Philadelphia at Eye Level

“Philadelphia at Eye Level” is a reference to “The City at Eye Level”. I am on a Greyhound bus from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to be picked up by my family on their way to Erie. My family is driving from North Carolina. We are going to visit my grandma in Erie then my other grandma in the Cleveland region. Since I want to learn more about Columbus’ smart city projects, my family agreed to visit Columbus before taking me to the airport next Saturday.While the Greyhound bus has WiFi, it isn’t working to access WordPress on my laptop so I am writing this post on my phone. Due to this, I expect to write a short post. Since I want to focus on being with my family when I arrive in Pittsburgh, I do not expect to write a blog post when I am with my family.

Philadelphia’s Street Grid

Since typical neighborhood bike routes in other US cities have many turns, I was impressed that I was able to bike for miles in South Philadelphia without having to look for where to turn next. As the rose diagram in the below diagram and this link show, the entire Philadelphia street grid is not easy to use. However, my focus was on how easy the street grid was for biking, walking and riding transit. I did all of these modes in Philadelphia.

Due to the fact that most Americans are automobile dependent, I feel comfortable stating that the most direct streets in the US are prioritized for motorists. While this is still common in Philadelphia, I was shocked by how many designated neighborhood bike routes used the most direct streets. Unfortunately, these routes have stop signs or signals on almost every block so I was forced to constantly stop. I saw many local cyclists proceed through these intersections without stopping. I believe there were local cyclists because they were not riding an Indego bikeshare bike. Since Portland purposely flips the stop signs on the neighborhood greenways to have the stop signs be on the cross streets, I was amazed by how much of a difference this simple change makes on the biking experience.

In addition to critiquing the designated neighborhood bike routes, I critiqued Indego. Ever since I helped plan for Indego’s launch in 2014 during my transportation planning internship at Toole Design Group, I have been wanting to visit Philadelphia to see my work on the ground. It was an awesome experience!

While biking helped me move through Philadelphia faster, I found it easier to explore the city by walking. The Magic Gardens on South Street were amazing to explore! They also have rich and controversial history. Since Philadelphia mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar did not own the vacant land that he used to create the magic gardens, the gardens were almost destroyed when the developer that owned the land decided they wanted to build on the land. Thankfully, the community cared enough about the gardens to preserve them.

I also found this cool bar!

Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic

A major reason why I wanted to visit Philadelphia was to experience and learn more about its rich history. While many cities have rich histories, I doubt any city can compete with Philadelphia’s Independence Day history. As a geographer and planner, I was amazed by the Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic exhibit at the American Philosophical Society! I could spend hours reading and researching all the notes on this 1757 map for the British government. Museum staff said surveyors often spend hours reviewing this map. Since maps were used to remove Native American claims to land, I wish the exhibit included maps drawn by Native Americans.

My Greyhound bus is about to arrive in Pittsburgh, so I need to publish this post.

Opposing Viewpoints On Vision Zero During My Family’s 1st Hawaiian Vacation

As many of you know, my dad and I have opposing viewpoints on many controversial topics. Since our discussions frequently get heated and we were on vacation, I tried to avoid discussing controversial topics. Plus, the rest of my family does not feel comfortable engaging in these heated discussions. The below pedestrian safety issues were too much for me to hold my tongue, so my dad and I got into a heated discussion about Vision Zero. For those who do not know what Vision Zero is, the goal of Vision Zero is to achieve zero traffic fatalities. While my dad understands what Vision Zero means, we disagreed on whether it is a realistic goal, who should be held responsible if the goal is not achieved by the agreed upon date, and whether millions of dollars should be invested in a project to prevent one death.

My dad and I agreed that the pedestrian crossing flags shown in the below photos show that the government recognizes the safety issue and is trying to resolve the issue. I tried to convince my dad that pedestrian crossing flags have been proven to not prevent crashes. I found several intersections with pedestrian crossing flags on the Big Island. While I saw people walking in urban areas, cars dominated the suburban and rural areas. The Big Island has many pedestrian safety issues. As a conservative, my dad did not want to spend millions to prevent a crash from happening. This was especially true when we saw no one walking, which is seen in the top photo.

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Kona side of Hawaii Island (aka Big Island). Photo: Ray Atkinson.

