Ray Improving Project Management Skills

I am excited to share that I am starting classes again this fall to earn my Associate of Applied Science degree in Project Management at Clackamas Community College! I admit that you likely would not have seen the words “project management” written by me during high school and my first undergrad experience at UNC Charlotte. I observed geographers and planners work on projects when I shadowed them and worked with them during internships, but I doubt I realized that project management existed and what it really meant.

CCC Project Management

Screenshot: Clackamas Community College

My First Project Schedule

My name was included in a project schedule for the first time when I worked on launching Philadelphia’s Indego bikeshare program during Summer 2014. I worked on this project as a Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group in the Washington, DC office. I cannot publicly share the project schedule, so the below photo shows Indego. My name was included in project schedules throughout grad school at Portland State University (PSU) and work at MetroBike. Since I applied to PSU before interning at Toole Design Group, gaining project management skills likely was not something I thought I would learn at PSU. My name is currently included in project schedules at Clackamas Community College. I think this shows how much I have grown as a professional.

Indego banner

Photo: Bike Share Philadelphia

Getting Certified

Now that I better understand what project management is and why it is so useful for my career, I am excited to hone my project management skills by taking classes at Clackamas Community College. Since college tuition is not usually free in the US, I am thankful one of my work benefits is a full tuition waiver. I still have to pay college fees and for textbooks. These minimal costs should be worth it when I graduate and become eligible to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam. According to the Project Management Institute’s Earning Power Salary Survey, “those with a PMP certification garner a higher salary (20% higher on average) than those without a PMP certification.”

I am still planning to take the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam in May or November 2019. I will have at least two years of full-time planning experience by late 2018 or early 2019. This is a requirement to be eligible to apply to take the AICP exam. I may also take the Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) and Congress for the New Urbanism-Accredited (CNU-A) exams. There are so many certifications that interest me!

Using My Certification(s)

While being certified is great, I want to use my certification(s). As I mentioned in this post, I will have a new student assistant starting on Monday, September 10. She will work for me until the end of Spring Term 2019, which is in June. Besides the student assistant I briefly supervised for one week during Spring Term 2018 and the high school student I volunteered to supervisor as a part-time Outreach Intern at Charlotte B-cycle during Summer 2013, I will be supervising an employee for the first time in my life starting this fall.

Since I want to be prepared to supervise my new student assistant, I have been working with my boss during work time and my Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) mentor during personal time to create a 2018-19 academic year project schedule for myself and my student assistant. I plan to write a future post about how this project management experience went for us.

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Living Car-Free in American Suburb

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I’m 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’ll admit that I didn’t 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’m 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’m 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’m confident that if I worked in a large city I’d be in a large transportation department with many staff working on active transportation planning issues. While I’m 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’m an entry-level transportation planner, I keep thinking about how much more difference I’m 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’m the only transportation planner. Since I was micromanaged at a previous job (purposely not giving specifics because I don’t want to embarrass a previous employer) and this overwhelmed my supervisor and me, I’m thankful my current supervisor isn’t 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 couldn’t 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 isn’t 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 aren’t 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’s 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 can’t reach all my work trips by walking, biking and riding transit. Since I didn’t want to buy a car for work trips, my supervisor helped me reserve the below hybrid electric car, which CCC owns. 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.

2018-06-13 08.57.34

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 haven’t decided what my next blog post will be about, but it’ll probably be something about what I’m experiencing in Oregon. Thanks for reading my blog!

Value of Transit is More Than Just Transit

As a native Charlottean and proud alumnus of UNC Charlotte, I’m excited to finally see the Blue Line Extension (BLE) from Uptown Charlotte to UNC Charlotte’s main campus open today. I hope this will help shift the mindset of Charlotte being an automobile-dependent city to a transit-dependent city.

blue-line-extension-map

Source: CATS, City of Charlotte

I wish I could write that I’m as excited to see the success of transit-oriented development (TOD) within walking distance of the BLE stations. While I realize development changes are often long-term, these changes are influenced by past and current planning and zoning decisions. My friend and mentor, Martin Zimmerman, researched how Charlotte has the zoning enforcement tools available to get the best value out of its $1.2-billion-dollar BLE investment.

Insiders know that zoning enforcement tools have been available for at least 14 years to assure orderly growth on transit corridors. It’s just that those granted the public trust lack the gumption to use the tools and say “no” to landowners who could care less about building to transit-friendly standards.

For readers that aren’t transportation or land use planners, I want to make sure you understand what I mean by “value”. While most of the Charlotte mainstream media’s focus on the new BLE has been on the light rail trains and stations, the BLE’s value extends far beyond this. The BLE is also impacting the surrounding land use and people’s travel behavior. As Martin’s op-ed shows, much of this is currently automobile dependent. Automobile-dependent land uses and travel behavior have many costly negative externalities. Through promoting TOD land use and encouraging active travel behaviors like walking, biking, and riding transit, Charlotte can get the best value out of its $1.2-billion-dollar BLE investment. Since I’m a visual learner, I tried to find a visual to explain this. I hope the below visual helps you. Do you understand what I mean by “value”?

Since this post was focused on Charlotte, I want to clarify that many cities throughout the US have the same issues with getting the best value out of their capital transit investments.

TOD education

Source: @adifalla

Virginia’s Lee Highway Alliance experiments with State of Place’s walkability analysis tool

Today is the National Day on Writing, which asks people to share why they write using #WhyIWrite. I started this blog in 2014 and wrote the following post because I’m passionate about opening people’s eyes to transportation issues that I also used to be blind to. Since Greater Greater Washington‘s staff helped me write this post so it could be posted on their blog, the structure is different from what I usually write on my blog.

The Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) in Arlington, Virginia is working to make the Lee Highway Corridor more economically vibrant, walkable, and attractive. State of Place is helping them achieve their walkability goals. Walkability is simply a measure of how friendly a given place is to walking. People who live in highly walkable places see a slew of health, environmental, and financial benefits.

The Lee Highway Corridor is located in north Arlington just north of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. Unlike the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, which helped Arlington win the Gold 2017 National Planning Achievement Award for Implementation, the Lee Highway Corridor remains a primarily automobile-dependent, suburban-style place.

Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor Past-Present

Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, past and present. Images by Arlington.

As is typical of most of the commercial corridors built throughout the country during the mid-to-late 20th century, the general development pattern of the Lee Highway Corridor is low-rise commercial development with prominent surface parking lots and limited pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure.

It is a major automobile commuter corridor. In order to create the place that the LHA envisions, the Lee Highway Corridor needs to become a place that prioritizes people and community over automobiles.

Since the LHA wants to provide people with healthy transportation choices and attract vibrant economic development, it hopes to improve the Lee Highway Corridor through a new vision that includes distinct, walkable, mixed-use neighborhood centers.

Lee Highway Corridor Future Intensity

Proposed neighborhood centers showing a spectrum of density. Image by Arlington.

One of the proposed neighborhood centers, Lee Heights shopping center, is shown below:

Lee Heights Shopping Center Illustration

Illustrative concept for Lee Heights shopping center, existing and proposed. Image by Arlington.

There are many tools that cities or other planners use to determine how pedestrian-friendly an area is and how they can improve “walkability.”

So how do planners determine how walkable an area is?

You can see a walkability analysis in action in Virginia

Recently, LHA was one of six organizations across the US to win a five-block walkability analysis from State of Place, a software company that uses predictive analytics to quantify what people love about a given place.

State of Place uses ten urban design categories, such as density, connectivity, and traffic safety, to assess how walkable a block, a group of blocks, or an entire neighborhood is. During the past several months, they assessed the walkability of Lee Highway. Results will be presented to the public on Saturday, October 21 from 10am-12pm at the Lee Highway Alliance office, which is located at 4620 Lee Highway, Suite 208.

There are pros and cons to all walkability assessment tools

State of Place’s approach isn’t the only walkability assessment tool available. Another tool is called Walk Score, which provides a number on the 100-point scale that measures the walkability of any address.

Most cities use Walk Score, but State of Place walkability researcher Dr. Mariela Alfonzo says this tool tends to overestimate the walkability of high-access, low-income communities, among other problems.

Joe Cortright at City Observatory rebuked Alfonzo’s criticisms, saying State of Place’s metrics are highly complex, extremely labor intensive to gather, and consequently very expensive. Plus, they have not been implemented enough to let an objective third party assess their accuracy and utility.

While there is no perfect way to assess how walkable an area or city is, both tools are a great start to understanding how to improve the accessibility and livability of a given area.

Here’s how walkability scores are created

I’ve had the opportunity to personally use the State of Place tool to conduct a similar analysis in Tigard, Oregon last year. With help from three of my Master of Urban and Regional Planning classmates from Portland State University, we created neighborhood walkability assessments for the Tigard Triangle and Downtown Tigard.

Delta Planning Team with Client 2-10-16

Team of Master of Urban and Regional Planning students from Portland State University with client, Lloyd Purdy of Tigard, OR (left to right: Ray Atkinson, Curtis Fisher, Lloyd Purdy, Linn Davis, Wala Abuhejleh)

My team used the inventory tool to capture data on more than 280 built environment features, in ten urban design categories, that contribute to the walkability on every street segment in this area.

We underwent a rigorous training process where we practiced using the inventory tool in four different sample settings. Individual results from the four sample settings weren’t exact matches, so we understand our data collection in the Tigard Triangle and Downtown Triangle isn’t completely accurate. For example, one person could have felt safe walking on a street segment while another person didn’t feel safe walking on the same street segment.

We walked 74 street segments in the Tigard Triangle and 15 street segments in Downtown Tigard. The data was submitted to State of Place, who used their proprietary algorithm to generate an Index score for each segment on a 100-point scale. The results are shown below:

Downtown & Triangle SoP Index

State of Place Index for Tigard Triangle and Downtown Tigard

The index for the Tigard Triangle is 33 out of 100, a low walkability score meaning most trips require an automobile. For comparison, Downtown Tigard scored 66.

The profile breaks the index down into ten urban design categories that contribute to the walkability of the place, so cities can know where to prioritize walkability improvements. As the profile shows, the weakest category for the Tigard Triangle is lack of parks and public spaces.

State of Place Index & Profile Tigard Triangle

State of Place Index and Profile for Tigard Triangle

However, increasing parks and public spaces don’t do as much for walkability as adding density, pedestrian amenities, and traffic safety.

Since most cities have scarce resources, State of Place also provided the “Weighted by Impact and Feasibility (Walkability)” chart, shown below. Constructing a building is expensive and often depends on the private sector, so density isn’t the most feasible way to improve walkability.

Since the public sector has more control over adding pedestrian amenities and improving traffic safety, and the non-weighted profile shows these are weak in the Tigard Triangle, they are the most feasible ways to improve walkability in this place.

State of Place Prioritization Tigard Triangle

State of Place Prioritization Tigard Triangle2

State of Place charts for Tigard Triangle

The city used this data and my team’s recommendations to help create the Tigard Triangle Lean Code, which was adopted in August 2017. The lean code promotes building and site designs that improve walkability.

Tigard Triangle Lean Code

Tigard Triangle Lean Code. Image by Tigard.

If this analysis interests you, results from the Arlington walkability analysis will be presented to the public by State of Place on Saturday, October 21 from 10am-12pm at the Lee Highway Alliance office, which is located at 4620 Lee Highway, Suite 208. I plan to write a post with public reaction to the results.