Great Falls Park Transportation History

I wasn’t planning to write a post about my trip to Great Falls Park today because I assumed all that I would see and learn about was Great Falls.

I quickly realized how Great Falls Park’s transportation history directly impacted my transportation options to reach Great Falls Park from Arlington, VA. The visitor center at Great Falls Park has an exhibit devoted to the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad, which used to operate a trolley from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Great Falls Park, so I enjoyed learning more about the railroad and trolley. The trolley, which is shown in the below map, was in operation from 1906 to 1932.

dc_streetcar_diagram

Map shows trolley route from DC to Great Falls. Source: Wikipedia

While I was frustrated because I felt forced to drive to Great Falls Park today, I’m hopeful a new trolley system to Great Falls Park is built someday. Since the Great Falls Park parking lot was packed even in winter and many people in the DC region likely would prefer to leave their car at home, I assume a new trolley system would be successful. Surprisingly, the DC to Great Falls Park trolley line wasn’t originally built to take people from DC to Great Falls Park. Instead, the trolley line was built for people commuting from Fairfax County, VA, which is where Great Falls Park is located, to Washington, DC.

Since the trolley line wasn’t attracting enough customers on the weekend, the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad built the Great Falls Amusement Park, which had more amenities than the current park, to attract people to use the trolley line on the weekend. According to the visitor center exhibit, the Great Falls Amusement Park was a huge success and most people arrived by trolley. Since the trolley took 45 minutes and horse and buggy took 2 hours, I can see why the trolley was so popular. As is common with trolley systems throughout the US, automobiles proved to be faster and became more popular than trolleys so the DC to Great Falls trolley closed.

I realize a new trolley line isn’t coming anytime soon so I looked for other options to get to Great Falls Park. While I saw a group of training cyclists risking their lives on Old Dominion Drive, which is a curvy, two-lane rural road where they were biking, I wasn’t willing to risk my life biking on Old Dominion Drive so I’m thankful I chose to rent a car through Turo and drive to Great Falls Church. Since I used Getaround one time in Oregon to go hiking with Gerald and my dad used Turo to rent a car when he visited me in Portland for my graduation, I compared Getaround and Turo. I found more cars available in Arlington and cheaper cars through Turo so I rented a car through Turo. Yes, I drove a car for the first time today since driving from Kannapolis, NC to Charlotte during winter break in December 2015. I get very anxious when driving and feel more comfortable walking, biking, and riding transit so I’ve been trying to avoid driving.

Even though the rental car turned out to be useful, I didn’t originally get the rental car to go to Great Falls Park. I was originally planning to use the rental car to drive to Columbia, MD to meet Belita, who is a Nigerian (born and raised in Nigeria) woman I met through OkCupid. While normally I wouldn’t drive 80 miles round-trip to meet a woman, Belita lives in a famous planned community called Columbia, MD so I was already planning to visit Columbia someday. Having the opportunity to meet someone new, especially an attractive woman, is an added bonus. Plus, Belita offered to give me a personalized tour of her hometown and invited me to experience mass with her. If she gives me permission, I plan to interview her for a blog post about growing up in Nigeria, moving to the US, and her experience living in the planned community of Columbia. I’m looking forward to meeting Belita and visiting Columbia!

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?

Ray Does Have Multimodal Experience

While I still plan to write more about my study abroad trip last summer to the Netherlands, I have been surprised by how some people think I am only focused on bike planning. I want to resolve any confusion people may have about my multimodal experience. Since my resume mostly shows bike planning experience and this blog is mostly about biking, I have been asked during job interviews whether I have any transportation planning experience beyond bike planning. Some of my bike friends in Portland have told me that they have also been asked this question during job interviews and believe it is a common question for any Portland-based transportation planners applying for jobs outside of Portland. They told me the question is most likely due to the fact that Portland is known mostly for bike planning outside of Portland. Yes, I have extensive experience in transportation planning beyond bike planning. Through this post, I plan to show a variety of transportation planning projects I have worked on.

Pedestrian Planning

“Whether you live in a city or a small town, and whether you drive a car, take the bus or ride a train, at some point in the day, everyone is a pedestrian.”
Anthony Foxx
United States Secretary of Transportation

I believe in prioritizing people and creating human-sized cities. In case you are wondering what I mean by “prioritizing people”, read my previous blog post about advocating for people. Since everyone is a pedestrian and pedestrians are a vulnerable road user, I feel it is important to showcase my pedestrian planning work first. While I have worked on many pedestrian planning projects, the biggest pedestrian planning project was my planning workshop project during winter and spring terms at Portland State University. My planning workshop group, which consisted of a total of four Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students, worked with Tigard, Oregon and State of Place to create a walkability and economic development plan for the Tigard Triangle.

 

If you don’t have time to read the entire plan, I would like to highlight the below map because it shows the importance of the plan. The State of Place Raw Score shows walkability scores for every road segment in the Tigard Triangle. Value per Acre shows economic development opportunities. Through the plan my group created, we prioritized walkability and economic development improvements in the Tigard Triangle.

Tigard Triangle Walkable Small Business

Map from Ray’s Workshop Project

Bicycle Planning

Since everyone already knows I’m passionate about bicycle planning and most of my blog has already been devoted to writing about biking, I’m not going to write much about my bike planning experience. This previous blog post shows a map I helped create during my Transportation Planning Internship at Toole Design Group.

Automobile Planning

Even though I am mostly passionate about pedestrian and bicycle planning, I do have automobile planning experience and do care about motorist safety. After all, motorists are people. During my Transportation Planning Internship at Charlotte DOT, I calculated Level of Service (LOS) for many intersections. One of my goals of calculating LOS was to improve motorist safety.

Transit Planning

All of my internships have involved pedestrian, bicycle and automobile planning so I don’t have too much experience with transit planning. However, as the below map shows, I did some transit planning during my workshop project.

Transit in Tigard Triangle

Map from Ray’s Workshop Project

I hope I have convinced you that I have well rounded transportation planning experience.

Should bike map be used to show off or keep cyclists safe?

I’m tired of reading news reports about cyclists dying. While I feel most people feel hopeless about how to prevent more deaths, I have been thinking about easy, cost-effective ways to help save people’s lives. As a geographer and transportation planner, I believe bike maps can help save people’s lives. However, bike maps must show the correct information. Metro, which is the MPO for the Portland region, edited its bike map after someone died while using a Portland bike map to find what the cyclist thought was a safe route. Metro’s bike map didn’t show the correct information to keep cyclists safe. However, as this cyclist asks, should a bike map be an important safety tool?

The current approach most cities in the United States are using is to build as much bike infrastructure as possible and show all of their bike infrastructure on a map. As the below figure shows, cities are using their bike infrastructure to show off to other cities and attract cyclists to move to their cities. Since there are glaring inaccuracies with the figure, which you are welcome to ask me more about, I’m not sharing the figure so you can compare cities. Instead, I’m sharing the figure so you can see how cities are competing with each other for the most miles of bike infrastructure. While it is great to see bike infrastructure, how much of the infrastructure is actually safe?

Bike infrastructure per square mile in large cities 2014

Source: 2014 Bicycling and Walking in the USA Benchmarking Report

For the rest of this blog post, I will discuss two bike maps, which I found in the Appendices of Charlottesville’s 2015 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. The first bike map shows all of Charlottesville’s bike infrastructure. The second bike map shows Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) analysis for Charlottesville’s entire road network. You can learn more about LTS analysis in this blog post. While bike infrastructure is used to create the LTS bike map, bike infrastructure isn’t the only measure used in the LTS bike map. Which bike map do you feel makes Charlottesville look like it is trying to show off to other cities and which bike map shows Charlottesville as trying to make its road network safer for people to bike?

Charlottesville Bike Map

Since many cyclists depend on maps to direct them along safe routes, bike maps need to only show bike routes that will keep cyclists safe. This blog post demonstrates my point. While Jonathan Maus doesn’t mention LTS analysis, I believe LTS analysis can be used to create a safer bike map. During my transportation planning internship at Toole Design Group, I helped create the below LTS map. Note how no bike infrastructure is included in the map legend. This is the critical difference I’m trying to make between a bike infrastructure map and a LTS bike map.

Charlottesville LTS Map

Even if a bike lane was installed on a road with LTS 4, which means it is very uncomfortable to bike on, the LTS bike map would continue to show the road as LTS 4 until the speed limit and/or annual average daily traffic (AADT) are reduced. The bike infrastructure map shows the road as having a bike lane regardless of the speed limit and AADT. This difference is why I’m a huge advocate for LTS analysis. To learn more about this difference, watch this video by Sam Schwartz Engineering and this video by Peter Furth.

The below graphic shows how LTS analysis compares with the four types of transportation cyclists. Through using a LTS bike map, “interested but concerned” cyclists can easily understand which routes they should use. A traditional bike infrastructure map forces cyclists to guess which bike lane is actually safe enough to use. What I mean by this is that a bike lane on a 45 mph road is not the same as a bike lane on a 25 mph road. Unfortunately, a bike infrastructure map doesn’t show the difference between the two bike lanes. A LTS bike map does show the difference because speed limit is included in a LTS bike map. Which bike map do you want to use when planning your next bike trip?

who does the bike facility serve

What should I do to avoid being left and right hooked?

