Denver at Eye Level

“Denver at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. As I decide what I want to focus on in my first 2018 Oregon post (what would you like to read about?), I’m focusing this post on my May 31 layover in Denver. I wasn’t planning to include a layover in Denver on my flight from Charlotte to Portland until I saw how much cheaper flying through Frontier is. While there are many disadvantages to flying through Frontier, which may prevent me from flying through them again, I couldn’t resist getting a free flight with a long daytime (important because I wouldn’t do nighttime layover) layover in Denver out of my flight to Portland. Plus, I got to catch up with Allison Barton, who is my 2nd cousin. She lives in the Denver region and I haven’t seen her in about 15 years!

Can Denver become a “smart city”?

I started my long Denver layover by figuring out transportation. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible in Denver and many other cities to pay for transit and bikeshare using the same fee and use both systems with one app or card. I hope this changes soon as many cities invest in smart city technology. Even though a day transit pass throughout the Portland region costs $5, a day transit pass from the Denver airport costs $9!

Since Capital Bikeshare sells single trips for $2 and I only planned to take one or two trips, I was shocked Denver B-cycle doesn’t sell single trips. The cheapest is a day pass for $9! I may be too frugal, but paying $9 for only one or two trips felt too expensive so I ended up walking and riding transit.

I also didn’t ride bikeshare because I hadn’t memorized where all the stations are located and where the system limit is. I was concerned I wouldn’t find a station nearby or bike beyond the system limit and not be able to find a station to dock the bike. Due to these concerns, I wish Denver had dockless bikeshare. Most dockless bikeshare companies charge $1/trip.

16th Street Mall

Enough ranting about how I’d improve Denver. I enjoyed many things about Denver. While an almost 14-hour layover may seem like plenty of time to explore Denver, I knew it would be over quickly so I prepared before arriving where I wanted to go. Even on a Thursday during normal work hours, the mile-long 16th Street Mall was busy. I constantly saw the free MallRide shuttle, so it was reliable to use.

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16th Street Mall

The following photos show some of the placemaking along the 16th Street Mall.

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The below photo shows it being used.

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Proof the piano was used.

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The below photo shows it being used.

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Proof the chess/checkers board was used.

9th Street Historic Park

I came across the 9th Street Historic Park while searching for historic sites to visit. Since the park is part of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, many of the historic houses have been converted to university buildings.

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9th Street Park is a Pedestrian Mall

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Every house had this marker.

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I wish I would’ve had time to visit all the story sites along the Denver Story Trek.

Larimer Square

While I didn’t find any historic markers to read, Larimer Square is where Denver was founded.

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View of Larimer Square from 14th Street. Yes, you see a bike signal. There’s a protected bike lane on 14th Street.

Confluence Park

After walking several miles on a 90-degree day, I enjoyed putting my feet in the cold South Platte River at the Confluence Park.

Protected Bike Lane at Bus Stop

I found several protected bike lanes in Denver. Since designing protected bike lanes with a bus stop is often challenging, the below photo shows how Denver did it.

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Protected bike lane at a bus stop

The Alley at the Dairy Block

I wasn’t even looking for the Alley at the Dairy Block when I was randomly exploring Denver. According to this article, the alley opened in April 2018 and is Downtown Denver’s first activated alley. The alley reminds me of Brevard Court in Uptown Charlotte.

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Bus Rapid Transit

I was on my way to meet Allison Baron, who is my 2nd cousin, for dinner when I saw a bus-only lane on Broadway. Since I’ve seen private cars in bus-only lanes in other cities, I was surprised most Denver drivers stayed out of the bus-only lane unless they were turning, which is legal. The bus-only lane is just painted!

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Do you see “bus only” painted on Broadway and the right turn only except buses sign?

Returning to Airport

Allison pointed out the beautiful Denver sunset over the Rockies as she drove me back to the airport. Since the sunset was on her side of the jeep, I didn’t want to reach my phone over her while she was driving to take a photo so I didn’t get a photo.

