Car-Free Vacationing

While I recently returned from a ten-day family vacation, I already feel the need for another vacation because my family vacation was stressful. Exploring Philadelphia was fun but being stuck in my parents’ van for seven days and dealing with my parents’ unwillingness to effectively communicate with their in-laws was not relaxing. It felt awkward to tell my boss and others that I did not have a relaxing vacation because most people assume you return from vacation rejuvenated. The main reason I was willing to give up a relaxing vacation is that both of my grandmas are in their 90s. I am not sure how many more times I will get to share experiences with them.

Thankfully, I still have opportunities to have relaxing vacations. A cool benefit of working at Clackamas Community College is three-day weekends during the summer term, which is from the last week of June through Labor Day. In addition to getting every Friday off during summer term, I only have to work 36 hours Monday-Thursday to get paid for working 40 hours. Since not everyone gets Friday off, I have missed off-campus meetings that are scheduled on Friday. The meeting organizers update me after the meeting so I stay informed.

I found writing this post interesting because I started writing it in 2015. I have 46 draft posts that I have not published. The Willamette Week link I inserted in the 2015 draft no longer sends people to an article about taking the bus to hike in the Portland region. The below photo is from the 2015 article.

Map showing it is possible to hike by using transit

Map showing it is possible to hike by using transit

As the below map shows, transit services to the Columbia River Gorge have greatly improved in the past four years. The Columbia Gorge Car-Free website helps me plan my weekend vacations without using a car. While I visited The Dalles for a Transportation Options Group of Oregon meeting, I was not able to stay in The Dalles long enough to really explore.

Gorge Transit

Map of transit services in the Columbia River Gorge. Source: Gorge TransLink

Since I want to do more than hike in the Columbia River Gorge, I am excited to see that the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is almost completed! I will be able to take transit from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge to hike and bike. The below videos explain the history of the 100-year-old Historic Columbia River Highway, what is being done to convert it to a trail, and how the local communities feel this new trail will impact their communities.

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Source: ODOT

I am also excited about the Salmonberry Trail, which will someday allow me to bike from the Portland region to the Oregon Coast.

I also enjoy traveling beyond Oregon. I can use Amtrak, Greyhound or BoltBus take car-free weekend vacations to places like Seattle, Vancouver (BC), and California. I will be presenting on a panel at the Association of Commuter Transportation (ACT) Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Forum in Seattle on November 12-13. This provides me a great opportunity to explore Seattle and Vancouver during the weekend before my presentation. November will be a busy month for me because I will also be taking the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Exam.

ACT-2019-TDM-Forum-SEATTLE

Source: Association of Commuter Transportation

Since my 29th birthday is in September and my work projects should be less busy in September because there will be no CCC Xpress Shuttle service most of September, I am thinking about taking a long vacation in September. The PSU Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Travel Program has a nine-day Costa Rica Unplugged tour in September that includes exclusive discounts of up to 15% off per trip! The trip is limited to 18-35-year-olds. I prefer to avoid tourist traps so I enjoyed reading how this trip has “Local Guides who make tourist traps a thing of the past.” The tour starts on a Saturday and ends on a Sunday, so I thought I would only need to take five days off work. Since the tour does not include roundtrip San Jose flights and each flight takes a day, I would need to take seven days off work. Unfortunately, I do not have this many days saved so I will need to think about this trip next year.

I would enjoy learning about how other people plan car-free vacations. Have you tried to plan a car-free vacation? Where did you go? Did the transportation services connect smoothly or did you experience barriers? Would you do it again?

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Making a difference on the Oregon City Transportation Advisory Committee

I serve on several advisory committees throughout the Portland and Charlotte regions through my job and as a volunteer. Yes, I still serve on the Advisory Council for Sustain Charlotte’s Transportation Choices Alliance even though I no longer live in Charlotte. While most of the committee members that I serve with understand their important role and how to make a difference, some of my fellow Oregon City Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) members have struggled with this.

