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.

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Feasibility of Approving Bicycle Infrastructure in Oregon, Idaho and North Carolina

I was planning to discuss the complicated bike connection between where the proposed buffered bike lanes on Loop Road end and the proposed bike lanes on Mooresville Road end. I will still write this post, but wanted to first discuss a more pressing matter that is impacting communities of all sizes across the United States. Anyone who follows the approval process of bicycle infrastructure in the United States knows how controversial this process often becomes, especially in the automobile-centric South. The below map, which I found through Bicycling Magazine, shows the cities in the United States with the most miles of bike lanes and paths in 2009 and cities in the United States with the most miles of protected lanes slated for 2013 and 2014. Depending on your definition of the South, which doesn’t always include Texas, the South is struggling to approve and install bicycle infrastructure. As I know from interning for Charlotte DOT during the summer of 2011, this doesn’t mean the South isn’t trying to install bicycle infrastructure. According to PeopleForBikes’ map, the South has installed protected bike lanes. When will North Carolina join all the states that have protected bike lanes?

US cities with the most miles of bike infrastructure

US cities with the most miles of bike infrastructure

Not surprising to me since I feel much safer biking with bike infrastructure, many of the cities that have the most miles of bike infrastructure also have the most trips made by bike. A few demographic concerns that many academic articles have pointed out are the high percentage of male cyclists and the lack of ethnic diversity among cyclists since a majority of cyclists are white. Due to what I saw while biking in Denmark and the Netherlands, I strongly believe that females are an indicator of how safe a city is for cycling. The higher percentage of females who are biking the safer a city is for cycling. This doesn’t mean that females are weak. The female cyclists that I know are some of the strongest people I know. Instead, I feel it means that females have a different sense of safety than males. This is especially true for females who are taking care of children because they probably don’t feel safe biking with their children on roads with high speed automobile traffic.

US cities with highest bike commute rates

US cities with highest bike commute rates

How do cities go about making their roads safe enough for females and children to bike on them? Providing a safe and convenient network of bicycle infrastructure would be a good starting point. One of the most controversial steps in this process is approving the bicycle infrastructure. Throughout the rest of this post, I will discuss four case studies on how controversial the bicycle infrastructure approval process was in each city. While I am confident there are several more case studies to discuss, my coverage will be on Foster Road in Portland, Oregon; Willamette Street in Eugene, Oregon; Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street in Boise, Idaho; and Newsome Road and Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury, North Carolina. Along with each case study, I will discuss the current debate in Kannapolis about whether to do a road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road.

Portland, OR

Of all the case studies, Foster Road is the only case that resulted in a unanimous vote by city council to approve bicycle infrastructure. According to BikePortland.org, the approved and funded redesign of Foster Road involves the following: “Even though local media outlets like The Oregonian tried to frame it as a “loss” of lanes in order to promote clicks and critics, the new cross-section actually adds a lane. The plan is to re-design the four lanes that exist today and turn it into five lanes: two standard lanes, one center turn lane, and two bike lanes. ” The Mayor of Portland, Charlie Hales, supported the redesign by quoting famed urban planning philosopher Lewis Mumford. Do you think the Mayor of Kannapolis, Darrell Hinnant, will say something similar during the debate over whether to redesign Loop Road?

“We want people to slow down, get out of their car, and notice this is a great neighborhood… You don’t have to speed off to some distant chain store.”
— Charlie Hales, Portland Mayor

Even in bicycle friendly Portland, there was opposition to the redesign of Foster Road. One citizen “referencing a quote by Rex Burkholder in a recent story in the Portland Mercury where he said major commercial arterials need to have better bicycle access to make his trips to the pub and work faster, the woman said, “Don’t we [people who use cars] share that goal of getting to our destinations as efficiently as possible?” “Taking away driving lanes,” she said, “will affect too many drivers.” In fact she added, somewhat ominously, that the time increases would lead to drivers getting frustrated and that, “trying to make up for lost time causes traffic violations and hazards.””

Foster Road in Portland, OR (Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Foster Road in Portland, OR (Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Eugene, OR

During my visit to Eugene, I biked along Willamette Street so I could eat at Holy Cow, which is a “family-owned organic food enterprise”. Even though Willamette Street didn’t feel safe, having a place to lock my bike at Holy Cow made up for the poor design of Willamette Street. Holy Cow actually has three staple racks and they were all being used! Including my bike, there were four bikes locked to the three staple racks. Would cyclists still go to Holy Cow if there were no bike racks?

The redesign of Willamette Street involves the following. “The existing four lanes would be replaced by a design with one vehicle travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street.” The below photo shows the current configuration of Willamette Street. Notice how the two cyclists are biking on the sidewalk and there are only automobiles traveling along the street. This is a rare scene in Eugene because I could almost always see another cyclist biking on the street when I was biking on other streets in Eugene. Since Eugene has an established bike culture, which includes residents that live car-free, I was dumbfounded when the Eugene City Council barely passed the redesign of Willamette Street. “With Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy casting a tie-breaking vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved the test of a bike-friendly design for Willamette Street.” This news report provides an unbiased discussion of the controversy surrounding the redesign of Willamette Street. If it is this challenging to approve bicycle infrastructure in Eugene, how challenging will it be to approve the road diet and buffered bike lanes in Kannapolis, NC?

Willamette Street looking north from 32nd Avenue on Tuesday May 27, 2014. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

Willamette Street looking north from 32nd Avenue on Tuesday May 27, 2014. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

Boise, ID

Even though I have never been to Idaho, I did apply for two planning jobs in Idaho. One of these applications resulted in a phone interview. I am sharing this because I want readers to keep in mind that I do not have personal knowledge of Boise, Idaho. In addition, I want readers to recognize that bicycle friendly communities attract people, especially Millennials, to pursue employment in their communities.

Since Ada County Highway District, which manages Boise’s public roads, shared emails it has received and conducted an online survey on how people felt about buffered bike lanes on Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street, I wanted to include Boise. The below map, which I found here, shows where Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street are in Boise. The Ada County Highway District “began offering the online survey May 1, a couple of days after the buffered bike lanes – on Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street – and the new travel configuration showed up Downtown.” “About two-thirds of the roughly 500 emails Ada County Highway District received on the topic were opposed to the new bike lanes Downtown, district spokesman Craig Quintana said. The results of an online survey split almost evenly, with a slim majority showing preference for removing the bike lanes.” I need to ask City of Kannapolis staff to share the email response they have received about the road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road. In addition, I need to ask if City of Kannapolis staff has conducted a survey on how people feel about this project. I feel these two items need to be done before Kannapolis City Council can responsibly vote on the Loop Road project.

After writing the above paragraphs, I recently learned that Ada County Highway District voted to “remove the lanes and “revisit” adding a bike-friendly infrastructure to Boise’s downtown, perhaps in August.” Could Kannapolis City Council decide to remove the buffered bike lanes on Loop Road after they are installed? Given the safety issues I have expressed to City of Kannnapolis staff about the buffered bike lanes, it is possible that this could occur if the safety issues are not resolved before the buffered bike lanes are installed.

Map of the new bike routes through downtown Boise - KELSEY HAWES

Map of the new bike routes through downtown Boise – KELSEY HAWES

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/05/20/3192520/many-want-bike-lanes-gone.html#storylink=cpy

Salisbury, NC

Since most people in North Carolina would probably want a local case study that they can relate to, I have chosen to include Salisbury. I believe Foster Road in Portland, Willamette Street in Eugene, and Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury have the same configuration and proposed redesign. However, Foster Road and Willamette Street appear to have much more automobile traffic than Statesville Boulevard. The below photo, which was taken by the Salisbury Post, shows the current and potentially long-term future of Statesville Boulevard.

Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury, NC (Credit: Salisbury Post)

Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury, NC (Credit: Salisbury Post)

The following is what occurred in Salisbury. “In 2012, city officials considered putting bike lanes on Statesville Boulevard as part of a road diet that would have taken the four-lane thoroughfare down to two lanes, a turn lane and two bike lanes, as recommended in the bike plan. But after complaints from neighbors during a contentious public workshop, the city ditched the bike lanes and had the state repaint the boulevard with four lanes.” Mac Butner, who has lived in Salisbury since 1961, was opposed to the redesign and desired Statesville Boulevard to remain four lanes because he wants “a passing lane both ways.” “You just don’t give that up after all this time.” The below cartoon, which was drawn by Marina Bare, shows the overwhelming amount of complaints from Salisbury residents during a contentious public workshop.

Salisbury Says No to Statesville Blvd Bike Lane (Cartoon by Rowan Free Press)

Salisbury Says No to Statesville Blvd Bike Lane (Cartoon by Marina Bare)

On the other end of the spectrum, Jeff Jones favored the redesign because “fewer vehicle lanes would make the road safer.” “Visually, the way it is set up now, it just encourages speed,” he said. “It’s like a race track.” According to this article, Jeff Jones was in the minority. “A vocal minority of attendees supported turning the boulevard into a three-lane road, including a center turn lane and dedicated bike lanes on both sides.”

I have been attending the public workshops for the proposed road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road. From what I have seen and heard, Kannapolis is not receiving the same amount of opposition Salisbury residents had towards bike lanes on Statesville Boulevard. This doesn’t mean there isn’t opposition to the proposed road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road. Will the outcry that was experienced in Salisbury also occur in Kannapolis with the proposed road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road or is North Carolina ready to accept that the automobile is not the only mode of transportation?

Even though it took widening (I can think of a few roads that could use a diet) of Newsome Road to approve Salisbury’s first bike lanes, Salisbury is proof that North Carolina is ready to accept that the automobile is not the only mode of transportation. “Three years after approving the bicycle master plan, City Council on Tuesday approved Salisbury’s first official bike lanes for a one-mile stretch of Newsome Road.” Kannapolis is looking to do a road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road, which I feel is more challenging than widening Newsome Road to install bike lanes. Will Kannapolis approve the road diet and North Carolina’s first buffered bike lanes on Loop Road?