Eastside Cleveland at Eye Level

I have several Washington, DC region posts I want to write, but want to finish writing about my Cleveland vacation before returning to the Washington, DC region. As my previous Cleveland post discussed, I walked through some westside and downtown neighborhoods on Friday night. Since it was below freezing and I wasn’t sure how safe the neighborhoods are late at night, I rode the bus back to my Airbnb.

While the bus looked normal, I was shocked by how short Cleveland’s light rail trains are compared to DC’s light rail trains. I rode the Red Line, which is a light rail line, from the W65-Lorain Station to the Little Italy-University Circle Station. I almost missed getting on the train because I thought it would take up the whole station like it does in DC.

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Cleveland’s Red Line from imgrum.net/tag/windmere

metro

DC’s Metro from flickr user Devin Westhause

I enjoy trying bike share anywhere I go so I looked for bike share after arriving at the Little Italy-University Circle Station. As the below map shows, Little Italy and University Circle have bike share stations.

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After I found the below station, I was tempted to ride a bikeshare bike. Since I have a good paying job now and am a bike share consultant, I may have been too frugal but $21 for 3 hours plus one hour free (4 hours total) to use Cleveland’s bike share system felt too expensive. Capital Bikeshare is only $8 for 24 hours! Instead of riding bike share, I walked everywhere in Little Italy and University Circle.

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Little Italy

I was thoroughly impressed with the artwork at the Little Italy-University Circle Station. I have explored many transit stations throughout the US and many western and northern European countries. I can’t recall the last time that I took so many photos at a transit station. I guess I’m usually in a rush to catch a train so don’t always stop to take photos of the art. I was on vacation so was able to stop and enjoy the artwork this time. The below photo shows an inspirational sentence in two languages. One language is definitely English. Since the station is at the entrance to Little Italy, I assume the other language is Italian.

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I love murals because they usually show the community from the local’s viewpoint. Murals also bring the community together by providing locals an opportunity to work together to show pride in their neighborhood.

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It’s midnight and I want to publish this post tonight so I can move on to Washington, DC region posts. Here are a few more photos that you probably can only see by exploring Cleveland by eye level (not in a car).

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University Circle

As a pedestrian, I loved seeing CircleWalk in University Circle! CircleWalk is an interpretive walking experience that highlights and shares local stories.

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Here are more artistic and environmentally friendly design photos.

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Shaker Square

As the information kiosk shows, Shaker Square is a shopping district. However, it isn’t just any shopping district. I visited Shaker Square for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that Shaker Square is the oldest shopping district in Ohio and the second oldest in the US. Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, MO is the oldest shopping district in the US. Another major reason is I wanted to see how a suburban shopping district could be designed around a transit station.

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I enjoyed taking panoramas of Shaker Square so here are some of the panoramas I took. I walked through Dave’s Shaker Square Market. The market was full of Black people. I was the only White person in the market. Since I’m used to shopping at grocery stores full of White people, it felt weird to be the minority. Even though it felt weird, I was pleasantly surprised that no one in the market acted weird around me and no one asked me why I was at the market. We all just went about shopping for groceries like normal people. I can’t think of a grocery store in the US with diversity so I hope grocery stores in the US become more diverse.

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I don’t feel I have studied homelessness prevention and panhandling policies enough to make an informed opinion about the below sign so I’m just going to share it. I welcome you to share your opinion about the sign.

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Here are more artistic photos.

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Future Post: Sneckdowns

The Washington, DC region recently had snow so I looked for sneckdowns. Unfortunately, we only got about an inch of snow and the plows did a good job of clearing the roads so I will have to wait to write a post about sneckdowns in the Washington, DC region. In case you aren’t familiar with sneckdowns, here is a video.

Walkable Retirement Complexes Surrounded By Automobile-Dependent Land Uses

I have been on countless family vacations but my family’s most recent vacation was very unique for one major reason: transportation. From Saturday, December 24 to Friday, December 30, I was a van passenger and stayed with my family in hotels that are located in automobile-dependent areas adjacent to I-495 in Alexandria, VA (suburb of DC), adjacent to I-90 in Erie, PA, and adjacent to I-480 in North Olmsted, OH (suburb of Cleveland). Since my dad values easy interstate access, we have stayed in automobile-dependent areas during most family vacations throughout my life.

As soon as I had the freedom to choose where I wanted to stay, I escaped the suburbs and stayed at an Airbnb in a more walkable and transit-accessible location in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. I walked and rode transit everywhere until flying back to DC on Sunday, January 1. The below tweet shows the reaction I received from locals after they asked me what I was doing in Cleveland. Since this blog post was getting long, I moved the “Cleveland at Eye Level” section to my next blog post.

Visiting Grandmothers

Since I’m aware that this blog post could be seen as me complaining about not having freedom to explore outside of my family’s van, I want to clarify that my dad mostly chose to stay in automobile-dependent areas because we were visiting my grandmothers in automobile-dependent areas of Erie, PA and Westlake, OH. The retirement complexes where my grandmothers live are walkable only within the confines of their retirement complexes. Both retirement complexes are surrounded by automobile-dependent land uses so my grandmothers can’t safely walk beyond their retirement complexes. As an active transportation planner, this was very depressing to see.

Thankfully, catching up with both of my grandmothers wasn’t depressing. I enjoyed seeing how networked my Erie grandmother is into her retirement community. After eleven years at her retirement community, she literally knows everyone by name and everyone stops to talk with her. I loved seeing and hearing this! I also enjoyed chair yoga with her and my twin sister.

I enjoyed chair #yoga with my grandma and twin sister! #chairyoga

A post shared by Ray Atkinson (@rayplans) on

Since my Ohio grandmother just moved into her retirement complex the day before we arrived, she isn’t networked into her retirement community yet. However, I enjoyed seeing and hearing her take the initiative to meet people in her retirement community. I also enjoyed playing Kings in the Corner with her and my family.

Part 2 of 3 about my family trip can be read in my next blog post.

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)

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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.

First Impressions of Portland

I moved to Portland, Oregon on September 13 so I have lived here for over a week.  Before classes start on September 29, which is when I will need to focus much more time on studying and not writing my blog, I wanted to take a moment to share my first impressions of Portland. Since this is a transportation blog, I will start with comparing Portland and Charlotte’s transportation systems. I will conclude this post with discussing a few non-transportation topics that have impacted my transition to my new life in Portland.

Portland’s transportation system is much better than Charlotte’s transportation system. I rode transit, biked and walked in Charlotte and have been riding transit, biking and walking in Portland so will discuss these three modes. The main reason I love using transit in Portland is because TriMet, Portland’s regional transit system, is reliable. I downloaded one of the 50 or so third-party apps that were developed using TriMet’s open data. According to this article, “Rather than pay an in-house programmer, Oregon’s largest transit agency was the first in the nation to set its schedule and arrival data loose for outside developers to do with it what they may.” The below screenshots show the PDX Bus app, which has real-time arrival information and other information. The real-time arrival information is very accurate so I know exactly when I need to be at the bus stop.

pdxbus appHow does the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) compare to TriMet? Take a look at the lack of diverse CATS transit apps. I’m assuming CATS has so few transit apps because it does not provide open source data to third-party developers who could create a diversity of apps. In addition to not having a diversity of apps, CATS only offers approximate arrival information instead of real-time arrival information. Hopefully someday CATS will provide real-time arrival information with a diversity of apps to choose from.

My roommate, who is from Kansas and also an incoming MURP interested in transportation planning, and I live next to a neighborhood greenway so we constantly see cyclists. The below video, which was produced in 2010, shows what a neighborhood greenway is. I had never seen a neighborhood greenway in the United States before moving to Portland so assumed a neighborhood greenway was like an off-road greenway. While the neighborhood greenways have many benefits, which are discussed in the video, my roommate and I have experienced at least one issue while using them. The main issue my roommate and I have had with the neighborhood greenway next to our apartment is crossing busy intersections. In addition to the cross street having so many automobiles, many of the cross streets have sight issues because of on-street parking. We have to move far enough into the intersection to see past the parked automobiles. Due to this issue, we have considered avoiding neighborhood greenways and biking on arterials with stop lights so the stop lights stop cross traffic.

Our apartment is so close to everything that we have actually been walking to the grocery store, restaurants and bars. Since we only live about two miles from downtown Portland, there are sidewalks and crosswalks with pedestrian signals everywhere. Our neighborhood feels very similar to the NoDa neighborhood in Charlotte because it has concert and other ads posted on light poles, artistic graffiti drawn on buildings, and there are bars everywhere. I’m definitely not used to living in a neighborhood like this. However, I am growing to appreciate my new environment.

One area of my new environment that I am struggling to adapt to is the bar scene. While I knew before I moved to Portland that Portlanders and graduate students at any university love drinking alcohol, I am still out of my comfort zone. I almost never drank alcohol in North Carolina so have no idea what to order when I go to the bar with my roommate or other people. To make matters worse, the second year MURPs have organized bar socials this Friday and Saturday for them to meet the incoming MURPs. Besides when I attended graduate club meetings at UNC Charlotte, I never went to a bar so am nervous about how I will fit in with so many graduate students that probably have been drinking alcohol for years. It feels like Greek Life to me, which I avoided at UNC Charlotte, because I feel fraternity members have to drink alcohol to fit in with their brothers. Thankfully, my roommate and several other MURPs have told me they can teach me about alcohol. While I am open to learning, I haven’t enjoyed drinking alcohol so far. I prefer drinking milk, lemonade, orange juice, sweet tea, smoothies, and many other nonalcoholic drinks. I enjoy that nonalcoholic drinks are cheaper and most have free refills. I am also nervous about getting drunk. Since I have never been drunk, I don’t know my drinking limit. I have seen people get drunk before and it didn’t look enjoyable so I would prefer not ever getting drunk. In case you are wondering, I didn’t come to Portland for the famous beer and bars. I came to Portland to study the famous urban and regional planning.

Unlike UNC Charlotte’s main campus, which is located about ten miles from uptown Charlotte, Portland State University is located in downtown Portland. One of the biggest things I have noticed with attending school in downtown Portland is panhandling. While uptown Charlotte and downtown Portland have about the same amount of panhandling, I rarely went to uptown Charlotte so didn’t experience panhandling on a daily basis. I rarely experience panhandling outside of downtown Portland. Now that I have classes in downtown Portland almost every day, I will have people asking me for money every time I go to downtown Portland. Experiencing panhandling on a nearly daily basis gets depressing, especially when the panhandlers say things to put me down for not giving them any money.

While Portland’s transportation system is much better than Charlotte’s transportation system, Portland can still improve its transportation system. I am looking forward to studying urban and regional planning, which includes how to approach panhandling, more than drinking alcohol. Since classes start on September 29, my next post will probably be shorter but I hope to continue writing my blog during the school year.

Car Dependence to Car Free

I moved from Kannapolis, NC to Silver Spring, MD on June 29. I wanted to write a blog post before arriving in Silver Spring about how I expected my life to change as I went from being dependent on my parents’ car for nearly every trip to car free for every trip. Since I had to pack, keep up with emails and sleep at least a few hours per night, I ended up not having time to write this blog post.

Now that I am in Silver Spring, I want to reflect on my experience so far with living car free. In order to check how I am handling living car free, I wanted to hear whether I would ever say, “where is my parents’ car when I needed it?” I haven’t said this once. Instead, I have asked, “why are people driving an automobile in a region that has good (could be improved in many ways) walking, biking and transit infrastructure?” When I asked this, I actually looked at my driver’s license and noticed it expires on September 19, 2016. This will occur after I have graduated from Portland State University and hopefully have started a full-time job. If I find a job in a location where I don’t need to drive an automobile, which I am determined to find, I am seriously considering not renewing my driver’s license. For the reasons I have discussed in previous posts and many more reasons that I haven’t written about yet, I would never have thought this in Kannapolis. However, since I have been involved with bike planning meetings in Kannapolis, I would like to say that Kannapolis recognizes that people are asking for healthy and liveable communities so it is working hard to make Kannapolis more bike friendly. I look forward to someday returning to Kannapolis and biking safely to do all my trips. I am confident this day will come before I die.

Since the walking, biking and transit infrastructure is reasonable in the DC region, I have been walking, biking and riding transit for all my trips. This includes biking to work, walking to lunch, biking to the grocery store, biking and riding transit to downtown DC, moving from home to home by bike, and many other trips. While I can write an essay on my experience with each of these trips, I decided to focus this post on just a few aspects of my experience with biking over 50 miles in one day throughout the DC region. I included comparisons to the Charlotte region and the Netherlands.