I was almost left and right hooked several times last week while riding in bike lanes in downtown Portland, Oregon so am planning to buy a $65 Orp. The below video and photo show how an Orp works.

Unfortunately, I can’t use the Orp to communicate with motorists waiting at a stop light that I’m planning to continue straight from the bike lane. The Orp just alerts motorists that I don’t want to be hit. It doesn’t inform motorists whether I will be turning or continuing straight. Since I can see whether the motorist’s turn signal is on, I know when I need to communicate with the motorist that I plan to continue straight. In order to inform motorists that I plan to continue straight, I have been pointing straight, trying to make eye contact with the motorist and yelling “straight”. Even with all of this, I had two motorists almost hit me while I was biking in the door zone bike lane on SW 5th Avenue in downtown Portland on Thursday, October 22. I kept trying to make eye contact with the motorists and yelling, but their windows were up so they couldn’t hear me and they didn’t see me until I heard their brakes squeak. Thankfully, they both were going slow, which allowed them enough space to stop in time. However, I felt my heart beating very fast so know it was way too close for my safety and comfort.

Since my strategies aren’t working to keep me safe from being left and right hooked, what should I do to avoid being left and right hooked in the future? Vehicular cyclists (according to this discussion, I have now learned that they prefer to be called bike drivers) keep telling me in the Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group that I need to “just line up with the rest of the traffic that’s going straight.” Unfortunately, as I wrote in this blog post, Oregon law requires me to use the bike lane in most situations and doesn’t allow me to impede traffic so I am forced to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in the bike lane. I have copied the Oregon statutes to show you why the law needs to be changed. Section 814.420.3.e is copied below.

“A person is not in violation of the offense [of leaving a bicycle lane or path] under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of: (e) Continuing straight at an intersection where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.”

Note the phrase: “where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right”, as this only applies to bike lanes to the right of right turn only lanes, and not lanes where motorists can go through or turn right, which is the overwhelming majority of cases on the streets.

After receiving more advice from the Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group, I am planning to break several Oregon laws starting on Monday by controlling the full travel lane on roads with a bike lane and impeding traffic. Since I value living another day more than following unsafe Oregon laws, I am open to being arrested and receiving a ticket. Do you see any safe and comfortable options that are permitted under Oregon law so I don’t risk dying while biking?

Biking Across Unsignalized Intersection

Since my dad heard my passion for being a lawyer and critiquing the law when I young and still does, I’m not surprised this is my fourth consecutive blog post about Oregon laws. I took a legal planning course at PSU and have explained traffic laws to many pedestrians, cyclists and motorists in Portland over the past year so I still feel like I’m following my passion for understanding and critiquing the law without being a lawyer.

As the below award shows, which I received in 4th grade, I also had passions to be a meteorologist and geographer before switching to geography and urban planning in high school. You can read more about my career shifts in my previous blog post called “Advocating for Automobiles to Advocating for People”. My love for meteorology and geography came from watching weather maps on the local news and reading maps, which I began reading during a family trip to Charleston, SC in the 1990s (I was born in 1990). My dad asked my brother, sister and I who wanted to read the paper map (yes, I was alive before commercial use of GPS started) to navigate our trip to Charleston, SC. I raised my hand first so became and still am the family navigator.

Speaking of navigating, how do I safely navigate my bicycle across unsignalized intersections? The simple answer is to wait until I know it is safe for me to cross. I try to take this approach as often as possible. However, if I always approached unsignalized intersections this way it would take me several minutes to cross the road because most busy unsignalized intersections have a steady stream of automobile traffic. Due to the motorist’s blind zone, which is shown in the blue area in the below image, I wouldn’t feel safe crossing a multi-lane road until motorists in all lanes of traffic have fully stopped their automobile.

Motorist's blind spot is in the blue area

Motorist’s blind spot is in the blue area

Instead of all the motorists fully stopping their automobiles, I often find one motorist stopping and waiting for me to proceed through the intersection. Since I don’t immediately go, the motorist often signals with their hands for me to go or honks to make sure I understand they are getting impatient. Even though most motorists in Oregon likely don’t know it, they can be partially at fault for a collision with another vehicle if they encouraged someone to move. A cyclist actually sued two motorists for over $670,000 after one of the motorists hit her and another motorist encouraged the other motorist to proceed. The motorist that encouraged the motorist to proceed didn’t see the cyclist so thought it was safe for the motorist to proceed. This is why I don’t trust when a motorist motions for me to proceed through an unsignalized intersection.

