Posted by Will Vanlue (Contributor) on January 5th, 2012 at 1:06 pm
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."
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.
— Read more Washington County bike news here. Contact Will Vanlue, will [at] bikeportland.org with tips and feedback.