In case they read my blog, I want to give them hope for how they can make a difference on our committee. Since we volunteer on the TAC and some of my fellow volunteers feel the City Commission is the only group that can make a difference, I hope this post shows them and other volunteers that it is possible to make a difference even when you have limited voting power.

Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay appointed me to my first three-year term on the TAC in January 2019. Since I have lived in Oregon City for less than a year, I am still surprised that I was the only new candidate that was appointed to the TAC. Even though there were three open seats and four candidates, an incumbent and I were the only candidates appointed to the TAC. The remaining open seat and another open seat were filled in March 2019. I got to interview the candidates and vote on who would fill the seats. This was an awesome experience!

Even though all of the other TAC members are much older than me (some of them could be my grandpa), I am the only transportation professional and car-free member so the other members and Oregon City staff have expressed appreciation for my valuable experience. Since the older members have lived and worked through decades of Oregon City’s rich history, they have their own valuable experience to share with me. As a millennial, it feels weird to share that older people can learn from my experience when they have lived and worked much longer than me.

In addition to helping Oregon City and Clackamas County prepare for electric-assist dockless bikeshare and scootershare expanding from Portland, I am making a difference on the Oregon City TAC through the following two topics.

Canemah Family Friendly Route

While the route signs and markings have already been ordered, which means I was too late to make changes, Oregon City staff told the TAC that the Canemah Family Friendly Route is the first pilot project and they are open to making changes in the future. In order to explain my proposed change, focus on the bike symbol in the two below signs. Since I want Oregon City’s Family Friendly Route to be as successful as Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway, I feel the Family Friendly Route’s bike symbol needs to show the target audience of relaxed, family biking. The current bike symbol shows a racing or training cyclist because the cyclist is leaning over and looks stressed to beat their personal record time.

In contrast, the bike symbol on Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway shows a relaxed cyclist because the cyclist is sitting more upright. This is how I see a family biking together because they are not trying stressed to beat their personal record time. Do you see the difference between the two bike symbols?

Family Friendly Route Sign

Oregon City’s Family Friendly Route Sign

Portland Neighborhood Greenway Sign

Portland’s Neighborhood Greenway Sign

Crash Instead of Accident

While I was nervous to publicly call out Oregon City staff for saying “accident” instead of “crash” when referring to a deadly pedestrian crash involving a truck in Oregon City, staff thanked me for correcting them and explaining why they should say “crash” instead of “accident”. The staff even said they will try to use “crash” in the future. The reason why this is important is calling it an accident assumes no one, including the government for design issues, was at fault and nothing can be done to prevent the crash. Since the crash could have been prevented, it needs to be called a crash instead of an accident.

Future Blog Posts

As I stated in my previous post, 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. Since my North Carolina-based family is planning a July 4-14 vacation with me to visit my grandmas and other relatives in Ohio and Pennsylvania, I plan to write a post about this.

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.

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.

Living Car-Free in American Suburb

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I am currently living car-free in the American suburb of Oregon City, which is located at the southern edge of the Portland, OR region.

Portland Region Map

Oregon City is located at the southern edge of the Portland region. I live and work in southern Oregon City. Source: AARoads

I will admit that I did not envision living and working in a suburb similar to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, NC when I moved from Kannapolis to Charlotte in August 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. Since I hated feeling forced to drive an automobile for every trip in Kannapolis and loved the freedom of many transportation choices in Charlotte, I never imagined returning to a suburb after graduating from UNC Charlotte. As I hope this post shows you, returning to a suburb may have been the best decision for my career.

While I still prefer living in an urban area and miss living in Arlington, VA’s award-winning Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, I feel I am making a much bigger difference working in the suburb of Oregon City than I could have made working in a big city. This is mostly because I am the only transportation planner at Clackamas Community College (CCC) and one of the few active transportation planners in Oregon City.

I worked or interned in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Portland (OR), and the DC region, so I am confident that if I worked in a large city I would be in a large transportation department with many staff working on active transportation planning issues. While I am not trying to devalue the work that planners do in big cities, especially since they have to work on more complex issues than I have in Oregon City, how much difference does EACH of these planners have in creating change in their big city?

