Neighborhood Greenways Are Cool, But Oasis Greenways Are Awesome!

I submitted my contributor form to Greater Greater Washington (GGW) today and GGW’s staff gave me the green light so my first blog post should be published on GGW sometime next week. Since GGW’s staff asked me to write differently than I write on my personal blog, I wanted to share the version I wrote before GGW’s staff asked me to shorten my blog post and make it less technical. As I wrote in this post, I knew I would have less control over my writing when I started posting on other blogs. I’ll share my GGW post after it is published, but as a teaser I’m sharing my longer and more technical version below.

A bike boulevard (DC region refers to neighborhood greenway as bike boulevard) is an outdated idea currently being used by many US cities to improve safety for all street users. An oasis greenway is a new approach that represents the future of safe street design. An oasis greenway is a long series of interconnected low-speed, low-volume, shared-space, vegetated linear parks created from an assembly of residential streets. As the below video shows, an oasis greenway is based on the Dutch woonerf.

According to Tom Bertulis’ 167-page thesis, Oasis Greenways: A New Model of Urban Park and Bikeway within Constrained Street Rights-of-Way, the nine elements that any given facility must include to be called an oasis greenway are the following:

  1. Extremely low traffic volumes, including traffic diversion as needed. While many cities in the US are focused on traffic diversion on a street by street basis, several cities in the Netherlands are focused on traffic diversion on a neighborhood or citywide basis. Houten, The Netherlands, which is a suburb of Utrecht, has implemented a citywide traffic diversion plan.
    Houten Street Network

    Houten’s traffic diversion map. Source: ITDP

    As the below map shows, motorists are routed from their neighborhood road (green) onto a connector road (brown) that directs them to the outer ring road (yellow). Motorists must drive all the way around Houten until they reach another connector road that connects them to their destination. Since cyclists and pedestrians can travel through the traffic diverters, they can travel quicker than motorists through Houten.

    Houten Street Network zoomed in

    Neighborhood level of Houten’s traffic diversion map

    Watch this video to learn more about Houten.

    Since Houten was originally designed with traffic diversion, it is a unique city because it didn’t need to be retrofitted. Most, if not all, US cities will have to retrofitted with traffic diversion so here is a neighborhood retrofit example from Utrecht, The Netherlands. US cities should be able to relate to this retrofit example much easier than the approach that Houten took with its citywide traffic diversion plan.

    While no US city has implemented a citywide nor neighborhood network of traffic diverters, Portland, OR has several traffic diverters. Here is a diagonal traffic diverter in northeast Portland.

    2015-07-26 16.21.38

    Diagonal traffic diverter at NE Tillamook St and 16th Ave. Photo: Ray Atkinson

    Diagonal traffic diverter at Tillamook and 16th

    Diagonal traffic diverter at NE Tillamook St and 16th Ave

  2. Extremely low traffic speeds, including traffic calming as needed. Below is a bayonet traffic calmer in Delftweg, The Netherlands. While the street is two-way, the bayonet forces motorists to take turns going through the bayonet. Cyclists have a two-way trail so they can avoid the bayonet.

    DSCN0394

    Delftweg’s bayonet traffic calmer. Photo: Ray Atkinson

  3. Shared space, without sidewalks, with motorists sharing the space with pedestrians and cyclists, like a woonerf.

    Bell Street Seattle Before & After Shared Space

    Shared space on Bell Street in Seattle, WA

  4. Oasis greenways must be continuous for at least several blocks and have connectivity through busy intersections.

    Portland Neighborhood Greenway Crossing

    Portland neighborhood greenway crossing. Photo: Steven Vance

  5. Terminal vista. They must make use of the “terminal vista effect,” where the line of sight straight down the street is partially obscured, usually by trees or an on-street parking chicane. The below woonerf in Delft, The Netherlands shows the terminal vista effect.

    Delft woonerf

    Woonerf in Delft, NL. Photo: Ray Atkinson

  6. Parklike, which refers to using grasscrete as the default in areas that aren’t travel-ways for cyclists and pedestrians. The below photo from Haarlem, The Netherlands shows a grasscrete street.

    Grasscrete in Netherlands

    Grasscrete street in Haarlem, NL. Photo: Dan Burden

  7. Park and parking strip. They must have a wide area where on-street parking, parklets, trees, vegetation, and play areas are located.

    Oasis greenway park and parking area

    Rendering of park and parking strip. Rendering: Tom Bertulis’ thesis

  8. Minimal parking footprint. They must minimize the parking footprint based on a parking needs analysis. Use the below illustration to compare parking footprint of a traditional street with parking footprint of an oasis greenway.

