Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Challenge

Bikes…and other stuff, too

As could be expected, my capstone is going to involve bikes. Hell, if I could just bike around the Twin Cities for months, somehow record where I’ve gone and call that a project, I probably would. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen, and it certainly wouldn’t be helpful for launching a career (unless I become a bike messenger).

For context, in the last iteration of this document from the end of last semester, I was predictably all about biking. More specifically, about biking in the urban environment. However, I think to focus only on the circulation of cyclists would be limiting. Furthermore, my modus operandi in studio projects thus far has been to systemically subjugate the eminence of automobile circulation in many contexts. That is to say, I like biking, but beyond that, I’m frustrated with the predominance of the automobile in places that might not be appropriate for automobile circulation.

So, I love bikes and I hate cars. Well, what the hell does that mean, deconstructed, and how do I build a project out of that?

Project Frame:

As I’ve learned over the past years in looking at how urban movement works, I’ve noticed that there is no one single solution to transportation. Bikes are great for most things, but you certainly can’t use a bike to go massive distances. Also, cars work well for most applications, but driving and parking an automobile can be costly (both in terms of time and money) in a dense urban area, not to mention the myriad of problems with petrol as an energy source. Two lines of thought logically follow from these observations:

  1. Each mode of transportation has an optimal context; a use for which it is most well suited. For example, Light Rail is most efficient when it is implemented on corridors that connect nodes in a metropolitan area, and can get up to high speeds between stops that are spaced 2+ miles apart.

  2. For any given area (commercial corridor, neighborhood, site, etcetera) there is a suite of transportation modes that most well suites it’s context. That is, given a place’s situation within a larger context (metropolitan area, special district, or otherwise), there are specific types of transportation that should be present. Exempli gratia: the highway 35 corridor probably doesn’t need a bike lane, but in addition to automobile lanes, it could probably use a rail line, and maybe a dedicated freight truck route, all punctuated with junctions with feeder systems that could be composed of other modes.

Area of Knowledge:

The planning / regional analysis portion of this project will involve knowledge of networks, network effects, and the policies that favour various transportation types. For example, this may involve some cursory knowledge of the federal transportation fund tax structure that is set up through legislation like SAFETEA-LU, so that the project can address how transportation is currently funded largely by fuel and special exemption taxes and how changes to this mode of thinking look in practice.

The landscape architectural design in a project construct is essentially built-into every aspect of the undertaking, as everything is a design opportunity. More specifically, this means that beyond the 30,000’ thinking that happens in policy-land, design will be utilized to understand and display how these abstract policy/transportation ideas meet the ground. For example: what does it look like when these corridors/modes collide, and how can we use those opportunities as a place to make interesting space that is appreciated by the public and invites interest and investment?

This all equates to ideas that will influence a new urban condition, and new paradigm proposals for urban movement, all displayed through a project that has a finite spatial definition. Id est, I don’t want to redesign the whole world, I want to display a vignette of what these possibilities look like and explore how they can be scaled and implemented elsewhere.

This is the challenge; let’s see where it goes.

Design Process Map

So, this marked the beginning of the semester. Allegedly, this will be a semester in which I am able to refine my research ideas, and figure out just what the hell I'll be doing for the Big Damn Project (aka: Capstone). The first step in this manic process is to figure out how I work, if my habits are healthy/sustainable for the long-haul ahead, and if not, what to change.

Rather than being strictly representative, this is more a reflection of how the last semesters of grad school have felt.

How close is this to my actual design process? Well, I hate to admit, but it's true to form, at least up until now.

What the next months have in store, only time will tell.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Something about work

It turns out that I'm actually up here specifically to do good work for the National Parks Service, not just run around in the hills (though that is a neat side-benefit).

If you'd spoken to me about this appointment before I took off, you probably have a very loose and vague understanding (if at all) of what I would actually be doing at my desk. This is mainly because I had next to no idea of what I would be doing. Now, as you'd imagine, I have a much clearer picture to present.

The basic idea is that over the year, my boss puts together task assignments and plops them into a folder on the office server, where I can access them*. At the start of the summer, there were about 12, and no expectation that I would finish all of them before the end of the summer, and that's pretty-much true.