Denver Sunset

Denver sunset over the Rockies. Photo: slack12 on Flickr.

Since I have lived and worked in Oregon City for over a month, my next post will focus on how I’m feeling with these life changes. As with previous posts that discussed my work life, I plan to only share what can be shared publicly.

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Boston at Eye Level

“Boston at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. While I know you’re waiting for me to write about how I feel being back in Oregon, I have two posts I want to share before writing about my life back in Oregon. The first post is about Boston and the second post is about Denver. Since I knew I’d be moving back to Oregon, I quickly planned a weekend trip to Boston from after work on Friday, May 4 to early morning on Monday, May 7. I arrived back in Arlington, VA after midnight on May 7 then worked at the City of Alexandria, VA that morning. I was excited to explore Boston for the first time and catch up with Keihly Moore and Jesse Boudart. Keihly graciously invited me to stay at her home in Boston’s Egleston Square Neighborhood and borrow one of her many bikes.

Before I arrived at Keihly’s home, I was amazed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which is the Boston region’s transit system. Unlike Metro in the DC region, MBTA in the Boston region doesn’t require users to swipe their transit pass to exit the station. I was embarrassed when I arrived at the exit turnstile and tried to use my transit pass to exit. Since I couldn’t find a way to swipe my transit pass on the exit turnstile, I had to ask someone how to do this. They looked at me as if I was an alien and said to just walk through the exit turnstile. I followed their lead and was able to exit the station.

Since the MBTA doesn’t know where riders exit, it can’t charge riders based on how far they travel, which is what Metro does in the DC region. MBTA also can’t collect any destination data, so MBTA only has the origin data. As a GIS and transportation data nerd, I would find it frustrating to work with transit data in the Boston region.

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Boston’s exit turnstiles. Photo: OUTFRONT Media Inc.

I arrived at Keihly’s home after a short walk (I’m used to walking miles) from the transit station. Since her home is up a steep flight of stairs and I have an extreme fear of heights, I had to overcome my fear to enter and exit her home. I’m thankful I visited Keihly during the spring because the stairs would have been covered in snow during the winter. When this happens at my home in the South, I would just wait for the snow to melt, which usually takes a day. Since it constantly snows in Boston during the winter, I’d be waiting all winter to leave.

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Catching up with Keihly Moore in Boston

Since Keihly had a long training ride on Saturday to prepare her for the 5-day, 400-mile Bostreal (Boston to Montreal), Jesse gave me a nerdy bike tour of the Boston region. Jesse, who now works as a traffic engineer at Toole Design Group, was one of my two Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) mentors in 2016. We had only Skyped during our 3-person meetings, so I got to meet Jesse for the first time in person when I visited Boston. I was exhausted from biking several miles on a bike I hadn’t ridden before that I forgot to take a selfie with Jesse. Since Jesse only had a few hours to give me a bike tour of the Boston region, we didn’t stop often to take photos and I didn’t want to risk my phone falling out of my hand while biking. Due to this, the below photos are the only photos I took.

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View of Downtown Boston (left on the horizon) and Boston’s Back Bay (center right on the horizon) from Prospect Hill Park in Somerville

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View of Downtown Boston from a trail on the north side of the Charles River. Boston has a great trail network along both sides of the Charles River.

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Protected Bike Lane at MIT in Cambridge

I enjoyed talking with Keihly so much on Sunday that I forgot to take photos. Or maybe I didn’t want to be seen glued to my phone taking photos. I think it’s a combination of these factors. Either way, I enjoyed the limited time with Keihly. Even though I had heard of Boston’s famous Emerald Necklace, which was designed by the famous Frederick Law Olmsted, Keihly showed me why he would be embarrassed by some of how Boston implemented his design. The below 8-lane highway, which connects Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum, is supposed to be part of the Emerald Necklace. While the highway does have trees, it doesn’t feel like a park with 8 lanes of traffic and narrow sidewalks!

