Raising Awareness About Suburban and Rural Transportation Issues

As I approach my one-year work anniversary at Clackamas Community College in June and a year being back in Oregon, I have been reflecting on my new job and life in general. While I am excited to share that all three of my conference presentation proposals this year were accepted, all of the conferences are in Portland. As the below photo shows, I presented on a three-person panel (photo includes the moderator) on April 25 about Transit Connections in Suburban and Mixed Land Use Environments at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit in Portland.

Since I believe my session was one of the few sessions that discussed suburban or rural transportation issues, the audience thanked me for raising awareness about these issues. While it is helpful to learn about Portland’s issues and from Portland’s success stories, the audience agreed with me that we need to discuss suburban and rural issues and context-sensitive solutions more at conferences. We realize that conferences have limited space for sessions and most of the session proposals probably came from urban areas. Would moving conferences from Portland to a suburban or rural place at least every few years help change the dynamics of the conference enough to discuss suburban and rural issues more?

20190430_134332

Ray presented on a panel at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit about Transit Connections in Suburban and Mixed Land Use Environments. Left to right: Jeff Pazdalski, Executive Director, Westside Transportation Alliance; Ray Atkinson, Transportation Systems Analyst, Clackamas Community College; Erin Wardell, Principal Planner, Washington County; (Moderator) Stacy Revay, City of Beaverton

 

The second conference I am presenting at is the National Urbanism Next Conference in Portland. I was selected to present the below lightning talk (pecha kucha) on May 7 about the topic: How do we harness emerging technologies to reach desired outcomes?

The title of my presentation is Beyond Urban Areas: Providing Suburban and Rural Clackamas County with Reliable Transportation Options. Since the lightning talks organizer had to close the online RSVP form after over 200 people confirmed they are attending, I expect to present to a large audience. While I should have time after my presentation to talk with the audience about my presentation, the lightning talk format does not allow time for a question and answer period after each presentation nor at the end of all the presentations.

As the below list of lightning talk presenters shows, I am the only presenter representing a college or university. Do you think I will also be the only presenter that discusses suburban and rural transportation issues?

Ray Atkinson, Clackamas Community College
Chris Bonnarigo, bKl Architecture
Regina Clewlow, Populus
Paul Curtis, Vectos South Ltd.
Maya Krolikowski, Crandall Arambula
Stephanie Lonsdale, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Martin Schmidt, Graz Linien
Rick Stein, Urban Decision Group
Tiffany Swift, Walker Macy
Darby Watson, Parametrix

 

The third conference I am presenting at is the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) Conference in Portland. My four-person panel, which includes me and professionals from Chicago, Ottawa, and a suburb of Philadelphia, was selected to present on August 26 about The Multimodal Suburb: Transforming Communities Through Planning, Policy, Advocacy… and a Little Rule Breaking. I will add my presentation to this post after I create it.

How would discussions at conferences change if they were in suburban or rural areas?

While I enjoy visiting Portland, I am frustrated that all of the conferences are in Portland because I believe many Portlanders and urbanists, in general, have difficulty thinking outside their urban bubble. I was guilty of this when I lived in Portland during graduate school at PSU. Most of my volunteer advocacy/activist work from Fall 2014-Fall 2016 focused on Portland.

Even though I did my workshop project in Tigard, which is a suburb of Portland, I likely would not have thought about Tigard issues if my workshop team had not chosen to work in Tigard. I visited Tigard for the first time when my workshop team started our project. I had also never visited Oregon City before moving here for my current job. I realize some Portlanders leave Portland for more than just recreating in the Cascades or the Oregon Coast, but I believe my perspective is accurate for most Portlanders.

Since I am still a volunteer Portland advocate/activist, I know that Portland volunteers have limited bandwidth. As Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org tweeted, Portland volunteers are already getting burned out by their Portland advocacy/activist work. Due to this, is it reasonable to ask them to help me with my suburban and rural advocacy/activist work?

While I realize that many suburban and rural residents hate having Portlanders influence how their areas are planned, car-centric suburban and rural thinking is negatively impacting the entire Portland region. Widening highways and building more parking lots are hurting the entire Portland region, so Portlanders should be involved with suburban and rural decisions.

Future Blog Post

Since my one-year work anniversary at Clackamas Community College is in June and I will have been back in Oregon for a year in June, I plan to write a post about how my one-year goals went and what my two-year goals are.

