Montreal at Eye Level

“Montreal at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. While I don’t usually wait a few weeks to write a travel post, I’m glad I waited this time because I learned something disappointing about Montreal after I returned to the US. This disappointment totally changed my perspective on Montreal and how I was planning to write this post. I was originally planning to express my excitement for all the cool placemaking projects and car-free streets.

While the projects and car-free streets are still cool, I wish they were all permanent. Many of the innovative placemaking and car-free streets that I was excited to see in Montreal are closing for the winter. Neighborhoods will temporarily lose placemaking projects that make their neighborhood unique and automobiles will return to what I thought were permanent pedestrian malls. Yes, I realize Montreal has long and harsh winters. However, people in Montreal still go outside during the winter so why can’t the placemaking projects and car-free streets continue through the winter?

Rue Sainte-Catherine

Since Rue Sainte-Catherine is likely Montreal’s most famous pedestrian mall, I’ll start with this example. Why can’t the below street be car-free all year?

Saint-Catherine St E April 2016

April 2016

Saint-Catherine St E August 2016

August 2016

Saint-Catherine St W April 2016

April 2016

Saint-Catherine St W August 2016

August 2016

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Pedestrian Mall on Rue Sainte-Catherine E in Montreal

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Placemaking on Rue Sainte-Catherine E in Montreal

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Musical bikes on Rue Sainte-Catherine E in Montreal

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Giant Chess Boards on Rue Sainte-Catherine O in Montreal

Place Shamrock

While Avenue Shamrock remains a one-lane street during the winter, all the placemaking in the below photos close during the winter. I haven’t lived in an environment where placemaking closes during the winter. What do families in Montreal do during the winter to have fun when the chess board and carousel are no longer there?

Shamrock Avenue May 2015

May 2015

Shamrock Avenue August 2016

August 2016

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Chess on Avenue Shamrock in Montreal

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Carousel with bikes at Place Shamrock

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Parklet at Place Shamrock

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Parklet at Place Shamrock

Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon)

While Place Shamrock closes during the winter, Jean-Talon Market remains open during the winter. Jean-Talon Market is adjacent to Place Shamrock. I’m curious whether the outdoor pianos remain during the winter. I found people playing outdoor pianos throughout Montreal. I’ve never seen so many outdoor pianos anywhere!

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Protected Bike Lanes

While I’m disappointed by how many placemaking projects and car-free streets in Montreal are temporary, I’m confident that at least one project is permanent. Some of Montreal’s protected bike lanes are permanent because they are built using concrete barriers instead of temporary posts. Most protected bike lanes in the DC region and throughout the US are temporary because they use posts.

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Boulevard de Maisonneuve O and Rue University

Montreal still has protected bike lanes that were built using posts and a parking lane. Unlike many post-protected bike lanes in the US, Montreal drivers don’t appear to park in the bike lane. Surprisingly, this was accomplished with only a few posts and signs. I only see one post and no parking-related signs in the below photo. How many posts and parking-related signs would be in this photo if this bike lane was installed in the US? I realize US cities are trying to use many posts and parking signs to educate the public about where to park and protect cyclists. But how many posts and signs are really needed to accomplish these goals?

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Looking northwest on Rue Clark at Avenue Laurier O

Future Blog Post

My one year work anniversary is quickly approaching! While I interned part-time at Oregon Metro for a year during grad school, this is my first full-time work anniversary! My first day at MetroBike was October 25. I plan to reflect on my first year and what I look forward to doing in my second year. Since I can’t publicly share the exact station locations that I have been working on, I plan to share a general overview of how much fun I have had during my first year.

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Transportation and Land Use in Ray’s Housing Decisions

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

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

Kannapolis Walk Score (zip code)

Arlington, VA

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

1117 N Taylor St, Arlington, VA Walk Score

Arlington, VA Home

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

traditional city vs sprawling city costs

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

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

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

Charlotte, NC

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

The Edge Charlotte Walk Score

The Edge at UNC Charlotte

Silver Spring, MD

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

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

8410 Galveston Rd, Silver Spring, MD Walk Score

Silver Spring, MD Home

Portland, OR

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

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

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

1117 SE 27th Ave, Portland, OR Walk Score

Portland, OR Home

Future Blog Post

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

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.

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    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.

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    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?

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?