Here's an example of a task sheet for the Government Hill photo work (the last set in this post):Pretty neat huh? If the text is too small to read, the point here is that everything in the government as boring associated paperwork.

These task assignments range in size, scope, and fun-factor. One task is making digital records in the office spreadsheet of old construction drawing numbers (when you make a construction drawing, it has an ID #, and there is now a digital record of all of them). Another is formulating a statistical record of how parks count visitors; that is, some use vehicle counts, some count people at the visitor center. My task here is to then go through all the park records (for all 394 park units in the NPS system) and see what they're doing. Beyond that there are also grading plans that I'm doing (figuring out specific topography for building sites) and traffic circulation studies at some park entrances.

Beyond these task assignments, I also field some work that simply comes up in the summer business of the Environmental Planning and Design team, of which I'm a part. Since I'm the new, young intern armed with knowledge of all the latest Adobe products (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to be precise), I often get requests for the digital work that the old-timers don't have the patients or computer knowledge to execute.

The examples below are of some visual impact studies where there is an existing condition, and an idea of what the same view would be like after some sort of intervention.

This first one was from a guy working with an Alaskan pipeline company that is proposing a natural gas pipe alignment along the Parks Highway, which passes right by Denali NP. So this guy, we'll call him Steve, saunters over to my desk one fine day and hands me this image:

This is near the Denali park entrance, and Steve tells me that the pipeline might be going in 20' off the right side of the road edge, and he wants me to produce an image of what clearing of the trees and brush would look like ~5 years after re-vegetation. No other imagery, no examples of plant materials to be used, no other photos from around the site. Just this image, that explanation, and no understanding of what it takes to make a good rendering from Photoshop.

After 8-12 hours of clicking in the Photoshops, this is what I bounced back to him:

Apparently to people at whatever meeting this was for were excited by the rendering, because I was tasked with another, similar project.

In the following instance, my boss got ahold of some historic imagery of views from the Denali park entrance road. This is within the first few miles of the road, looking at the river and an old trestle bridge from 1938:The fun part about this assignment, was that we actually went out to the park to collect images from the same spot to see how re-vegetation has changed the view. The idea is that my boss sees this spot as a good place for a scenic view pull-out (considering that tourists are stopping all over the road near here to snap photos, the park has identified a safety concern, and would like the people to have a place to get out of traffic).

This is what that same view looks like now:

As you can see, the view is pretty well obscured by early-succession forest growth (the veg type around here is Birch-Aspen-Spruce forest). The following is the product that my boss eventually used in conversations with the Denali park staff. Again, scored some points with my boss.
Note that these are not to be taken as literal interpretations of what these sites will look like, but rather as representations of what the site may end up looking like.

Finally, as I stumble through the servers at work, I sometimes come across data or documents that are extremely interesting. For example, in almost every nook and cranny of my office building there are old documents, maps and/or images, historic and modern, tracking the last ~100+ years of Alaskan history. From people and culture to geology and vegetation, the material that can be found in the cabinets and files in my office building represent a huge body of interesting old crap.

The following example is flight data that I found on our GIS database server. warning: this is about to get art-nerdy: The lines represent the flight paths for both high and low altitude local flights from cities, towns, and rural airstrips across the state. What this does is render an image that is an abstract representation of the state's extent. This is neat because small-aircraft flight is a huge part of Alaska's culture, and when you put all the lines together, it looks like a modernist abstraction of the state. Pretty cool.

That's all I have the patience to type-out on this dreary Anchorage afternoon, but I hope that paints a clearer picture of what, exactly, I'm up here to do.


*NERD NOTE: I have access to 5 servers with my security clearance, including all GIS data for all the parks in the AK region, all the programs and license codes for all the software in the AK region, and all the administrative and logistical files for each individual park unit in AK. Hundreds of terabytes of info!

Also, for the GIS users out there: AK covers 9 UTM zones, so the state has formulated it's own projection, called Alaskan Albers, which ALL the GIS data is projected in. So, for any data gotten off the servers for any reason is all projected with the same system, with the same coordinate system. No re-projections, ever!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Observations on Alaska

Since showing up here in The Last Frontier, I've compiled a list of quirks and oddities that I've noticed while being out-and-about, and it's time to share them with the world.

