I’m missing Portland’s neighborhood greenways. I used to live at SE 27th and Salmon, which is on a neighborhood greenway, so I memorized the neighborhood greenways. I rarely had to ride on busy roads outside of downtown Portland because neighborhood greenways went almost everywhere. Thankfully, I have found one element of neighborhood greenways in the DC region. Sharrows are found throughout the DC region. Even though the DC region has installed sharrows, which is a critical and cheap element to Portland’s neighborhood greenways, the DC region has horrible wayfinding for cyclists so the sharrows aren’t part of a neighborhood greenway. Due to this, I feel sharrows are only used in the DC region to communicate to cyclists that the government believes that the street is safe enough for biking and to communicate to motorists that they should expect to see cyclists using the street. Sharrows do much more than this in Portland so I miss biking on Portland’s neighborhood streets.

Before I totally dismiss the DC region’s on-street bike network, I’m excited to share that the DC region has several Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) maps. As all the below maps show, the DC region has plenty of work to do to make their on-street bike network feel more comfortable and less stressful. However, I find these maps much more useful than normal bike maps. This is mostly because a normal bike map shows all bike lanes the same while a LTS map shows bike lanes by how comfortable or stressful they are to ride on.

Arlington County, VA 2017 Bicycle Comfort Level Map (click to download front and back of map)

Montgomery County, MD Bicycle Stress Map (click to view map)

montgomery-county-lts-map

According to a presentation by Stephanie Dock, who works for District DOT, at the Transportation Techies meetup in October 2016, District DOT will be publicly releasing their LTS map soon so I’ll add their map when it’s released.

This blog post is getting long. I try to keep my blog posts under 1,000 words and will go over 1,000 words if I keep writing this blog post. While I still want to compare how my walking and transit riding habits have changed between Portland and DC, I may have to write about them in a new blog post. Readers, do you want me to write about my walking and transit riding habits in this blog post or start a new blog post?

Should bike map be used to show off or keep cyclists safe?

I’m tired of reading news reports about cyclists dying. While I feel most people feel hopeless about how to prevent more deaths, I have been thinking about easy, cost-effective ways to help save people’s lives. As a geographer and transportation planner, I believe bike maps can help save people’s lives. However, bike maps must show the correct information. Metro, which is the MPO for the Portland region, edited its bike map after someone died while using a Portland bike map to find what the cyclist thought was a safe route. Metro’s bike map didn’t show the correct information to keep cyclists safe. However, as this cyclist asks, should a bike map be an important safety tool?

The current approach most cities in the United States are using is to build as much bike infrastructure as possible and show all of their bike infrastructure on a map. As the below figure shows, cities are using their bike infrastructure to show off to other cities and attract cyclists to move to their cities. Since there are glaring inaccuracies with the figure, which you are welcome to ask me more about, I’m not sharing the figure so you can compare cities. Instead, I’m sharing the figure so you can see how cities are competing with each other for the most miles of bike infrastructure. While it is great to see bike infrastructure, how much of the infrastructure is actually safe?

Bike infrastructure per square mile in large cities 2014

Source: 2014 Bicycling and Walking in the USA Benchmarking Report

For the rest of this blog post, I will discuss two bike maps, which I found in the Appendices of Charlottesville’s 2015 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. The first bike map shows all of Charlottesville’s bike infrastructure. The second bike map shows Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) analysis for Charlottesville’s entire road network. You can learn more about LTS analysis in this blog post. While bike infrastructure is used to create the LTS bike map, bike infrastructure isn’t the only measure used in the LTS bike map. Which bike map do you feel makes Charlottesville look like it is trying to show off to other cities and which bike map shows Charlottesville as trying to make its road network safer for people to bike?

Charlottesville Bike Map

Since many cyclists depend on maps to direct them along safe routes, bike maps need to only show bike routes that will keep cyclists safe. This blog post demonstrates my point. While Jonathan Maus doesn’t mention LTS analysis, I believe LTS analysis can be used to create a safer bike map. During my transportation planning internship at Toole Design Group, I helped create the below LTS map. Note how no bike infrastructure is included in the map legend. This is the critical difference I’m trying to make between a bike infrastructure map and a LTS bike map.

Charlottesville LTS Map

Even if a bike lane was installed on a road with LTS 4, which means it is very uncomfortable to bike on, the LTS bike map would continue to show the road as LTS 4 until the speed limit and/or annual average daily traffic (AADT) are reduced. The bike infrastructure map shows the road as having a bike lane regardless of the speed limit and AADT. This difference is why I’m a huge advocate for LTS analysis. To learn more about this difference, watch this video by Sam Schwartz Engineering and this video by Peter Furth.

The below graphic shows how LTS analysis compares with the four types of transportation cyclists. Through using a LTS bike map, “interested but concerned” cyclists can easily understand which routes they should use. A traditional bike infrastructure map forces cyclists to guess which bike lane is actually safe enough to use. What I mean by this is that a bike lane on a 45 mph road is not the same as a bike lane on a 25 mph road. Unfortunately, a bike infrastructure map doesn’t show the difference between the two bike lanes. A LTS bike map does show the difference because speed limit is included in a LTS bike map. Which bike map do you want to use when planning your next bike trip?

who does the bike facility serve