    Oasis Greenway vs. Traditional Street

    Source: Tom Bertulis’ thesis

  9. Small and large play areas. They must have both small and large play areas, with the small play areas referring to the Park & Parking Strip and the large play areas referring to Oasis Greenway sections with “ultra-low volumes” where the play area temporarily becomes the entire cross-section of the street, not too different from when hockey is played in the street.

    Street Hockey

    Street hockey. Photo: Jonathan Tavares

While no street in the US has been designed with all nine elements of an oasis greenway, a few cities have experimented with several elements of an oasis greenway so please don’t think that an oasis greenway can only be designed by the Dutch or Europeans. Would you like to see an oasis greenway constructed in your neighborhood? If yes, where? If no, why not?

Shifting from Bicycle Boulevards to Neighborhood Greenways

While the following topic directly relates to my job because I consult for Arlington County, I’m hopeful I have some freedom to be an advocate during my free time. I love being an advocate but also want to keep my job so I’m feeling handcuffed. Even though I’m critiquing my client’s bicycle and pedestrian planning efforts, I’m not critiquing Capital Bikeshare so I assume the following topic is safe to write about.

With my background thoughts out of the way, what do you think of when you read “bicycle boulevard”? Did you only think of cyclists and wonder why I’m asking? Even though you may think only having cyclists prioritized on a slow speed neighborhood street is okay, I’m bothered by this. While Arlington has included several pedestrian projects in its bike boulevard plans, the public likely doesn’t realize that pedestrian projects have been included on a bike-specific project. This concerns me and should concern you!

While I’m not sure what percent of bike and ped projects are included in the overall bike boulevard plan, I assume that bike projects represent the majority of the projects because the title of the plan is bike boulevards. Even though I’m advocating for a shift from bike boulevards to neighborhood greenways, I have no idea whether this change will actually result in more focus discussions about ped projects. Since changing policy could result in focusing more on ped projects, I recommend Arlington adopt the green transportation hierarchy. According to the green transportation hierarchy, pedestrians should be prioritized over cyclists.

green-transportation-triangle

Source: BikePortland

While I’m not trying to insinuate that Arlington isn’t prioritizing pedestrians, I am stating that Arlington should use better language if it wants to prioritize pedestrians and attract pedestrian advocates to join the conversation. As the below video shows, Portland has been shifting from bicycle boulevards to neighborhood greenways. I believe one of the reasons why Portland chose to make this shift is because bicycle boulevards are seen as only for cyclists while neighborhood greenways are seen as multimodal. I hope Arlington will follow Portland’s lead and shift from bicycle boulevards to neighborhood greenways so pedestrians can be prioritized more.

Future Blog Post: Tactical Urbanism in Portland vs. DC

Since Catherine, who I have been dating for almost two months, thinks tactical urbanism events are awesome, I’m trying to find upcoming tactical urbanism events in the DC region. Even though I showed Catherine photos of tactical urbanism events, I feel you have to experience the event in person to fully understand and enjoy it. I’m hoping to take Catherine to a tactical urbanism event on a future date. While Open Streets DC has a website, I’m disappointed to read “One day a year, let’s open up those streets.” Only one day a year! Plus, I couldn’t find any upcoming open street events on the Open Streets DC website so I’m disappointed. I guess Portland spoiled me with five Sunday Parkways (open street events) each year!

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?

What does 0 to 100 mean?

My home in Kannapolis, NC has a walk score of 0! Even though I bike from here, which feels dangerous, it doesn’t even have bike or transit scores. Due to this, I am forced to use the private automobile for most of my trips. Even though this may appear like I am against the use of the private automobile, I see value in using the private automobile for long trips to remote locations where other modes of transportation may never reach. When modes other than the private automobile can reach my destination, I desire to walk, bicycle, use transit and the train, and any other sustainable mode of transportation. For me, it all comes down to the freedom to choose which mode of transportation I want to use.

Kannapolis Walk Score (zip code)

Toole Design Group’s Washington, DC office, which is where I will be a transportation planning intern starting in July, has a walk score of 98 and transit score of 91!

Silver Spring Walk, Transit Scores

Staring in September, I will be a Master of Urban and Regional Planning student with a transportation specialization at Portland State University, which is located in downtown Portland, Oregon. Portland State University’s Urban Center, which is where most of my classes will be located, has a walk score of 100, transit score of 90 and bike score of 91!

Portland Walk, Transit, Bike Scores

What is your walk score? Find out here!