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?

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How did the Dutch prioritize people over cars?

Even though I could discuss my bike trip yesterday from Delft to Kinderdijk, which has the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands, I thought it would be useful to provide some history first. Most people in the United States think the Dutch have always prioritized people over cars. As this article and the below video show, the Dutch prioritized cars over people during the prosperous post WWII era. Changing ideas about mobility, safer and more livable cities and the environment led the Dutch to prioritize people over cars.

An example of the shift to prioritizing people over cars can be seen in Delft. Since the mid 1990s. Delft has been creating a pedestrian zone that also allows cyclists. Beestenmarkt, which is located in Delft, was a parking lot from 1972 to the mid 1990s. In the mid 1990s, Beestenmarkt was transformed into a car-free square. The adjacent restaurants have divided up the car-free square into seating areas for their customers.

Beestenmarkt in Delft, Netherlands

Beestenmarkt in Delft, Netherlands

Here is a panoramic photo I took while sitting on a bench in the center of Beestenmarkt. The kids are blurry because they were moving quickly while playing soccer. My smartphone was only able to get about half of Beestenmarkt in the panoramic photo before the panoramic ended. I still can’t believe Beestenmarkt used to be a parking lot for automobiles!

Panoramic of Beestenmarkt from sitting on bench in center of Beestenmarkt

Panoramic of Beestenmarkt from sitting on bench in the center of Beestenmarkt

Creating a Pedestrian Zone

This article provides details on how Delft has been creating pedestrian zones. The below photo shows how the Zuidpoort Poller System, which is often used with bollards, is used to create a pedestrian zone. Before Delft started installing the Zuidpoort Poller System in 2001, manually removable bollards were used to create a pedestrian zone. Having to manually remove the bollards created access issues for special access vehicles such as delivery trucks or emergency equipment so Delft started installing the Zuidpoort Poller System in 2001. According to this blog post, the Zuidpoort Poller System allows “locals to use the streets but not regular network traffic. Residents have a garage door opener type radio device and they may pass freely. Other motorists (such as taxis) come up to the intercom come up to a station preceding the bollard and talk to someone to let them through.”

Zuidpoort Poller System and Bollards in Delft, Netherlands

Zuidpoort Poller System in Delft, Netherlands

Could cities in the United States create pedestrian zones? Yes! However, creating successful pedestrian zones can be very challenging, especially in the United States. Making Pedestrian Malls Work: Key Elements of Successful Pedestrian Malls in the US and Europe provides a detailed comparison of pedestrian zones in the United States and Europe. While pedestrian zones have been successful in Europe, most of the pedestrian zones installed in the United States have been removed. Of the approximately 200 pedestrian zones installed in the United States by the end of the 20th century, only about 15 remain in use today. Until the United States starts prioritizing people over cars, pedestrian zones will not be successful in the United States.

Where Can I Safely Park My Bicycle in Kannapolis?!

Where can I safely park my bicycle in Kannapolis?! I wish the answer was as simple as to a bike rack! Unfortunately, as I find out on a nearly daily basis because I bike in Kannapolis nearly every day, there are very few bike racks in Kannapolis. From what I have observed, I believe these few bike racks, which have all been poorly designed, are almost all located on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), which is located in downtown Kannapolis. While I haven’t biked every street in Kannapolis, there are very few other locations in Kannapolis that have installed bike racks. When I have found other bike racks, almost all of them have been poorly designed. Feel free to share with me additional bike parking locations in Kannapolis so I can photograph and discuss them for a future post.

Even though there is an extreme shortage of bike parking, especially bike parking that is designed correctly, there is extremely too much automobile parking! While I will provide a short overview of automobile and bike parking in this post and the other posts included in the series, I plan to devote additional blog series to automobile parking and bike parking at a later date. This later date will most likely be after I leave Kannapolis.

After I finished writing about just one issue I experienced while biking today, I was already up to over 1,200 words. I’m not sure how many words is too long for a blog post. Can anyone experienced with blogging inform me what the accepted maximum word limit is for blog posts? I assume people don’t want to read more than 1,000 words in a single blog post so I will split the issues into several blog posts. I also need to prioritize my statistics and microeconomics homework above blogging so this gives me another reason to split the issues into several blog posts. This post will be devoted to discussing my experience today with bike parking at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC)’s NCRC Building. The rest of the blog series will discuss bike parking at UNC Chapel Hill’s NCRC Building and the sharp contrast between the available automobile parking and bike parking on the NCRC.

