Bend at Eye Level

“Bend at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. Since people outside Oregon may not know where Bend is, below is a map that shows the location of Bend in Oregon. Bend, OR (91,122 people in 2016) reminds me of Asheville, NC (89,121 people in 2016) because they have similar populations and are hip and expensive mountain cities with strong art, brewery and mountain biking scenes. As someone who has biked in both cities, Asheville is not as bike friendly as Bend. Since it rains more in Asheville, I would rather live in Bend.

I am writing about Bend because I was shocked by many things that I saw while biking throughout Bend for my first time during the Oregon Trails Summit. I will admit that I did not plan to write about Bend before arriving in Bend. My thought process quickly changed when I biked through my first roundabout in Bend. It felt similar to a Dutch protected bike intersection, which I wrote about in this post. As you can see in the below photo, cyclists have the option to act like a pedestrian through the roundabout by taking the bike off-ramp to access the sidewalk then using the crosswalks.

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Looking west on NW Galveston Ave at NW 14th St. Photo: Ray Atkinson.

Even though I could not find any signs with instructions at any of the roundabouts in Bend, I found the below tips on the City of Bend’s website. Thankfully, the tips are just suggestions and do not appear to be laws because I biked on the sidewalks and across the crosswalks to avoid biking with cars through the roundabout. According to the City of Bend’s tips, I was supposed to walk my bike on the sidewalks and across the crosswalks. While there likely is not enough space to separate cyclists and pedestrians on the sidewalks and crosswalks in Bend, this is how the protected bike intersections and bike lanes function in the Netherlands.

I asked several cyclists in Bend whether they act like a pedestrian or a car when they bike through the roundabout. All of them said they act like a car by taking the lane through the roundabout because acting like a pedestrian takes too long and motorists do not expect to see cyclists using the sidewalk or crosswalk. While the City of Bend recommends for cyclists to walk their bike on the sidewalk and crosswalk through the roundabout, I doubt cyclists will do this unless there is someone walking. I rarely saw anyone walking outside of Downtown Bend, so most of the roundabouts had no one walking through them.

I have only shown you a bike off-ramp, so below is a bike on-ramp at another Bend roundabout. While most of the bike on-ramps did not have tree limbs blocking the ramp, I wanted to show this photo so urban designers can see an example of what not to do. I was unable to use this on-ramp because tree limbs were blocking the ramp. I emailed the City of Bend to ask them to trim the tree so this issue can be resolved.

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Looking south on SW Colorado Ave and SW Simpson Ave. Photo: Ray Atkinson.

The below roundabout issue is harder to fix. While most of the bike off-ramps were installed to make it easy to exit the road and enter the sidewalk, the below bike off-ramp was not installed correctly. It is also missing the painted white dashes on the road, which indicate that cyclists can move into the travel lane. While the City of Bend has installed infrastructure to allow cyclists to act like a pedestrian through roundabouts, cyclists are not required to do this.

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Looking west on SW Simpson Ave at SW Colorado Ave. Photo: Ray Atkinson.

Since I enjoyed biking throughout Bend and know people are not perfect, I wanted to share a photo of art installed at a roundabout. All of the roundabouts that I biked through had art installed in them. Here is a map that shows all 24 roundabouts that have art in them. The art produced great placemaking!

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Looking northwest at the SW Simpson Ave at SW Colorado Ave roundabout. Photo: Ray Atkinson.

I want to write more and have other photos to share, but believe this is a good stopping point for tonight. I plan to write more and add more photos another day. Thanks for reading my blog!

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Ray Improving Project Management Skills

I am excited to share that I am starting classes again this fall to earn my Associate of Applied Science degree in Project Management at Clackamas Community College! I admit that you likely would not have seen the words “project management” written by me during high school and my first undergrad experience at UNC Charlotte. I observed geographers and planners work on projects when I shadowed them and worked with them during internships, but I doubt I realized that project management existed and what it really meant.

CCC Project Management

Screenshot: Clackamas Community College

My First Project Schedule

My name was included in a project schedule for the first time when I worked on launching Philadelphia’s Indego bikeshare program during Summer 2014. I worked on this project as a Transportation Planning Intern at Toole Design Group in the Washington, DC office. I cannot publicly share the project schedule, so the below photo shows Indego. My name was included in project schedules throughout grad school at Portland State University (PSU) and work at MetroBike. Since I applied to PSU before interning at Toole Design Group, gaining project management skills likely was not something I thought I would learn at PSU. My name is currently included in project schedules at Clackamas Community College. I think this shows how much I have grown as a professional.

Indego banner

Photo: Bike Share Philadelphia

Getting Certified

Now that I better understand what project management is and why it is so useful for my career, I am excited to hone my project management skills by taking classes at Clackamas Community College. Since college tuition is not usually free in the US, I am thankful one of my work benefits is a full tuition waiver. I still have to pay college fees and for textbooks. These minimal costs should be worth it when I graduate and become eligible to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam. According to the Project Management Institute’s Earning Power Salary Survey, “those with a PMP certification garner a higher salary (20% higher on average) than those without a PMP certification.”