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Deploying and Rebalancing Dockless Bikeshare and Scootershare to Suburban Areas

I have a love-hate relationship with urban areas. While I love the urban lifestyle, I hate how challenging it has been to expand transportation services to suburban areas. As I wrote in this 2019 post, most of the focus throughout the US to plan for dockless bikeshare and scootershare has been on the largest cities. Even if governments in the Portland region want to expand the focus to suburban areas, are companies willing to expand to suburban areas?

Portland, OR Case Study

East Portland is a suburban area that the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) acknowledged in its 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report has “historically been underserved by the transportation system”. Since I will be referring to East Portland throughout this case study, please review the below map to make sure you know where East Portland is. As the other below map shows, East Portland has above average numbers of low-income people and people of color.

As the below scooter pilot fee schedule shows, one tool PBOT used to entice companies to deploy and rebalance scooters in East Portland was charging companies less for scooters that were located in East Portland. Companies were charged more for scooters that were located in urban areas like Central City.

To align business practices with Portland’s equity goals, PBOT also required companies to deploy at least 100 scooters or 20 percent of their fleet (whichever is less) in East Portland and offer a low-income fare. Only one company, Bird, complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements. Both Lime and Skip deployed below 90 percent of the minimum required scooters on average throughout the pilot. Companies only enrolled 43 Portlanders in the low-income plan. Along with Portland staff observations, this suggests low company performance in aligning business practices with Portland equity goals.

Only one company, Bird, complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements.

Source: 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report

While only Bird complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements, 243 scooters (9.8 percent of the total fleet for all three companies) were deployed to East Portland. 44,155 trips originated in East Portland during the first pilot period. This demonstrates the demand for additional transportation options. Since East Portland has suburban land uses compared to urban land uses in Central City, I believe trips in East Portland averaged 1.6 miles compared to one mile in Central City because origins and destinations are further apart in East Portland.

Due to it being a pilot program, I am impressed that PBOT actually enforced the rules. Even though this article does not state why Skip has not applied for PBOT’s second pilot program, which starts on April 26, being fined during the first pilot program likely discouraged Skip.

Over the course of the pilot period, PBOT issued two penalties, both to Skip Transport, Inc. One cited failure to meet East Portland fleet deployment requirements, and the other cited failure to meet the citywide deployment requirements outlined in the administrative rule and permit. Penalties were calculated for each day the company was out of compliance after a specified deadline.

Source: 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report

Since only Bird complied with the East Portland fleet deployment requirements during the first pilot, this likely caused PBOT to reduce the requirements for the second pilot. According to this article, “A minimum of 15 percent of a company’s total scooter fleet must be deployed east of I-205 (that’s down from a 20 percent minimum last pilot).” PBOT is also using a new carrot approach during the second pilot to entice companies to deploy scooters in East Portland. Companies will be allowed to increase the number of scooters in their fleet by 35% if they meet or exceed 2-3 trips per scooter per day.

Will suburban cities use Portland’s approach?

I have been asking people that work for suburban cities whether they plan to use Portland’s approach to regulating bikeshare and scootershare companies. Even though I have expressed my concern about them waiting to create regulations, everyone has told me that they plan to wait until Portland launches their second scooter pilot to see whether they need to create regulations. Since I do not want to embarrass any of my contacts, I purposely did not share which suburban cities I have been meeting with about this topic.

As I mentioned in my last post, Milwaukie is planning to allow companies to deploy scooters in Milwaukie soon after Portland launches its second pilot scooter program. I do not have scooter data for Milwaukie and assume scooter riders will use similar infrastructure as cyclists, so I reviewed bike trip data to understand where scooter trips likely will occur. Without any regulations to force companies to deploy and rebalance their scooters in low ridership areas, I predict companies will deploy and rebalance scooters in higher ridership areas. This approach will allow companies to make the most money on their investment.

Since Clackamas Community College’s Harmony campus is located in unincorporated Clackamas County just outside the southeast edge of Milwaukie’s city limit, I am concerned that companies will not supply enough scooters to Harmony campus to make this a reliable transportation service. Milwaukie is working on annexing Harmony campus into the city so Harmony campus will be within the city limit soon. Even when this happens the above map shows that most scooter trips will be in Downtown Milwaukie, which is 3.5 miles west of Harmony campus.