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Emerald Necklace’s Arborway between Jamaica Pond and Arnold Arboretum

My flight back to Baltimore-Washington (cheaper than flying to DC’s Reagan and Dulles) was late in the evening and Keihly had a rare Sunday work presentation at a church, so I explored more of Downtown Boston on my own. Since I was still new to Boston, I was thankful to have help finding things to do. My Portland (not the original Portland in Maine) friend, Carl Larson, suggested the Black Heritage Trail. While the trail wayfinding could have been improved, I was able to find most of the sites, which taught me about Boston’s role in the Underground Railroad.

As is common in most of the US, the White-focused Freedom Trail is much more of a tourist attraction than the Black Heritage Trail. Many tour companies charge money so tourists can learn about the Freedom Trail’s sites from their professional guides. I visited many of the sites along the Freedom Trail.

I explored Downtown Boston’s cool Washington Street pedestrian mall on my way to catch transit to the airport. As with most other pedestrian malls in the US, the Washington Street pedestrian mall was short so I hope Boston expands it someday. I’m sure this pedestrian mall is short because motorists didn’t want to lose too much access to Downtown Boston.

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Pedestrian mall on Washington Street in Downtown Boston

My next post will be about my long layover in Denver when I was moving back to Oregon then I’ll write a post about being back in Oregon.

Moving Back to Oregon to Work at Clackamas Community College

I’m excited to share that after submitting 127 job applications over the past seven months I have accepted a written offer to become the Transportation Systems Analyst at Clackamas Community College (CCC) in Oregon City! A short position description is below. The position is grant funded from Oregon Metro through June 30, 2019. Oregon Metro is offering the grant again and CCC plans to reapply for it.

Develop and implement strategies to expand transportation options and remove transportation barriers.  Refine and operationalize strategies outlined in the Transportation Management Plan.  Develop and implement transportation survey tools.  Gather and analyze transportation metrics for use in developing new transportation strategies.  Act as liaison with local, regional, and state government partners; work cooperatively to create transportation plans and projects that reflect the needs of the College.

Since CCC wants me to start working in June, I’ll be resigning from my full-time, temporary Urban Planner I position at the City of Alexandria, VA on May 18. I plan to move back to the Portland region soon after Memorial Day, which is in time to participate in Pedalpalooza. I’ll miss my East Coast family and friends. Thankfully, I’ll be able to catch up with many of them during my upcoming trips to Boston, Charlotte area, Erie, and Cleveland area. Since I was in grad school when I previously lived in Oregon from 2014-16, I’m looking forward to having more free time to explore the West Coast.

You may be wondering why I chose the below photo for the featured photo. Since CCC’s three campuses are located in three Portland suburbs and my new supervisor said no one has organized a group bike ride at CCC, my future job at CCC reminds me of when I co-founded and led the Cyclists Club at UNC Charlotte (UNCC). Even though I wasn’t hired by UNCC to work on transportation issues, I felt I was the de facto bike coordinator because this position didn’t exist. I’m excited to use what I learned working on transportation issues at UNCC to improve CCC.

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Ray organized and led slow Cyclists Club ride at UNC Charlotte on February 14, 2013

Since I took an Internet GIS course at UNCC during Spring 2013 and created the below interactive bike resource map with my teammate during this course, I’m planning to see whether CCC wants me to create a similar interactive map for CCC. While I’m impressed CCC’s transportation page includes walking, biking, transit, and carpooling, I’m looking forward to working with staff to improve it.

UNC Charlotte Bicycle Resource Page

Ray and Jacob created the UNC Charlotte Bicycle Resource Map in Spring 2013

You may have noticed that I focused on my UNCC experience before my Portland State University (PSU) experience. I did this on purpose because transportation planning and overall transportation behavior at PSU is so far ahead of CCC. PSU is a Platinum-Level Bicycle Friendly University, which is the highest level that has been awarded. While I offered during my interview that I could help CCC apply to become a Bicycle Friendly University, which is also open to colleges, CCC currently isn’t a Bicycle Friendly University. UNCC also wasn’t a Bicycle Friendly University until it applied for the first time in 2017 and was awarded the Bronze Level, which is the lowest level, so UNCC and CCC share many things in common.