If it isn't local (and not much of it is), it's marginal and pretty expensive. As you can imagine, shipping veggies up to 61 degrees North takes away a bit of freshness.

However, if it is local, it's huge. Really, look it up. The veggies grown up here go nuts because of the immense amount of daylight.

The Dollar Menu.
Not a dollar; it's $1.50. Like many things up here, they're just a bit more expensive. Not enough to break the bank (if you're not buying too much), but just enough to be annoying. This is, however, offset my the fact that there are almost no taxes on consumables.

For example, it the tag says $11.99, the register also says $11.99, and that's what you pay. Kind of nice, but still...

Lots of daylight. You knew this...but did you really think about it? I don't have a bedside lamp, I have a window. When I go to bed at 11:30/12 and want to read a few pages, it's still pretty easy. Also, my roommate and I have been longboarding quite a bit and there's a great hill to ride just a block away.

At 10:30/11, when there's no traffic and dry weather, it's a great time to grab the boards and have a skate. It might be hard to get to sleep when the sun is still shining bright, but it's definitely worth the trade-off: of being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want.

Monster trucks.
Lots of monster trucks. Turns out AK is a great place to tear up the wilderness with some 4x4 action. The modifications that make your standard F-150 into a mud-guzzling machine can be very well justified when your state is bigger than most countries and has the backcountry infrastructure on-par with most South American nations. However, the line between necessity and vanity gets pretty blurry, especially here on the paved streets of Anchorage.

Burn it like you stole it, but the pump will eat your debit card for breakfast. Put items 2 and 4 together and you've got a good idea about how Alaskans feel about petrol. Confused? Me too. A gallon goes for $3.9-$4 in town, and can be over $7/gal in the backcountry, despite the fact that AK has the nation's largest reserve of crude up in the North Slope. The tragedy here is that there are no refineries up here (they pump and export crude and import gasoline/diesel).

This lack of facility is also the issue with glass recycling.

What's recycling? It's a thing of the future up here. There are no municipal recycling collection systems, so if you want to be green, you've got to drive all over hell to feel good about putting the right plastic in the right bin. Add to that the fact that there is no glass recycling and you've got a good idea of how behind-the-times AK is on the reuse. Kind of sad.

7: Alaska is actually a country.
It has the size, economy, and unique culture that would justify a sovereign nation in any other context, but apparently it's still part of the US on paper. In practice, from what I've seen around town and the greater state, as well as what I observe at work, this place is it's own country.

For example, while the NPS parks in other states might add up to hundreds or a few thousand acres, NPS AK manages MILLIONS. Oftentimes in a single park! (Denali, Wrangel St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Lake Clark, and Katmai National Parks are ALL over 4 million acres each).

Yep, we're right on the northern edge of the Ring of Fire here, and sometimes the ground moves. Just the other week there was a 5.2 shake dozens of miles away, but I felt it pretty clearly in my box on the 4th floor (no damage or injury).

The official car of AK. Even the taxis; these things are everywhere.

The solstice.
I haven't met any practicing Pagans up here, but with such seasonal extremes in the amount of daylight, people make a pretty big deal of the solstices up here (and to a lesser extent the equinoxes).

Panning for gold.
You knew it was part of AK history, but did you know it is still part of AK present?
This dialogue is not uncommon:
"Hey, what are you up to this weekend?"
"Oh, a little grilling if the weather's good, and I was thinking about driving up to the Talkeetnas and trying out the pan for a little bit."

For real, I've seen 'em out there. It's quaint and interesting on the one hand, while pretty quirky and unique to AK on the other. I don't really know how to take this one, but there it is.

Business casual.
I have yet to see a suit walking around downtown.
Even my boss wears sandals at work on nice days, and I'm not sure that ties even exist up here. As far as I can tell, someone extracted my mental conception of what a comfortable and confident society would dress like and applied it to Alaska.

Plant maturity.
This one is for the landscape architects and plant-nerds out there. The mountain habitat in which many of the local vegetation resides is pretty awesome for plant identification. Towards the beginning/middle of the growing season, when many annuals and perennials are starting to get their bloom-on at low altitude, the whole life-span of maturity can be observed as one climbs higher into the mountains and foothills.

For example, think of many prairie species that are hard to identify as they're just starting to push through the dirt. Now imagine that you're observing this in an alpine meadow, and as you walk down-slope you can observe how the plant will look as it grows through the season, and down in the warm climes of sea-level, many of that same species are in bloom (and vice-versa).

In essence, you can see the stages of most of a season's growth (and what the species look like at each stage) in a single day, if you're willing to walk a bit. If this as possible in my plant ID class, it would've been HUGE.

I expect that this list will expand as the summer goes on, but these are the basics.

Email signature

According to google, for an image to be used in an email signature, the file has to be sourced from a URL. Apparently one cannot simply upload an image file, so here's my new email sig.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Everyone likes pictures. All of the following are pictures taken on after-work strolls in the Chugach Mountains (outside Anchorage) and the Alaska Range (Denali).

In the last week and some I have had the time and opportunity to really dig-in at work with some interesting projects and work on my mountain legs, and life has been pretty good here in the Last Frontier.

In order, top-to-bottom and left-to-right: midnight sunset in the Chugach, Flattop Mtn and the Powerline Pass valley, remaining snow on the ridge beyond Flattop, Peak 3 beyond Flattop, Mount Healey ridge up from Glitter Gulch in Denali, and a pan of the ridge dropping-off to my left and right on a walk in Denali.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Acronyms and Mountains

What have I been up to... Mostly working and walking around in mountains.

As a quick run-down from when I last posted, there have been a few walkabouts, a few work trips, and a visit from the lower 48!

For starters, there's work. I'm not opposed to getting into the office and hammering out designs and plans on the computer-box, but if that work requires some info from the field, all the better. Better still is if that 'field' is in beautiful mountain country.

As a primer for the work-talk, I should provide you on the interwebs some info on whom I work for and what he does. In the gov't there is a collection of agencies called the Federal Lands Management Administration (FLMA) who oversee all the goings-on in federally owned land. In AK this includes the US Forest Service (USFS), Fish and Wildlife Management (FWM), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Parks Service (NPS). Together their holdings constitute the vast majority of the land-area of AK. My boss is the Regional Transportation Program Manager for the AK Regional Office, making him the AKRO NPS FLMA RTPM. Got it?

In non-crypto-speak this means that for all the highway and related infrastructure projects in the AK NPS system my boss holds the purse strings and has oversight. Additionally all the FLM agencies do their best to coordinate efforts so that projects run more smoothly, so that there is a unified goal, and that the projects that cross FLMA boundaries might be more seamless. To this end, Paul typically goes out to meet with various people to identify projects that might be coming down the pike.

Last week, this meant meeting up with some Federal Highway guys (there is an agency in the federal gov't that deals exclusively with the construction and engineering of highways, roads and bridges on federal property) to scope some projects in Denali and Seward. By association, this means that your-truly gets to tag along while pros point at maps, throw around jargon and talk construction.

In Denali, the Federal Highway guys, Paul and I, and some folks from the Denali staff were on the park road (one road that stretches 90 miles into the park form the east, and constitutes ~80% of NPS roadway in AK) looking at an existing automobile bridge and a potential future pedestrian bridge.

For my work, this meant an early start on Monday, driving up to Denali NP and having a look around before quitting for the day. This also meant that I had time to explore the park (gotta love work). So, for 5 hours of my afternoon I followed a ridge line just inside the park boundary that climbed ~2,000' off the valley floor and should have afforded some great views of Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker. While the weather was fantastic, the clouds wouldn't lift over ~7,000', so the big slopes were obscured. However, the hike was great, the weather was sunny and warm under 5,000', and my legs got a good workout.

Tuesday had us driving the park road with the gaggle of engineers of various flavors, park administration and maintenance staff and us two office softies looking at the scope of the two projects that were the day's discussion before headed back to Anchorage.

Wednesday was a day to catch-up with email, upload work photos (sounds great, right? Nope they are just images of road cracks, weeds in the ditch, and guys with vests waving their fingers around) and get ready for the next work trip: the Exit Glacier access road outside Seward in the Kenai Fjords NP. This was looking at why a particular section of road was flooding, but what struck me were the discussion points for the project scoping. Here were these professionals, many of them engineers, who were pretty well-versed in some very progressive environmental considerations. I shouldn't be surprised, but it was reassuring to be in on a conversation with highway engineers that gave equal consideration to traffic safety, visitor experience (on and off the road, with deference given to sound and view impacts), environmental conservation, and road performance. It sounded the way that all massive public projects should in conversation, but I fear that this phenomena might only be witnessed in contexts like this one for the National Parks Service.

For the mountains, the story is much shorter, but much more fun. On my return from Anchorage from Seward, the weather in town was fantastic, and Rob (roommate) and I hatched a plan to get on some climbs down the Seward highway. Turns out respectable climbs can be had right from the edge of the road. One of these climbs is Sunshine Ridge, an fun and scenic 5-pitch 5.6-8 with great views of the Turnagain Arm.

For those that don't speak climber, this was pretty-much a steep slope that required some rope protection in case wither of us fell, and a 'pitch' is a rope-length, or 50-70m. Having not climbed outside in some time, this was a fantastic break-in. I even lead a few of the pitches, which is pretty good considering I haven't lead-climbed in a few years. The climb was not hard enough to wear me out, so I could focus on reviewing all my knots and safety techniques so that more difficult climbing will be more fun and more plausible later in the summer.

Finally, the weekend was another gem in steep topography. Rob, his friend, Jason, and I took a hike out to Lane Hut, near Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Range. The hike was easy enough; a few miles over not-too-hard terrain, and the hut had plenty of character. Hiking in on Saturday, we had some very low clouds, light precipitation, and all-around moisture. Literally: everything was just a bit damp from the sky to the ground to my socks. After an evening of scrambling around on boulders dice games and sleep punctuated by the scurrying of hut-mice, the morning broke (at ~3am) to a beautifully clear day, puffy white clouds and all.

These photos show the before and after.

In the next couple weeks, it looks like I'll be strapped to my office desk, but if the weather holds out, I'm sure there will be some outdoors fun. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Office Space, Girdwood, and a good walk

I guess part of creating a blog is sticking to it, but I have to admit, it's mighty difficult to sit down in a garden-level apartment and punch some keys when the Chugach State Park (mountains) are right down the road.

So, for starters, the working. One of the most pertinent observations I've had about the working world so far is just how much doesn't get done. I can really understand how people develop frustrations with the gov't, but I'm convinced it's not just a government thing. I believe that the slow pace of any large professional entity is mostly due to the litigious nature of our culture, which in the end necessitates many redundant systems in place so that everyone's proverbial ass is covered, which in turn creates a disproportionate amount of busy work, idle hands, and ultimately inane water-cooler chat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point here is that the working world, so far as I understand it, is vastly easier than grad school. For starters, I'm only supposed to work 8 hours a day. 8 hours a day! Easily less than 70% effort compared to grad school, right out of the gate. Then, there's lunch. A whole hour right smack in the middle of the day when you are expected to do nothing. Seriously? Add to all this the random drop-in chat by co-workers, running-down forms and paperwork of all sorts for just about everything (at current count, I have 4 sets of usernames and passwords for different email accounts, expenditure approval, server access, training program access, etcetera), and the occasional run to the coffee-maker and there are about 3 to 4 effective hours in an office workday. This feels like cheating! But that said, I have made it habit to do my real work in the mornings or evenings when no one's around, and keep the middle of my day open for logistics, meetings and banter.

The work itself is actually quite nice. I have a stack of task sheets (like a mission file for a secret agent, but it doesn't self-destruct) with tasks ranging from small, low-priority conceptual-designs, to transportation statistics categorization (less interesting, but I get to look at visitation data from every NPS unit in the country), to in-the-field historical photograph identification and comparison shots. The latter, my favorite assignment, is to find where on the Denali park road two ~1930's/40's pictures where taken, go to the same spot and shoot another set. So, pretty good stuff overall.