Since I am an entry-level transportation planner, I keep thinking about how much more difference I am making in Oregon City than I could have made as an entry-level transportation planner among many entry-level transportation planners in a big city. While I have to get permission to do things like apply for grants, I have been given plenty of professional freedom so far to pursue what I feel would be useful for improving multimodal transportation choices at CCC. This also means that I have to be more responsible for the decisions I make because I am the only transportation planner. Since I was micromanaged at a previous job (purposely not giving specifics because I do not want to embarrass a previous employer) and this overwhelmed my supervisor and me, I am thankful my current supervisor is not micromanaging me.

While I wrote earlier how Oregon City is a similar suburb to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, Oregon City has much better active transportation access to Portland than Kannapolis has to Charlotte. After biking from my home in southern Oregon City to Downtown Oregon City on almost completely connected bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows, I can ride on almost completely connected trails all the way to Downtown Portland. The regional version of the below trails map can be found here. I actually helped create this map during my internship at Oregon Metro.

Portland to Oregon City Trails Map

Regional trails between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Oregon Metro

The below map shows most of the bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Since Portland’s famous neighborhood greenways and Oregon City’s signed bike routes and sharrows aren’t shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Portland to Oregon City Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Google Maps

Unless I rarely wanted to visit Charlotte or spend lots of time and money on transferring between multiple transit systems in the Charlotte region (I can take unlimited trips on TriMet’s light rail lines and buses throughout the Portland region for $5/day), I could not have lived car-free in Kannapolis. While the Carolina Thread Trail is working to connect trails throughout the Charlotte region and I volunteered to help create the Carolina Thread Trail Map, it is not possible today to use trails or any other bike infrastructure to bike between Downtown Kannapolis and Uptown Charlotte. Since Charlotte’s bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows are not shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Charlotte to Kannapolis Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Uptown Charlotte and Downtown Kannapolis. Source: Google Maps

Oregon City has good biking and transit access to Portland, so I have been able to visit Portland frequently without driving. While some people in Oregon City have suggested I should buy a car so I can travel quicker, owning and maintaining a car is expensive. Plus, my job literally involves helping people to reduce car dependency. I can currently motivate people to reduce car dependency by telling them that it is possible to live car-free in a suburb like Oregon City because I live car-free here. How would they react if I told them I gave up and purchased a car for the first time in my life?

While I live car-free in my personal life, I cannot reach all my work trips by walking, biking and riding transit. Since I did not want to buy a car for work trips, my supervisor helped me reserve the below hybrid electric car, which CCC owns. This car is only available during the summer term because students learn how to reconstruct the car during other terms. Due to this, I have had to use expensive transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to travel for work trips during the rest of the year. Even though I was nervous about whether my supervisor would support my car-free lifestyle, he has been very supportive.

I have so far driven the hybrid electric car to and from the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4) Meeting near Mt Hood. Since this was the first time I drove after moving back to Oregon and I didn’t drive much when I lived in Virginia, I had to adjust to driving again. I have always been a slow driver, but Oregon drivers have been proven to be among the nation’s slowest drivers so I fit in.

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Hybrid electric car provided for work trips. Photo: Ray Atkinson

As my below Instagram post shows, the C4 Meeting provided me with good insights into Clackamas County’s transportation priorities. Unfortunately for my work to reduce car dependency, widening I-205 is definitely the top priority. Oregon DOT (ODOT), which presented about the I-205 toll and widening project during the C4 Meeting, has been trying to get support for widening I-205 by saying this will reduce traffic congestion. While traffic congestion may be reduced in the short-term, induced demand has shown that widening highways never reduced traffic congestion in the long-term. This is why ODOT needs to use the I-205 toll revenue to fund active transportation projects, which have been proven to reduce traffic congestion on highways. If ODOT is looking for an existing program to review, I recommend the I-66 Commuter Choice Program because revenue from the I-66 toll in Northern Virginia is directly funding active transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

I have not decided what my next blog post will be about, but it will probably be something about what I am experiencing in Oregon. Thank you for reading my blog!