Even though I want my ideas for CCC to be context sensitive, this doesn’t mean I can’t think about what I did at PSU. As this BikePortland post and the below photos show, Gerald and I organized a successful Bike PSU outreach event at PSU during Fall 2015. We organize this outreach event to start creating bike trains. Since we had difficulty finding a method to connect bike train participants while preserving their privacy and finding participants with similar class schedules that lived nearby each other, we weren’t able to start a bike train at PSU. I expect to have similar challenges organizing bike trains at CCC, but one big difference is I’ll be a permanent employee at CCC. I had to stop organizing bike trains at PSU when I graduated in June 2016.

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Ray and Gerald organized Bike PSU’s outreach event during Fall 2015 (Photo: Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

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PSU student participating in Bike PSU’s outreach event during Fall 2015 (Photo: Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

Yes, I realize I have focused mostly on biking and my new job involves working on more than just biking. As my previous post shows, I have multimodal transportation experience. My PSU team did our planning workshop project on walkability in Tigard, which is a suburb of Portland.

Since I’ve never been to CCC or Oregon City, I’m excited to explore a new area of the Portland region. Due to Oregon City being the first permanent Euro-American settlement in the Willamette Valley, first incorporated city west of the Rocky Mountains, and Oregon’s first capital (Oregon City was selected the capital before the creation of the Oregon Territory in 1848), Oregon City isn’t really new. I’m excited to learn more Oregon history by visiting the Museum of the Oregon Territory, which overlooks Willamette Falls in Oregon City.

Dockless Automobiles vs. Dockless Bikes

I’m following up on my last post, which discussed Capital Bikeshare and dockless bikeshare in the Washington, DC region. While I agree that dockless bikeshare companies should be held accountable to making sure their bikes are parked correctly, why aren’t dockless automobile companies being held to the same standard? Dockless automobiles have been parked illegally for decades. Where is the public outrage? Why is most of the public outrage focused on dockless bikes?

Here are several examples:

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.

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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

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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.

Ray’s Professional Growth From 1st Full-Time, Permanent Job

As I update my resume and cover letter and prepare for job interviews, I have been reflecting on my professional growth from my 1st full-time, permanent job as the Bikeshare Planner at MetroBike, LLC. This job was an amazing experience. It helped prepare me for my next job because I now have more hands-on experience coordinating and leading office and site meetings with clients and public and private stakeholders. I was effectively able to listen to client and stakeholder concerns and find feasible ways to resolve their concerns.

I have seven years of experience learning and using ArcGIS. Since ArcGIS is expensive, I was asked to learn QGIS, which is free and open-source. I quickly self-taught QGIS and was able to provide my clients with professional maps, which they appreciated. My clients also thanked me for quickly incorporating their requested map edits. None of the maps have been publicly released yet, so I can’t share them with you.

QGIS wasn’t the only free and open-source software that I self-taught during my last job. Even though I learned Photoshop during graduate school at Portland State University, I was asked to learn Paint.NET so I could create bikeshare station footprint photos and aerials. Since I shared the below footprint photo of a planned Capital Bikeshare station at Gravelly Point to get public feedback, I can share it with you.

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Footprint photo of planned Capital Bikeshare station at Gravelly Point

Public speaking was a crucial component of my job. While I still get nervous when presenting, I was pleasantly surprised how much my public speaking skills improved during this job. I was able to remain calm and focused during presentations. I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the public when presenting to civic associations in Arlington. In addition, my former boss and I presented at the 2017 North American Bikeshare Association Conference in Montreal. As the below photo shows, I also presented the Fiscal Year 2017 Capital Bikeshare update to the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee.

I could share many other ways that I experienced professional growth, but I’m trying to write more concisely. I’m excited to see what my next job is and my continued professional growth.