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Kona side of Hawaii Island (aka Big Island). Photo: Ray Atkinson.

Since we drove on many highways with few pedestrian and bike crossings on Hawaii Island, we saw many people jaywalking. My dad felt I put too much responsibility on the driver to prevent crashing into the jaywalker and not enough responsibility on the pedestrian. I called him out for victim blaming because he felt the pedestrian should walk out of their way to find a crosswalk, which could be miles away. My dad did not appreciate being told that he was guilty of blaming the victim. Before I proceed, I want to clarify that most of the responsibility to prevent traffic deaths should be on the government. The government, especially the traffic engineer, must approve project designs before they can be built.

While my dad wanted me to keep the jaywalking discussion on US law, I kept trying to force us to discuss Dutch law. As this post shows, the Netherlands has no laws about jaywalking. Pedestrians in the Netherlands can legally cross the street anywhere. I would love to see US law changed to allow this!

Jaywalking US vs Netherlands

What is forbidden in one jurisdiction can be encouraged in another jurisdiction. Above: a card that was handed out in the 1920s in the US to discourage ‘jaywalking’. Below how the city of Utrecht would like pedestrians to use a street (yellow lines) that they reconstructed in 2014. Source: BicycleDutch

I do not want to end this post by giving the impression that all my dad and I did during our vacation was argue. While the partial federal government shutdown gave us plenty of other heated arguments, we had plenty of calm discussions. My family thanked me for the countless hours of research I did to find us things to do every day during our vacation. Since I wanted to explore two islands, I flew to and from Honolulu, which is on Oahu Island. I explored Oahu Island on two weekends and Hawaii Island (aka Big Island) with my parents and twin sister on Monday-Friday. My brother could not join us because he is in graduate school at Pfeiffer University’s Charlotte campus and recently started a new job in Charlotte. Here is a selection of photos from my vacation:

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My 2nd cousin (right) and his wife (center) with me at their Honolulu oceanview condo. Since the lighting is horrible, I need to learn how to take better photos. Photo: Ray Atkinson.

Digital Camera

Bike attachment possibly used to transport surfboard. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Tour at Big Island Bees. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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We found green sea turtles at the Black Sand Beach. Photo: Ray’s dad.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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My dad exchanged the Kannapolis Rotary Club banner for the Kona Mauka Rotary Club banner. I used to be a member of the Kannapolis Rotary Club. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Rainbow Falls in Hilo. Photo: Ray Atkinson

Digital Camera

Whale and dolphin watching off Kona coast of Hawaii Island. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Snorkeling in January! Photo: Ray’s dad

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Maori (indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand) dance at Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo: Ray Atkinson

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Learned how to make coconut oil at Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo: Ray Atkinson

I have other photos from my Hawaiian vacation, but I have shared my favorite photos. I am back in Oregon City wearing winter clothes. I enjoyed escaping the cold and gray skies by vacationing in Hawaii, so I plan to do it again someday.

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!

Living Car-Free in American Suburb

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I am currently living car-free in the American suburb of Oregon City, which is located at the southern edge of the Portland, OR region.

Portland Region Map

Oregon City is located at the southern edge of the Portland region. I live and work in southern Oregon City. Source: AARoads

I will admit that I did not envision living and working in a suburb similar to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, NC when I moved from Kannapolis to Charlotte in August 2009 to start undergrad at UNC Charlotte. Since I hated feeling forced to drive an automobile for every trip in Kannapolis and loved the freedom of many transportation choices in Charlotte, I never imagined returning to a suburb after graduating from UNC Charlotte. As I hope this post shows you, returning to a suburb may have been the best decision for my career.

While I still prefer living in an urban area and miss living in Arlington, VA’s award-winning Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, I feel I am making a much bigger difference working in the suburb of Oregon City than I could have made working in a big city. This is mostly because I am the only transportation planner at Clackamas Community College (CCC) and one of the few active transportation planners in Oregon City.

I worked or interned in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Portland (OR), and the DC region, so I am confident that if I worked in a large city I would be in a large transportation department with many staff working on active transportation planning issues. While I am not trying to devalue the work that planners do in big cities, especially since they have to work on more complex issues than I have in Oregon City, how much difference does EACH of these planners have in creating change in their big city?

