Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wander Around Washington -- 7-25-07 (Vancouver)

If you can only talk to one person about bicycling in Vancouver Washington, Todd Boulanger is the person you should talk to. And if you are very lucky, like I happen to be today, you will get to spend a few hours with Todd and get to see a bicycle advocacy dynamo in action.

Todd's official title is Senior Transportation Planner for the City of Vancouver but pretty much everybody just thinks of Todd as "The Vancouver Bike Guy".

I check out of my motel at 8:30 AM and call Todd. "Where are you?" he asks. "Under a clock tower in a park by the convention center downtown," I tell him. "Great, I'll be there in three minutes. I'm doing some bridge timings and then I'm off to a meeting. You want to come along?"

Our schedules couldn't have meshed more perfectly. I have a few hours to find out a bit about cycling in Vancouver and one of the things I need to know about is how to get across the I-5 Bridge to Oregon. Todd happens to be doing timings of the existing bridge crossing and is then heading into a meeting with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC).

We meet up and Todd and I head over the bridge. He stops at the base of the bridge, explains what we are doing, clicks his stop-watch and off we go. On the other side, he clicks the watch, jots numbers in his notebook and we repeat the process in the other direction. I'm busy snapping pictures and Todd's busy explaining the existing bridge crossing. He knows how many people go across the bridge, when they do it and why. Today he's getting some baseline numbers he'll use for comparison against some of the new designs.

He points out a bike pump bolted to a concrete pad at the base of the bridge. "Got air?" he asks. Later I'll find out (not from Todd) that he was the one who placed these pumps at various locations around the city.

We head over to the meeting. "You can stash your bike in a locker," he says and pulls out his wallet. He takes out a smart-card. "You can order these online," he says, showing me the card. "You can reserve a locker or use the card in any unreserved locker." The system is amazingly quick, clever and secure and I'm thinking that we have to get these things in Seattle. We stow our bikes and head into the meeting.

The meeting is three hours long and there are a lot of smart people in the room. I'm really just there to observe but this is just one meeting in a long series of discussions on the new I-5 bridge. People from both states and both cities are here, transportation folks, engineering folks, smart folks working on hard problems. There are engineering drawings and mock-ups and maps. There are grades calculated, ADA issues considered, budget projections, bullet points and outlines. It's an interesting three hours but it takes a special kind of person to keep going working on these big issues over the years it takes to make a project like this happen. I feel lucky to get a glimpse into this process and frankly glad that I'm not going to be going to every one of the meetings on this bridge project.

I mostly stay focused on bridge issues but I have to admit that I am a bit distracted by Carley Francis' legs. Well, one leg in particular, the one with the bike tattoo. Carley is the SW Region Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the Washington State Department of Transportation and I guess you could say her commitment to bicycles is more that skin deep.

After the meeting I chat briefly with Carley and some of the other folks. Joe Greulich introduces himself. Joe is a long time member of both the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and the Oregon Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Joe is very active in advocacy issues, doing things like attending our lobby days for the past several years. As Joe points out to me "I'm retired and I'm the only person in this room who isn't being paid to be here!" I thank Joe for all his efforts and say "it's guys like you, going to meetings like this, that make things happen. Thanks so much!"

It's lunch time now and Todd and I wind up going to lunch with another meeting attendee, Emily Gardner of Oregon's Bicycle Transportation Alliance. We talk about various bike geek things over some great Hawaiian food and when the check comes Todd insists on paying. Emily hands me a super nifty pocket size bike map of Portland and we use it to plot out my afternoon.

After lunch Todd and I get our bikes out of the lockers and roll back over the bridge to Portland.
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