Without further ado, I will begin to discuss the issues I experienced today at RCCC’s NCRC Building. Since my dad starts work at 8am Monday-Friday and my statistics course starts at 8am Monday-Friday, we truckpool most days. It is nice that his office is located one mile east of the NCRC so dropping me off is on his way to work. On the days that we truckpool, I leave my bike in the back end of his truck and usually meet him for lunch after class to pick up my bike so I can bike throughout Kannapolis to do my errands. We decided to change this plan today, which resulted in the issues that are being described in this post. Instead of keeping my bike in the back end of his truck, I removed it and locked it to the handicapped sign shown below.

Location where I parked my bicycle at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College's NCRC Building

Location where I parked my bicycle at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s NCRC Building

I realize this is not the correct location to park my bike. However, the correct location (not correct design) is shown below. Notice how no bikes are parked here. Either cyclists are parking somewhere else, which is highly unlikely because, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, 0% of workers 16 years or older commute to work by bicycle in Kannapolis, or I am the only cyclist trying to find a safe location to park my bike. This may explain why no one has asked for the safety issue to be resolved.

Even though RCCC and/or the NCRC probably received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) points for installing wheel bender bike racks at this building, I cannot safely use the three installed wheel bender bike racks. The wheel bender bike rack design is unsafe because I cannot lock the bike rack with the front wheel and frame of my bike using my U-lock. Even though a wire lock would lock my front wheel and frame, I will not use a wire lock. This is because wire locks have been proven to be cut easier than U-locks. I value the safety of my bike more than using an inferior product. Will RCCC or the NCRC install safe bike racks to replace the wheel bender bike racks?

Bicycle parking at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College's NCRC Building

Bicycle parking at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s NCRC Building

Before RCCC or the NCRC installs new bike racks, they need to know one of the many safe bike rack designs that exists. As the below photo shows, an inverted U bike rack is a safe bike rack design because cyclists can lock their lock to their bike’s front wheel and frame. As added security, the inverted U bike rack allows for the rear wheel to be locked to the bike rack. I plan to email this blog post to the City of Kannapolis to find out if they can replace the wheel bender bike racks. I will update you on what they say.

Inverted U racks are one type of correctly designed bike racks

Inverted U racks are one type of correctly designed bike racks

You may have seen a note taped to my bike in the first photo. The below photo shows what the note says. In case the photo does not show, the note says, “Bicycles are to be placed in the bike rack at the end of the Parking Lot. Please refrain from using Handicap Parking Signs. NCRC/RCCC Security.” When I asked security about my safety concern with using the bike parking they directed me to, they said the president of RCCC didn’t like the appearance of having a bike parked there so wanted it removed. After I informed security that I couldn’t safely lock my bike to the bike parking they directed me to and needed them to direct me to a safe and convenient location to lock my bike, security kept responding that I had no choice but to lock my bike to the provided bike parking. I wasn’t willing to take this answer, especially since motorists have safe and convenient parking locations, so I kept pushing. They informed me that if I continued to lock my bike to the handicapped sign, someone would give me a ticket. After explaining the safety issue again, they informed me they would try to remember not to give me a ticket and suggested I come to them (hopefully the same security officer will be on duty) if I receive a ticket. Even though I still have concerns with their answers, I didn’t want to risk getting arrested for arguing with a security officer. Why do cyclists have to deal with this much difficulty to just have a safe and convenient location to lock their bike?!

NCRC/RCCC Security placed this note on my bicycle

NCRC/RCCC Security placed this note on my bicycle

As my next blog post will discuss in more detail, this dangerous bike parking design is not limited to RCCC’s NCRC Building. Since it is easy to bike between RCCC’s NCRC Building and UNC Chapel Hill’s NCRC Building, I often bike over to the Lettuce Eat Cafe, which is located inside UNC Chapel Hill’s NCRC Building. My next blog post will discuss the bike parking and possibly automobile parking (if I don’t go over 1,000 words again) issues I experienced at UNC Chapel Hill’s NCRC Building.