To give you an idea about what type of unsignalized intersection I am having difficulty crossing on my daily bike commute to and from work, I have provided the below street view. SE 16th Avenue through this area has sharrows, marked crosswalks, and yield to cyclist and pedestrian signs so cyclists and pedestrians are encourages to use SE 16th Avenue. However, this doesn’t mean crossing E Burnside St is easier. Even though I don’t feel safe doing it, I have often had to start rolling my bike in front of approaching high speed automobile traffic because the automobile traffic wouldn’t stop unless I forced it to. Once I start recording my bike rides with a GoPro, which I plan to purchase for my birthday this weekend, I will start sharing video of how quickly automobile traffic stops for me at this intersection.

E Burnside St at SE 16th Ave

E Burnside St at SE 16th Ave

Thankfully, Oregon DOT has started a crosswalk campaign to educate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about how every crosswalk, including marked and unmarked crosswalks, are legally covered by Oregon crosswalk law. The crosswalk law requires motorists to stop and remain stopped for cyclists and pedestrians at marked and unmarked crosswalks.

Oregon DOT Crosswalk Campaign

Oregon DOT Crosswalk Campaign

While crosswalk education is important, I would love to see a HAWK signal installed at E Burnside St and SE 16th Avenue to make crossing E Burnside St easier. Unfortunately HAWK signals are expensive so PBOT and ODOT likely prefer a marked crosswalk over a HAWK signal.

HAWK Signal

HAWK Signal

Near Death Experience

Even though I didn’t plan it, this is my third legal blog post in a row. I was biking along the SE Salmon/Taylor neighborhood greenway during my lunch break yesterday (Thursday) when I almost got hit by a motorist going full speed through a stop sign. The motorist was driving southbound on SE 37th Avenue and must not have seen the stop sign because she didn’t slow down. The intersection of SE Taylor Street and SE 37th Avenue doesn’t have a stop sign when biking on SE Taylor Street so I wasn’t prepared to stop.

Near death experience on Salmon/Taylor neighborhood greenway

Near death experience on Salmon/Taylor neighborhood greenway

Since the two southbound lanes of SE Cesar Chavez Blvd (39th) had bumper to bumper congestion in this area due to construction, the motorist was likely trying to bypass the congestion by using neighborhood streets. The southbound lanes are on the right side of the road so I’m going to assume she decided to turn right to bypass the congestion. As the below map shows, which can be zoomed out, the nearest through street to the west that parallels SE Cesar Chavez Blvd in this area is SE 37th Avenue. In addition to it paralleling SE Cesar Chavez Blvd, SE 37th Avenue and all the neighborhood streets in this area had very low traffic volumes so they are enticing as a detour to all the congestion on SE Cesar Chavez Blvd.

Even though SE 38th Avenue looks like it goes through in this area, a neighborhood trail blocks automobile access from SE Taylor Street to SE Salmon Street so only non-motorists can access the trail. Since I’m assuming the motorist who almost killed me knows the local streets, she likely was aware of this trail so chose SE 37th Avenue.

SE 38th Avenue Trail

SE 38th Avenue trail looking north from SE Salmon Street

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time in Portland that I have almost been killed by a motorist running a stop sign or light. As the below Facebook post shows, a Portland police officer almost killed Drew DeVitis and I when we were biking towards the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland because the police officer sped through a red light without sirens on.

Portland, Oregon police almost killed me by running red light

June 2015 Facebook post with reply from my mom

Even though I didn’t post about it on social media, I was almost hit by a motorist on SE Salmon Street at SE 17th Avenue last winter. I was biking downhill (westbound) on SE Salmon Street and the motorist was heading northbound on SE 17th Avenue. The motorist had a stop sign and I had no stop sign so I wasn’t expecting to stop. Instead of coming to a complete stop, the motorist did a rolling stop while glancing to see if any traffic was coming. He evidently didn’t see me so I had to slam on my brakes to prevent crashing into him. Thankfully, after I yelled “you had a stop sign!”, he stopped and rolled down his window. He told me he did stop but didn’t see me and apologized for almost hitting me. I said thank you to him for apologizing and stopping to talk with me.

While I am thankful for still being alive after all these near crashes, what can I legally do in Oregon if I get in a crash and no police are present to report the crash? Oregon has a law that allows a citizen initiated citation. As this article discusses, the citizen initiated citation has been successful as long as you have video recording to show what happened. Since I don’t have a handlebar-mounted camera like a GoPro, I can’t currently have much success with a citizen initiated citation. Due to this, I’m seriously considering purchasing a handlebar-mounted camera to record all my rides. My 25th birthday is September 19 so I could purchase a GoPro for my birthday!

I didn’t discuss it in this post, but I’d love to know your thoughts on whether and what types of traffic diverters could help with reducing motorists from using neighborhood streets as a bypass around congestion on major roads. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) recently published a Neighborhood Greenways report that includes examples of diverters so PBOT is looking at installing diverters. Where and what types of traffic diverters would you install?