I am still planning to take the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam in May or November 2019. I will have at least two years of full-time planning experience by late 2018 or early 2019. This is a requirement to be eligible to apply to take the AICP exam. I may also take the Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) and Congress for the New Urbanism-Accredited (CNU-A) exams. There are so many certifications that interest me!

Using My Certification(s)

While being certified is great, I want to use my certification(s). As I mentioned in this post, I will have a new student assistant starting on Monday, September 10. She will work for me until the end of Spring Term 2019, which is in June. Besides the student assistant I briefly supervised for one week during Spring Term 2018 and the high school student I volunteered to supervisor as a part-time Outreach Intern at Charlotte B-cycle during Summer 2013, I will be supervising an employee for the first time in my life starting this fall.

Since I want to be prepared to supervise my new student assistant, I have been working with my boss during work time and my Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) mentor during personal time to create a 2018-19 academic year project schedule for myself and my student assistant. I plan to write a future post about how this project management experience went for us.

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

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.

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.

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.

Shifting from Bicycle Boulevards to Neighborhood Greenways

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

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

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

green-transportation-triangle

Source: BikePortland

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

Future Blog Post: Tactical Urbanism in Portland vs. DC

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

Walking, Biking and Riding Transit in Portland, OR vs. Washington, DC

Since my car-free travel behavior has changed dramatically between Portland and DC, I want to compare how my walking, biking, and transit riding habits have changed between living in Portland and now living in the DC region.

Except for the few months in late 2015 and early 2016 where I fully depended on walking and riding transit in Portland because I felt too anxious biking, I mostly walked and biked for all my trips in Portland. I was planning to also mostly walk and bike throughout the DC region because transit is expensive (not as expensive as owning and maintaining a car). While I still walk and bike in the DC region, my boss provided me with a transit card for work trips so I have been riding transit much more than I planned to when I moved here. My boss also provided me with a Capital Bikeshare maintenance key (no time limits like normal keys) for work and personal trips so I haven’t been riding my private bike as often. Since I can’t carry my panniers on Capital Bikeshare, I have been mostly using my private bike for getting groceries and other shopping trips.

Biking in Portland vs. DC region

I don’t live in DC so, while DC has bike racks almost everywhere and the bike racks are usually designed correctly, I have experienced no bike racks or poorly designed bike racks often in Arlington. The below photo shows a ladder or wheel bender rack at a grocery store near my home in Arlington. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with bike parking issues when parking a Capital Bikeshare bike because I have always found an empty dock.

 

Since I depended so much on the DC region’s great trail systems when I lived in the DC region during summer 2014, I was looking forward to depending on the DC region’s great trail systems again. Even though I rode a road bike last time I lived in the DC region, anxiety from my extreme fear of heights has gotten much worse so I have been struggling to ride on hilly trails like the Custis Trail and trails along steep cliffs like the Four Mile Run Trail. Since I doubt I will conquer my fear of heights soon, I’m planning to buy a $3-4,000 recumbent trike so I can reduce the anxiety I feel when biking on hilly trails and along steep cliffs.

 

While the trails are great for long-distance trips, they don’t go everywhere so I still have to use on-street bike routes. I forgot how bad most of the on-street bike infrastructure is in the DC region. Yes, I know DC has protected bike lanes, which are actually better than any protected bike lanes in Portland. However, protected bike lanes in the DC region are on very few streets so I rarely ride on them.

I’m missing Portland’s neighborhood greenways. I used to live at SE 27th and Salmon, which is on a neighborhood greenway, so I memorized the neighborhood greenways. I rarely had to ride on busy roads outside of downtown Portland because neighborhood greenways went almost everywhere. Thankfully, I have found one element of neighborhood greenways in the DC region. Sharrows are found throughout the DC region. Even though the DC region has installed sharrows, which is a critical and cheap element to Portland’s neighborhood greenways, the DC region has horrible wayfinding for cyclists so the sharrows aren’t part of a neighborhood greenway. Due to this, I feel sharrows are only used in the DC region to communicate to cyclists that the government believes that the street is safe enough for biking and to communicate to motorists that they should expect to see cyclists using the street. Sharrows do much more than this in Portland so I miss biking on Portland’s neighborhood streets.

Before I totally dismiss the DC region’s on-street bike network, I’m excited to share that the DC region has several Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) maps. As all the below maps show, the DC region has plenty of work to do to make their on-street bike network feel more comfortable and less stressful. However, I find these maps much more useful than normal bike maps. This is mostly because a normal bike map shows all bike lanes the same while a LTS map shows bike lanes by how comfortable or stressful they are to ride on.

Arlington County, VA 2017 Bicycle Comfort Level Map (click to download front and back of map)

Montgomery County, MD Bicycle Stress Map (click to view map)

montgomery-county-lts-map

According to a presentation by Stephanie Dock, who works for District DOT, at the Transportation Techies meetup in October 2016, District DOT will be publicly releasing their LTS map soon so I’ll add their map when it’s released.

This blog post is getting long. I try to keep my blog posts under 1,000 words and will go over 1,000 words if I keep writing this blog post. While I still want to compare how my walking and transit riding habits have changed between Portland and DC, I may have to write about them in a new blog post. Readers, do you want me to write about my walking and transit riding habits in this blog post or start a new blog post?