I am focused on Harmony campus because scooters could be used to make the first- and last-mile connection between Harmony campus, Clackamas Middle College and Clackamas Town Center. Since the CCC Xpress Shuttle only goes in a clockwise loop from Harmony campus to Clackamas Town Center, people have asked me to find another transportation service to go from Clackamas Town Center to Harmony campus. The shuttle service is not always frequent and does not operate every day, so people also want a more reliable transportation service from Harmony campus to Clackamas Town Center.

Harmony Campus to Clackamas Town Center

Source: Created by Ray Atkinson using Google Maps

While dock-based scootershare and bikeshare systems are more expensive than dockless scootershare and bikeshare systems, I believe a dock-based system would provide Harmony campus with more reliable transportation service. Since I doubt a dock-based system is an option, is it possible to entice the companies to deploy and rebalance dockless scooters to Harmony campus without government regulations?

Importance of Trails in Planning for Electric-Assist Dockless Bikeshare and Scootershare

The following post draws on my last post and this 2018 post. As the Portland region prepares for Portland’s second pilot scooter program that starts on April 26th and Milwaukie’s first pilot scooter program that should start this spring, the most used and safest infrastructure for Clackamas County scooter riders likely will prohibit scooters. Since trails are fully separated from automobile traffic, I consider trails to be the safest infrastructure for scooter and bike riders. Unfortunately, many trails in the Portland region prohibit e-scooters and e-bikes. While Jonathan Maus at BikePortland learned that Portland does not enforce this prohibition, the prohibition still creates legal issues for e-scooter and e-bike riders. The following quotes summarize the issues.

“If the City is serious about accomplishing its goals, it needs to act soon to allow at least some level of e-bike and e-scooter access to these areas by non-disabled Portlanders.” – Chris Thomas, Portland lawyer at Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost

“The Scooter Pilot and your question have had us looking closely at the code and the way people use (and would like to use) our public parks, while maintaining our focus on safety,” – Mark Ross, Public Information Officer at Portland Parks & Recreation

Source: BikePortland

As the below map shows, the region has many existing, planned and conceptual regional trails. While I am still researching the legal issue, I believe the only trail in the region that does not prohibit e-bikes and e-scooters is the Banks-Vernonia Trail, which is not located in Clackamas County. The State Parks Commission amended their rules in 2018 to legally allow e-bikes and scooters on paths and trails managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD). According to OPRD’s website, the only trail in the region managed by OPRD is the Banks-Vernonia Trail. While the 40-Mile Loop Trail is listed on this website, I believe local jurisdictions like Portland manage it. Since many jurisdictions manage trails in the region, I hope OPRD and Metro educate all the local jurisdictions about the legal issue. I doubt e-bike and e-scooter users are aware of the legal issue, so we need to have regional legal consistency.

Do riders use trails more than bike lanes in Clackamas County?

Since I live and work in Clackamas County, which is located south of Portland, I focused on what infrastructure Clackamas County scooter and bike riders likely will use to travel. The region’s first scooter pilot program was legally limited to Portland and Portland did not release a map showing scooter rides south of Portland, so I do not have scooter data in Clackamas County yet. Scooter riders typically use the same infrastructure as cyclists, so I analyzed where cyclists currently ride in Clackamas County (left map). While bike lanes exist in Clackamas County, cyclists mostly use trails. In case you are not familiar with the trails, the trail system (right map) shows the same area as the left map. Since I believe all of the regional trails within these maps prohibit e-scooters and e-bikes, how will the jurisdictions that manage these trails approach enforcing their prohibitions? Will they change their policies to allow e-scooters and e-bikes?

Clackamas County Ride Report

Bike trips are mostly along trails. Source: Ride Report

Clackamas County Trails

Solid green lines are existing trails. Source: Metro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal Issues in Washington, DC Region

The legal issues are not limited to the Portland region. Since I lived and worked on transportation issues in the DC region last year, I have been following the legal issues in the DC region. NOVA Parks, which owns and operates many trails in Northern Virginia, unanimously amended their rules in March 2019 to allow e-bikes on trails such as the popular Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. Across the Potomac River in Maryland, the Montgomery County Planning Board is considering whether to allow e-bikes and e-scooters on county trails. Dockless e-bikeshare and e-scootershare and Capital Bikeshare Plus (e-bikes) already exist in Montgomery County, but people have been riding on county trails even though it is not legal. The DC region has many more jurisdictions, so the legal issues are not resolved yet. Are you seeing similar legal issues where you live?

 

Regional Planning for Electric-Assist Dockless Bikeshare and Scootershare

Since I believe most of the focus throughout the US to plan for electric-assist dockless bikeshare and scootershare has been on the largest cities, I feel the need to push for more regional planning. My employer, which is Clackamas Community College (CCC), has three campuses that are located in three suburban cities within the Portland region. While I am still surprised to be living car-free and working in America’s suburbia, this experience has provided me with a unique perspective on why regional transportation planning is crucial.

As the below map shows, Portland received responses from throughout the region to its 2018 e-scooter pilot user survey. Even though Portland’s e-scooter pilot was legally limited to Portland, I saw e-scooters as far south as Oregon City. I am not sure whether the companies or their customers were fined for parking scooters outside of Portland. While CCC and jurisdictions within Clackamas County are nervous about allowing e-scooters and e-bikes, is it feasible to ban e-scooters and e-bikes in Clackamas County when people will likely keep riding them south from Portland?

Portland Region Escooter Users Home Zip Code

Source: City of Portland’s February 1, 2019, E-Scooter Users Presentation at Portland State University https://www.slideshare.net/otrec/slideshelf

Through serving on the City of Oregon City’s Transportation Advisory Committee and Clackamas County’s Pedestrian/Bikeway Advisory Committee and talking with residents, I have learned that many Clackamas County residents are resistant to Portland-style transportation thinking and do not want anything to be planned. They believe planning will bring change to their desired small town and country lifestyles, so they have asked me and government staff to stop all planning efforts. Even though I tell residents that e-bikeshare and e-scootershare could reduce traffic congestion and demand for auto parking, which are their concerns, they keep telling me that they only want to widen roads and build more auto parking so they can get places faster by driving. They do not believe me when I tell them that e-bikeshare and e-scootershare have been proven in other places to reduce auto trips and increase non-auto trips.

Portland Scooter Traffic Congestion

Results from Portland’s 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report. Source: City of Portland.

I realize the residents that want to drive likely will not use e-bikeshare and e-scootershare. However, it has been challenging to convince them that other residents like me want to use these shared mobility services. People who want to keep driving will benefit from this because they likely will see reduced traffic congestion and demand for auto parking. As the below map shows, few people currently bike in Clackamas County, which is located south of Portland. This is a major reason why it is hard to convince auto-dependent residents that enough people will use shared mobility services in Clackamas County. I would like to show a similar map for scooter trips, but Portland only released scooter data for trips in Portland.

Ride Report Bike Stress Map Clackamas County

Source: Ride Report https://ride.report/portland

I experienced a similar public backlash when my employer, which was MetroBike, was hired by Montgomery County, MD to expand Capital Bikeshare into suburban areas. Since Capital Bikeshare uses stations and bikes cannot be locked within being docked at a station, Montgomery County could have asked MetroBike to stop the expansion. While some dockless bikeshare and scootershare companies have tried to encourage their customers to park in designated areas, the bikes and scooters are not required to be parked in these areas. This is the main reason why I believe dockless bikeshare and scootershare are coming to Clackamas County whether or not the residents want it. Even if Clackamas County requires the companies to remove their bikes and scooters, bikes and scooters will likely keep coming to Clackamas County until Portland forces the companies to leave the region.

As a planner and someone who wants more transportation choices, I want to be prepared for bikeshare and scootershare. While the public may believe it is not possible to plan for this, I believe it is possible as long as my partners are willing to keep working with me to create and implement a plan. Even though bikeshare and scootershare are quickly evolving, I have found this resource to be useful in my planning effort.

I have only been back in Oregon for eight months, but I am excited to share that I have quickly become a leader in the planning process to prepare the Portland region for bikeshare and scootershare. Since I want to make sure the planning process includes an equity lens and integrates smoothly with other transit services, my partners include TriMet (Portland region’s transit), Metro (Portland region’s MPO), several non-profit equity community groups, and several cities and counties. While Portland has been working with Ride Report to analyze its data, my suburban partners have been evaluating whether and how to include private companies in our planning process.

Portland plans to award permits and launch E-Scooter Pilot 2.0 for a year early this spring and expand Biketown (bikeshare) to include e-bikes this fall when it renews its contract with Motivate, which is owned by Lyft. Since Uber owns JUMP, which provides the bikes for Biketown, it should be interesting to see how Uber and Lyft work together run Biketown. I have never seen two competing companies run the same business together!

Portland Scooter

Next Steps from Portland’s 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report. Source: City of Portland.