Since I am an entry-level transportation planner, I keep thinking about how much more difference I am making in Oregon City than I could have made as an entry-level transportation planner among many entry-level transportation planners in a big city. While I have to get permission to do things like apply for grants, I have been given plenty of professional freedom so far to pursue what I feel would be useful for improving multimodal transportation choices at CCC. This also means that I have to be more responsible for the decisions I make because I am the only transportation planner. Since I was micromanaged at a previous job (purposely not giving specifics because I do not want to embarrass a previous employer) and this overwhelmed my supervisor and me, I am thankful my current supervisor is not micromanaging me.

While I wrote earlier how Oregon City is a similar suburb to my childhood hometown of Kannapolis, Oregon City has much better active transportation access to Portland than Kannapolis has to Charlotte. After biking from my home in southern Oregon City to Downtown Oregon City on almost completely connected bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows, I can ride on almost completely connected trails all the way to Downtown Portland. The regional version of the below trails map can be found here. I actually helped create this map during my internship at Oregon Metro.

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Regional trails between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Oregon Metro

The below map shows most of the bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Since Portland’s famous neighborhood greenways and Oregon City’s signed bike routes and sharrows aren’t shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

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Bike infrastructure between Oregon City and Downtown Portland. Source: Google Maps

Unless I rarely wanted to visit Charlotte or spend lots of time and money on transferring between multiple transit systems in the Charlotte region (I can take unlimited trips on TriMet’s light rail lines and buses throughout the Portland region for $5/day), I could not have lived car-free in Kannapolis. While the Carolina Thread Trail is working to connect trails throughout the Charlotte region and I volunteered to help create the Carolina Thread Trail Map, it is not possible today to use trails or any other bike infrastructure to bike between Downtown Kannapolis and Uptown Charlotte. Since Charlotte’s bike lanes, signed bike routes and sharrows are not shown at this zoom level, I wanted to note that this is missing from the below map.

Charlotte to Kannapolis Bike Map

Bike infrastructure between Uptown Charlotte and Downtown Kannapolis. Source: Google Maps

Oregon City has good biking and transit access to Portland, so I have been able to visit Portland frequently without driving. While some people in Oregon City have suggested I should buy a car so I can travel quicker, owning and maintaining a car is expensive. Plus, my job literally involves helping people to reduce car dependency. I can currently motivate people to reduce car dependency by telling them that it is possible to live car-free in a suburb like Oregon City because I live car-free here. How would they react if I told them I gave up and purchased a car for the first time in my life?

While I live car-free in my personal life, I cannot reach all my work trips by walking, biking and riding transit. Since I did not want to buy a car for work trips, my supervisor helped me reserve the below hybrid electric car, which CCC owns. This car is only available during the summer term because students learn how to reconstruct the car during other terms. Due to this, I have had to use expensive transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to travel for work trips during the rest of the year. Even though I was nervous about whether my supervisor would support my car-free lifestyle, he has been very supportive.

I have so far driven the hybrid electric car to and from the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee (C4) Meeting near Mt Hood. Since this was the first time I drove after moving back to Oregon and I didn’t drive much when I lived in Virginia, I had to adjust to driving again. I have always been a slow driver, but Oregon drivers have been proven to be among the nation’s slowest drivers so I fit in.

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Hybrid electric car provided for work trips. Photo: Ray Atkinson

As my below Instagram post shows, the C4 Meeting provided me with good insights into Clackamas County’s transportation priorities. Unfortunately for my work to reduce car dependency, widening I-205 is definitely the top priority. Oregon DOT (ODOT), which presented about the I-205 toll and widening project during the C4 Meeting, has been trying to get support for widening I-205 by saying this will reduce traffic congestion. While traffic congestion may be reduced in the short-term, induced demand has shown that widening highways never reduced traffic congestion in the long-term. This is why ODOT needs to use the I-205 toll revenue to fund active transportation projects, which have been proven to reduce traffic congestion on highways. If ODOT is looking for an existing program to review, I recommend the I-66 Commuter Choice Program because revenue from the I-66 toll in Northern Virginia is directly funding active transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

I have not decided what my next blog post will be about, but it will probably be something about what I am experiencing in Oregon. Thank you for reading my blog!

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!

Boston Arborway

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.

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: