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Washington County transpo chief says future plans will prioritize bicycle infrastructure

Posted by on January 5th, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Andrew Singelakis at an Active
Transportation Forum in Oct 2010
(Photos: Will Vanlue)

Andrew Singelakis started his job as Washington County’s Director of Land Use and Transportation (LUT) In March 2010. Since then he’s overseen five county divisions, a department of about 300 employees, and an annual budget of just under $200 million.

The first 22 months of his time on the job have presented challenges; but he’s very optimistic about the future, including how the transportation network in Washington County can better serve bicycle traffic.

I connected with Singelakis recently via email to get his thoughts on Washington County and how he sees pedal-powered transportation continuing to develop in the suburbs.

“Connectivity in our transportation system is critical… A key part of that effort is a project that’s already underway to identify gaps in our sidewalk and bicycle network.”

When I asked Singelakis about the biggest challenge he’s faced he was clear that it’s been the impact the sagging economy has had on available resources. County budgets are tied to funding sources (like gas tax) that fluctuate with the economy and he has had to oversee staff reductions over the last year:

“The most difficult aspect of this job has been downsizing due to the economy, particularly in our divisions that are supported by private development. An expected uptick in 2011 did not materialize…I want to thank our staff for their resilience, professionalism and understanding during difficult times.”

Lack of financial resources is also impacting the County’s ability to build a complete, safe transportation network. In response to a question about the biggest barrier to making streets safer for people on foot and on bikes Singelakis responded that,

“Like anything else, it’s money. There is a huge need to retrofit our suburbs, not just in Washington County but all across the United States. Even though Washington County has been very proactive with a variety of innovative programs, there are still a lot of streets without sidewalks and bike lanes, many on transit routes.”

In spite of financial challenges Singelakis is optimistic and is looking for ways to fund projects which use existing funds more efficiently:

“The future holds a lot of promise. Planning for North Bethany is nearing completion. We are making great strides in our study of the Aloha-Reedville area, for which LUT [the Department of Land Use and Transportation] and Washington County’s Housing Department secured a $2 million TIGER grant from the US Department of Transportation and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Another way Washington County is dealing with the shortage of money is to prioritize projects which maximize the usefulness of existing infrastructure. Smaller projects that connect larger sections of the transportation network provide a lot of value relative to their cost, and often those smaller projects benefit bicycle and foot traffic:

“Connectivity in our transportation system is critical. We have just started the process of updating our Transportation System Plan. A key part of that effort is a project that’s already underway to identify gaps in our sidewalk and bicycle network. Knowing about problem areas will help with prioritization of projects and the identification of funding sources, both locally and through grant funding.”

This sidewalk on Hall Blvd
disappears into a brick wall.

Of course those small projects won’t help people on foot and on bikes if they’re built incorrectly. To ensure this doesn’t happen, Singelakis is taking steps towards coordinating the development of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across the County:

“I was very pleased to create a new position of ‘Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator’ within the Engineering and Construction Services Division…Shelly Oylear was hired to the position last year. A key role [of Oylear's] is to monitor construction projects to ensure that plans for bike/ped facilities are implemented correctly. In addition, we are currently working with Alta Planning and Design to pull together a ‘Bike/Ped Tool Kit’ which will describe the universe of bicycle and pedestrian treatments. When completed, it will be an invaluable tool for project development and for determining the most appropriate treatments prior to significant investments in project design and construction.”

He also recognizes that a small amount of money can go a long way if it effectively connects bicycling and walking routes:

“…in our FY 11-12 budget we doubled the funding for our Minor Betterment program to about $500,000. This program funds smaller scale cost-effective solutions that improve safety or connectivity on county roads, which may include sidewalks and roadway shoulders. The recent sidewalk/pathway improvements on NW 143rd Avenue between Cornell and West Union Roads were funded through this program.”

How will Singelakis and county staff know where to improve our streets?

Actually, they’re hoping you can help.

He and the county are eager for citizen feedback to prioritize various projects. There is an interactive online map where you can leave feedback on projects around Washington County. Analysis of the data will begin in mid-February but the map will remain online and the county will periodically review feedback through October of this year.

There are other ways to get involved as well. Here’s more from Singelakis:

“People should track progress on our Transportation System Plan update…Keep an eye out for committee openings such as the Urban Road Maintenance Advisory Committee, the Rural Road Maintenance Advisory Committee, and project specific focus groups…Participating in your local CPO (Citizen Participation Organization) is a good way to stay involved. For more information, visit http://www.co.washington.or.us/cpo.”

I’d like to thank Andrew Singelakis for taking the time to speak with me about these issues and I’d also like to thank the Bicycle Transportation Alliance‘s Susan Peithman for arranging the interview.

You can read the whole interview, including detailed information about the county’s plans for funding transportation projects, on the BTA’s blog.

— Read more Washington County bike news here. Contact Will Vanlue, will [at] bikeportland.org with tips and feedback.

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  • wsbob January 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    “Connectivity in our transportation system is critical. …” Andrew Singelakis

    Glad to read that Singelakis considers connectivity as it relates to bike travel, is that important.

    Something, somehow that I’d really like to see is a connecting route MUP to Hillsboro from the west end of the north of TV Highway, east-west secondary street route comprised of Alexander, Johnson and Drake streets.

    From driving on TV Highway past this area, it looks like it would have to divert around the cemetery and around some wetlands, but it could probably make for a super fine functional and scenic route that would allow people riding by bike, a better option to riding either on TV Highway, or having to circumvent the area by riding Brookwood and Baseline, or cutting through the subs by riding Bentley.

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  • wsbob January 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Nobody else has anything to say to Andrew Singelakis, Washington County’s Director of Land Use and Transportation? That’s disappointing.

    I just now read the full interview(quite a bit more material in it.) over at BTA’s site. Singelakis’s resume is impressive. He seems to know the territory, i.e., ….funding sources and budgets.

    With population and economic growth a somewhat inevitable prospect, it seems to me that Washington County desperately needs planners that believe in the potential of biking to relieve some of the travel needs sure to accompany that growth.

    Area highway/freeways are already maxed out. From a planning and livability standpoint, it would be devastating to build new ones as a means of spreading out some of the current volume of traffic. Of course, it’s very possible that volume will continue to increase, especially if more capacity is made for it.

    I worry what will happen to a road like SW 170th between Baseline Rd and TV Hwy. It’s basically just a two-lane rd running through a mostly older rural-residential area. Traffic on the road has come to be terrible. Not sure whether this road would be considered a ‘collector’ or an ‘arterial’. Probably the former, that’s being pushed to be the latter, but doesn’t currently have the physical capability to be an arterial.

    A possible to the increase in travel needs occurring, would be to develop and build a major MUP roughly aligning 170th. Most likely, it would have to be on the east side of 170th, because of the two sides, that side of the road parallels land that could more easily be assigned to a bike path: the sisters home, the nature park, some small commercial buildings, frontage for the water district building the high school. Other side has a lot of residential.

    Either this, or covering the ditches and installing extra wide bike lanes over them.

    Expanding motor vehicle capacity of roads like 170th seem to promise only a decrease in area livability. A major MUP would be a far gentler approach to allowing considerable numbers of people to meet their travel needs.

    Will, by the way…good interview.

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  • Andrew Seger January 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I don’t really have anything to say about this since you’ve captured my sentiments pretty clearly. The random scary streches where bike lanes dissapear and shove you onto high speed arterial lanes. Wasn’t there some discussion about covering the ditches on Barbur and turning them into bike lanes? That would be sweet if it’s a possibilty on 170th as well. i just can’t find that right now.

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    • Will Vanlue (Staff Writer) January 8, 2012 at 10:51 am

      I remember the proposition of installing cycle tracks over the drainage ditches too. I picture Hwy 99/Barbur with a cycle track running down the middle of the road, all the way from Sellwood to Portland. It’d be incredible.

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      • wsbob January 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

        “…I picture Hwy 99/Barbur with a cycle track running down the middle of the road…” vanlue/bikeportland

        Perhaps not so easy for others to picture. More specific details could be helpful.

        Do you literally mean down the center of the road between opposing directions of main lane travel as on the I-205 Bridge? I’ve read people’s comments expressing that they disliked the extra stressful aspects of that configuration…more noise, more exhaust and visual pollution.

        Cycletracks immediately to the side of road main travel lanes, like the Farmington Rd bike lane, are o.k. in a make-do kind of way, but I’m wondering if cycletracks with quite a bit of a buffer from motor vehicle traffic, like the Springwater Trail has, isn’t more of a model to shoot for.

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        • Will Vanlue (Staff Writer) January 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm

          Yes, I agree that more separation from highway traffic would be ideal.

          I don’t have detail on the center cycle track idea; it’s just something I’ve daydreamed a bit about while waiting for the bus along Hwy 99 in Tigard. There are a few sections where there’s a very wide median (maybe two to three motor vehicle lanes in width) and it seems like the space could be put to better use than simply for drainage.

          It would definitely take someone (a few someones probably) smarter than myself to figure out all the details though. There would be a lot of challenges to work out.

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        • wsbob January 9, 2012 at 12:51 am

          “Yes, I agree that more separation from highway traffic would be ideal. …” vanlue/bikeportland

          In addition to being ideal, for main routes, separation may become essential, if people are to be expected to, in any great numbers, ride instead of drive.

          Type of questions that come to mind are:

          Assuming nice, wide, spacious bike lanes were carved out to parallel roads having the volume and motor vehicle speeds of, for example…Barbur Blvd, would that level of infrastructure improvement be sufficient to overcome dislike of noise and pollution, to attract numbers of people traveling by bike that popular Portland bike routes such as Williams Ave and the Hawthorne Bridge?

          The obstacle confronting the creation of generously buffered MUP’s…say 100′-200′ away from busy highways and thoroughfares is that so much land adjoining highways and thoroughfares has either been plotted out for development or has already been developed. So where is the needed bike and walk specific road infrastructure to be built? It all can be done, but people naturally tend to be very apprehensive about offering up their property even when the reasons for it are very good.

          Once again, good info from Singelakis through the interview. I hope bikeportland continues to follow news and further developments that originate out of his office.

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