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.

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Montreal at Eye Level

“Montreal at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. While I don’t usually wait a few weeks to write a travel post, I’m glad I waited this time because I learned something disappointing about Montreal after I returned to the US. This disappointment totally changed my perspective on Montreal and how I was planning to write this post. I was originally planning to express my excitement for all the cool placemaking projects and car-free streets.

While the projects and car-free streets are still cool, I wish they were all permanent. Many of the innovative placemaking and car-free streets that I was excited to see in Montreal are closing for the winter. Neighborhoods will temporarily lose placemaking projects that make their neighborhood unique and automobiles will return to what I thought were permanent pedestrian malls. Yes, I realize Montreal has long and harsh winters. However, people in Montreal still go outside during the winter so why can’t the placemaking projects and car-free streets continue through the winter?

Rue Sainte-Catherine

Since Rue Sainte-Catherine is likely Montreal’s most famous pedestrian mall, I’ll start with this example. Why can’t the below street be car-free all year?

Saint-Catherine St E April 2016

April 2016

Saint-Catherine St E August 2016

August 2016

Saint-Catherine St W April 2016

April 2016

Saint-Catherine St W August 2016

August 2016

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Pedestrian Mall on Rue Sainte-Catherine E in Montreal

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Placemaking on Rue Sainte-Catherine E in Montreal

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Musical bikes on Rue Sainte-Catherine E in Montreal

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Giant Chess Boards on Rue Sainte-Catherine O in Montreal

Place Shamrock

While Avenue Shamrock remains a one-lane street during the winter, all the placemaking in the below photos close during the winter. I haven’t lived in an environment where placemaking closes during the winter. What do families in Montreal do during the winter to have fun when the chess board and carousel are no longer there?

Shamrock Avenue May 2015

May 2015

Shamrock Avenue August 2016

August 2016

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Chess on Avenue Shamrock in Montreal

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Carousel with bikes at Place Shamrock

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Parklet at Place Shamrock

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Parklet at Place Shamrock

Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon)

While Place Shamrock closes during the winter, Jean-Talon Market remains open during the winter. Jean-Talon Market is adjacent to Place Shamrock. I’m curious whether the outdoor pianos remain during the winter. I found people playing outdoor pianos throughout Montreal. I’ve never seen so many outdoor pianos anywhere!

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Protected Bike Lanes

While I’m disappointed by how many placemaking projects and car-free streets in Montreal are temporary, I’m confident that at least one project is permanent. Some of Montreal’s protected bike lanes are permanent because they are built using concrete barriers instead of temporary posts. Most protected bike lanes in the DC region and throughout the US are temporary because they use posts.

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Boulevard de Maisonneuve O and Rue University

Montreal still has protected bike lanes that were built using posts and a parking lane. Unlike many post-protected bike lanes in the US, Montreal drivers don’t appear to park in the bike lane. Surprisingly, this was accomplished with only a few posts and signs. I only see one post and no parking-related signs in the below photo. How many posts and parking-related signs would be in this photo if this bike lane was installed in the US? I realize US cities are trying to use many posts and parking signs to educate the public about where to park and protect cyclists. But how many posts and signs are really needed to accomplish these goals?

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Looking northwest on Rue Clark at Avenue Laurier O

Future Blog Post

My one year work anniversary is quickly approaching! While I interned part-time at Oregon Metro for a year during grad school, this is my first full-time work anniversary! My first day at MetroBike was October 25. I plan to reflect on my first year and what I look forward to doing in my second year. Since I can’t publicly share the exact station locations that I have been working on, I plan to share a general overview of how much fun I have had during my first year.

Transportation and Land Use in Ray’s Housing Decisions

As you may have noticed, it has been a few months since my last post. I’ve had a burning desire to write, but kept telling myself that the topics are work sensitive or too personal to share publicly. After reading this GGWash post and discovering that I haven’t written a post about my current and previous housing decisions, I finally found a topic that I feel comfortable writing about publicly. Since I have lived in Arlington for almost a year, which means my year lease ends on October 31, this is a good time for me to start reflecting on whether I want to stay put or move nearby. I enjoy my job so I plan to stay in Arlington. My year lease states that I must give my landlord 60 days notice, so I need to make a decision before the end of August.

Through this process, I keep comparing my current housing decision with my previous housing decisions in Charlotte, Silver Spring, and Portland. The below post compares and contrasts these decisions. Since I didn’t choose to live in Kannapolis, which is where my parents raised me after I was born in Charlotte, I didn’t include Kannapolis. As this post discusses, the Kannapolis home I was raised in has a Walk Score of zero!

Kannapolis Walk Score (zip code)

Arlington, VA

Even though I was rushed to find housing in a competitive market before starting my new job, I may have found the cheapest housing within a walkable distance of a light rail station, frequent service bus lines, and several regional trails. I’m paying less than $900 per month (plus $50 for water and $35 for my portion of WiFi) for a room in a 10-room house. I earn enough through my job that I could spend more on housing, but I don’t see the need to spend more when I’m already close enough to my destinations to continue living car-free. Plus, good housemates aren’t guaranteed when renting so I treasure this at my current home. I can use the savings to go on more expensive vacations and prepare for owning a condo or house.

1117 N Taylor St, Arlington, VA Walk Score

Arlington, VA Home

While many of my NC family and friends have been shocked by how much I pay for housing, I think they find it challenging to understand how much I save by living car-free. As the below table shows, which I found in this article, walkable places reduce combined housing and transportation costs. Most people don’t calculate all the costs involved with owning, maintaining, and driving an automobile. For example, I think most people don’t calculate parking costs (could be hidden if their employer takes parking out of their paycheck or doesn’t pay them more because their employer is paying for expensive parking), poor mental health from being stuck in daily traffic congestion and not spending much time with their family, poor physical health from not exercising enough and becoming obese, etc.

traditional city vs sprawling city costs

My boss covers most of my transportation costs, so I pay almost zero on transportation each month. He provides me with a free Capital Bikeshare maintenance key that I can use for all my trips, including personal trips. He also provides me with a SmarTrip card for all my work-related transit trips. The largest transportation purchase I have made so far is for this $800 bike that I mostly use for shopping and trips where Capital Bikeshare isn’t located yet.

My housing decision makes using these transportation options much easier because I can easily walk to the Ballston Metro Station to ride transit throughout the DC region and bike throughout the DC region on regional trails or low-stress neighborhood streets. While I rarely use it for personal trips, the DC region also has great carsharing and car renting options and Uber/Lyft.

Since I started this blog with the intention of following my life’s journey from living in Kannapolis to where life takes me, I want to share how my current housing decision relates to my housing decisions in Charlotte, Silver Spring, and Portland.

Charlotte, NC

My car-light lifestyle started when I moved to Charlotte in 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. While I lived car-free when I was in Charlotte, I needed a car to go home to Kannapolis so I barely lived car-light. Even though I sometimes think about how I used to pay about $400 per month for housing in Charlotte, which is less than half of what I currently pay in Arlington, the location of my housing in Charlotte lacks the transportation access that I currently enjoy in Arlington. While I was within easy biking distance of a regional trail that started at UNC Charlotte, the trail didn’t provide me with much transportation access so it was mostly a recreational trail. In addition, I couldn’t walk to any transit stations and the local bus was unreliable. I found it faster to bike on unsafe roads throughout Charlotte than wait for transit to arrive.

The Edge Charlotte Walk Score

The Edge at UNC Charlotte

Silver Spring, MD

My fully car-free lifestyle started when I moved to Silver Spring in 2014 to become a Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group. While I didn’t have many choices where to live in Silver Spring because I was seeking short-term housing for just the summer, I was lucky to have a Charlotte friend that had a connection to someone who owns a home in Silver Spring. Thankfully, the home was located in a prime location to live car-free.

I was a block from the Sligo Creek Trail, which provided some transportation access in addition to recreation usage. Since I wanted to explore the entire DC region, I enjoyed having access to the car-free (just on the weekend) Beech Drive in Rock Creek Park and Capital Crescent Trail. While the Silver Spring Metro Station was further from home than the Ballston Metro Station is to my current home, I enjoyed having better transit access than I had in Charlotte.

8410 Galveston Rd, Silver Spring, MD Walk Score

Silver Spring, MD Home

Portland, OR

The last place I lived before moving to Arlington was Portland. My apartment was next to the SE Salmon/Taylor neighborhood greenway, so I had easy access to a low-volume, low-speed walking and biking route. Sunday Parkways went along this route both years I was in Portland, so this route is prime for walking and biking. While I miss Portland’s neighborhood greenways because Arlington has nothing similar yet, I don’t miss Portland’s hills. Since I have an extreme fear of heights, I didn’t enjoy biking downhill to cross the Willamette River. Yes, Arlington also has hills but I rarely have to bike down them because I work from home and usually do field work in locations with few steep hills.

I also miss being within easy (two Portland blocks, which are 200 feet) walking distance of a grocery store in Portland. I enjoyed having the flexibility to walk to the grocery store to get one or two items instead of waiting until I’m almost out of groceries. Since the nearest grocery store to my Arlington home is .6 mile away, I wait until I need enough groceries to fill both bike panniers.

While walking and biking from my Portland home to my destinations was easy, transit wasn’t easy. The Hawthorne and Belmont buses came about every 15 minutes and most of my bike trips only took 15 minutes, so I rarely took the bus. I wasn’t near a MAX station so I couldn’t ride light rail from home.

1117 SE 27th Ave, Portland, OR Walk Score

Portland, OR Home

Future Blog Post

My boss and I were selected to present at the North American Bikeshare Association Conference in Montreal on August 31. We will be presenting during the session titled The “Perfect” Site. My only conference presentation occurred when I presented my high school senior exit project during a poster session at the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in 2008. This means the presentation in Montreal will be my first time presenting as a speaker. It will also be my first time attending a conference outside the US. My boss asked me to create our presentation, so I plan to use this presentation to write a blog post.

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.

red-line

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.

cleveland-eastside-bike-share-map

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.

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.