Transportation and Land Use in Ray’s Housing Decisions

As you may have noticed, it has been a few months since my last post. I’ve had a burning desire to write, but kept telling myself that the topics are work sensitive or too personal to share publicly. After reading this GGWash post and discovering that I haven’t written a post about my current and previous housing decisions, I finally found a topic that I feel comfortable writing about publicly. Since I have lived in Arlington for almost a year, which means my year lease ends on October 31, this is a good time for me to start reflecting on whether I want to stay put or move nearby. I enjoy my job so I plan to stay in Arlington. My year lease states that I must give my landlord 60 days notice, so I need to make a decision before the end of August.

Through this process, I keep comparing my current housing decision with my previous housing decisions in Charlotte, Silver Spring, and Portland. The below post compares and contrasts these decisions. Since I didn’t choose to live in Kannapolis, which is where my parents raised me after I was born in Charlotte, I didn’t include Kannapolis. As this post discusses, the Kannapolis home I was raised in has a Walk Score of zero!

Kannapolis Walk Score (zip code)

Arlington, VA

Even though I was rushed to find housing in a competitive market before starting my new job, I may have found the cheapest housing within a walkable distance of a light rail station, frequent service bus lines, and several regional trails. I’m paying less than $900 per month (plus $50 for water and $35 for my portion of WiFi) for a room in a 10-room house. I earn enough through my job that I could spend more on housing, but I don’t see the need to spend more when I’m already close enough to my destinations to continue living car-free. Plus, good housemates aren’t guaranteed when renting so I treasure this at my current home. I can use the savings to go on more expensive vacations and prepare for owning a condo or house.

1117 N Taylor St, Arlington, VA Walk Score

Arlington, VA Home

While many of my NC family and friends have been shocked by how much I pay for housing, I think they find it challenging to understand how much I save by living car-free. Most people don’t calculate all the costs involved with owning, maintaining, and driving an automobile. For example, I think most people don’t calculate parking costs (could be hidden if their employer takes parking out of their paycheck or doesn’t pay them more because their employer is paying for expensive parking), poor mental health from being stuck in daily traffic congestion and not spending much time with their family, poor physical health from not exercising enough and becoming obese, etc.

My boss covers most of my transportation costs, so I pay almost zero on transportation each month. He provides me with a free Capital Bikeshare maintenance key that I can use for all my trips, including personal trips. He also provides me with a SmarTrip card for all my work-related transit trips. The largest transportation purchase I have made so far is for this $800 bike that I mostly use for shopping and trips where Capital Bikeshare isn’t located yet.

My housing decision makes using these transportation options much easier because I can easily walk to the Ballston Metro Station to ride transit throughout the DC region and bike throughout the DC region on regional trails or low-stress neighborhood streets. While I rarely use it for personal trips, the DC region also has great carsharing and car renting options and Uber/Lyft.

Since I started this blog with the intention of following my life’s journey from living in Kannapolis to where life takes me, I want to share how my current housing decision relates to my housing decisions in Charlotte, Silver Spring, and Portland.

Charlotte, NC

My car-light lifestyle started when I moved to Charlotte in 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. While I lived car-free when I was in Charlotte, I needed a car to go home to Kannapolis so I barely lived car-light. Even though I sometimes think about how I used to pay about $400 per month for housing in Charlotte, which is less than half of what I currently pay in Arlington, the location of my housing in Charlotte lacks the transportation access that I currently enjoy in Arlington. While I was within easy biking distance of a regional trail that started at UNC Charlotte, the trail didn’t provide me with much transportation access so it was mostly a recreational trail. In addition, I couldn’t walk to any transit stations and the local bus was unreliable. I found it faster to bike on unsafe roads throughout Charlotte than wait for transit to arrive.

The Edge Charlotte Walk Score

The Edge at UNC Charlotte

Silver Spring, MD

My fully car-free lifestyle started when I moved to Silver Spring in 2014 to become a Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group. While I didn’t have many choices where to live in Silver Spring because I was seeking short-term housing for just the summer, I was lucky to have a Charlotte friend that had a connection to someone who owns a home in Silver Spring. Thankfully, the home was located in a prime location to live car-free.

I was a block from the Sligo Creek Trail, which provided some transportation access in addition to recreation usage. Since I wanted to explore the entire DC region, I enjoyed having access to the car-free (just on the weekend) Beech Drive in Rock Creek Park and Capital Crescent Trail. While the Silver Spring Metro Station was further from home than the Ballston Metro Station is to my current home, I enjoyed having better transit access than I had in Charlotte.

8410 Galveston Rd, Silver Spring, MD Walk Score

Silver Spring, MD Home

Portland, OR

The last place I lived before moving to Arlington was Portland. My apartment was next to the SE Salmon/Taylor neighborhood greenway, so I had easy access to a low-volume, low-speed walking and biking route. Sunday Parkways went along this route both years I was in Portland, so this route is prime for walking and biking. While I miss Portland’s neighborhood greenways because Arlington has nothing similar yet, I don’t miss Portland’s hills. Since I have an extreme fear of heights, I didn’t enjoy biking downhill to cross the Willamette River. Yes, Arlington also has hills but I rarely have to bike down them because I work from home and usually do field work in locations with few steep hills.

I also miss being within easy (two Portland blocks, which are 200 feet) walking distance of a grocery store in Portland. I enjoyed having the flexibility to walk to the grocery store to get one or two items instead of waiting until I’m almost out of groceries. Since the nearest grocery store to my Arlington home is .6 mile away, I wait until I need enough groceries to fill both bike panniers.

While walking and biking from my Portland home to my destinations was easy, transit wasn’t easy. The Hawthorne and Belmont buses came about every 15 minutes and most of my bike trips only took 15 minutes, so I rarely took the bus. I wasn’t near a MAX station so I couldn’t ride light rail from home.

1117 SE 27th Ave, Portland, OR Walk Score

Portland, OR Home

Future Blog Post

My boss and I were selected to present at the North American Bikeshare Association Conference in Montreal on August 31. We will be presenting during the session titled The “Perfect” Site. My only conference presentation occurred when I presented my high school senior exit project during a poster session at the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in 2008. This means the presentation in Montreal will be my first time presenting as a speaker. It will also be my first time attending a conference outside the US. My boss asked me to create our presentation, so I plan to use this presentation to write a blog post.

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?

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.

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!