What better way to explore the DC region than by bicycle! As the below map of my July 4 ride shows, I have biked over 50 miles throughout the DC region in a single day. I did another 50+ mile ride on July 20. Due to my cell phone dying both times, which I have been using for directions and counting mileage (both need constant use of GPS and 3G), I don’t have an exact number of miles. Having my cell phone die also brings up a very serious safety issue for me because I need a cell phone to call my cousin, who actually lives in DC, and police. I am currently looking at purchasing another battery and/or a bike computer so I can do everything I want to do and not risk my safety.

Ray's 50+ mile bike ride on July 4

Ray’s 50+ mile bike ride on July 4

Continuing with how I biked over 50 miles. The last time I biked over 50 miles in one day was when I was in the Netherlands during the summer of 2012. I have never biked over 50 miles in one day in the Charlotte region. While the bike infrastructure is slowly improving in the Charlotte region, which one can see with the Charlotte City Council’s vote to build the Cross-Charlotte Trail, not having biked at least 50 miles in one day in the Charlotte region informs me how terrible the bike infrastructure is in the Charlotte region. The main reasons I biked over 50 miles in the DC region was because the trail networks are well connected and last for miles and many roads like Beach Drive have slow-speed traffic and many cyclists to bike with.

Sections of Beach Drive are closed to motor vehicles on the weekends and holidays

Sections of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park are closed to motor vehicles on the weekends and holidays

I start riding on these trails and roads and forget how long I have been riding. It makes it even easier to ride for miles when I ride alongside a stranger or two as we discuss our histories, why we love cycling, how we would improve cycling in the DC region, and above all motivate each other to keep going. I can’t wait to do this with my future classmates and coworkers as we ride thousands of miles together!

I plan to bike over 50 miles every weekend I am in the DC region and continue biking over 50 miles per day as often as I can once I arrive in Portland. While the DC region has a great transit system, I find biking to be the best way to explore the DC region because I am not restricted to exploring where the transit system goes, it costs less to bike, biking is faster than walking, I enjoy getting lost in a neighborhood I have never been in before, I can stop where ever I want, I enjoy watching people as they move and interact, people on transit are usually glued to their cell phones or sleeping, and many other reasons.

Since my parents, especially my mom, have been asking me what I am doing at my internship, I will provide a quick overview. Even though my title is Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group, which I thought would have involved reading and writing transportation planning documents and less GIS analysis, all my work has been GIS analysis. In addition, the path to receiving my current internship was unlike any of my other internships and I have had several internships. Without writing another essay, I will just say that I applied for the internship in March after being recommended by a current employee in Toole Design Group’s Boston office for a full-time GIS Analyst position. I know the Boston employee from serving on the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP)’s Young Professionals Committee. I ended up applying for both the GIS Analyst and Transportation Planning Intern positions.

Continuing with what I am doing at my internship. After reading the internship responsibilities in March, I was informed what my internship responsibilities were going to be in June. Since I am currently working on a real project from the start of the project until I have to leave for Portland (short stop in Kannapolis), it was worth the wait to find out what my internship responsibilities were going to be. I have been using ArcGIS 10.2 and Google Earth so far to determine where 200 bike share stations should be located for Philadelphia’s bike share program, which will launch in 2015. I have been communicating with Toole Design Group staff in Portland, OR and Silver Spring, MD and City of Philadelphia staff. One of the things we communicated about was requesting data from the CyclePhilly App, which is shown below. I have never had an internship as fast-paced or involve as many people as this internship is. With the help of my supervisors, I have felt prepared for every challenge and am ready for what my next challenge brings!

CyclePhilly App’s first six weeks reveals where people in the Philadelphia region ride

CyclePhilly App’s first six weeks reveals where people in the Philadelphia region ride

I want to write about many more aspects of my transition from car dependence to car free, but will save these aspects for future posts and in person discussions. Since I am interning full-time, taking time to eat so I can try to gain weight while biking, doing all the house chores (living alone at the moment), biking countless amount of miles per day, and trying to get enough sleep per night, I am not sure when my next post will be. I am writing new draft posts every day when I see, hear, touch, smell, and taste something I want to write about. I have so far written nearly 50 draft posts, which are ready to be fully written so definitely have plenty to photograph, research and write about. Yes, my next post should have less words and more photos.