Besides work, I'm getting to know Alaskan culture and topography, both of which are interesting and raw. For the culture, you can imagine that everything is a bit less formal, and nothing is taken terribly seriously, or without some critical thought. There is a fantastic streak of independence in most the Alaskans I meet, and it's not necessarily the patriotic type (though it often is). It's definitely more along the lines of 'don't tread on me', mixed with a kind of self-reliance that is only natural in a state this removed. Similar to Australians, I guess, but tempered with tons of influence from the Midwest (I've heard to AK referred to as the Land of 10,000 Minnesotans, and it feels very true).

As for the topography, well, it's everywhere. The following shot was taken from Bear Valley Ridge (just SSE of Flattop, if you're familiar), which was a 10 minute drive and a 30 minute walk from my where I'm staying.

That was Thursday night, sometime around 7pm. A nice stroll with a few guys who are themselves transplants, but who are local and conditioned to this terrain. This the first wake-up call for my legs, and keeping up with these kids was like a trail-by-fire. But, I have to say that the biking helped, and I am now on my way towards being a well-oiled mountain machine.

In addition, this weekend a few of the interns and myself took off for Girdwood (the next town going south on the Seward Highway out of Anchorage) to hike Crow Pass and check-out some music at the local ski resort. Girdwood could be considered like a Duluth-to-Minneapolis when compared to Anchorage. The population is smaller, they are even closer to outdoor pursuits, the mood is a bit more mellow and no one is in love with the idea of heading into town.

As the week progresses, I hope to get out in the hills a few more times to keep my legs on-par; then next Monday at this time I will be in Denali, scoping a project with my boss and shooting those historic photos. I'll let you know how it goes.


Friday, June 3, 2011

The Office and Biking in Anchorage

Biking in Anchorage is...different. Coming from Minneapolis, I come from relative comfort and luxury in terms of biking. There are bike lanes, people generally look-out for you, and I am seldom on a road with more than two lanes of traffic in one direction. This is in significant contrast to what I'm seeing here in Anchor-town.

From my first impressions, I've found that Anchorage has three road/path typologies for bike-mode transportation: main arterials (like Northern Lights Blvd and Minnesota Dr shown above), residential streets and paths. Oddly, I've found little middle-ground.

For the most direct route, there is a macro-grid of these 3- 4- and 5-lane behemoths that are clearly designed for motor-vehicles only. I can bike them, but they are fast, inhospitable, barren, riddled with pot-holes, and the monster-truck drivers are no-doubt taking aim at the back of my head while I frantically peddle to keep up with traffic and maintain a 360-degree awareness.

Just off of each of these are the residential streets. These are typically 30-40' curb-to-curb, with no striping and lines with housing. They are quiet, pleasant and slow, but disorienting, as they twist about through 50's, 60's and 70's-type development. The oddity here is the afore-mentioned lack of a middle-weight roadway between these veritable highways and the quiet residential streets. To me this is a clear example of how development whose bulk was done with the automobile in-mind manifests. While this city is fairly spread-out, it is pretty efficient to get from A to B in a car quickly, and I've so-far heard no talk of rush-hour hang-ups.

Beyond that, Anchorage does have an extensive system of trails that weave through the city. Once I get to know these, it will no-doubt be much easier to navigate by bike. Most of them are shared-use paths, but everyone on them are generally friendly. Additionally, with a slower speed, and a more relaxed psyche, there is more time to soak up the non-stop daylight and views of the Front Range.

Moving on, I had a chance to meet my boss for the first time today, and I am excited to get to work for the National Parks Service. The building is all shiny glass and concrete on the outside, with locked bike parking 'round the back. The inside has an impressive lobby with an elevator that then gives way to 5 floors of typical office space.

My station is a triple-wide cube, shared with two other interns (architectural engineering and civil engineering). We have a instant coffee station, a break-room fridge that hasn't seen a cleaning in a while and Hawaiian T-shirt Casual Fridays. The staff are all very nice, but the fluorescent lighting and the views of the parking structure across the street are exactly the kind of hell I imagined as a rebellious teenager. This might be the kind of stuff that inspires the writers of Office Space.

However, all things considered there is no way I have a right to complain. The guy I work for has been a landscape architect for over 20 years with the NPS, and it sounds like I'll have a fair mix of administrative work, designing, and exposure to the transportation planning that happens in the NPS AK headquarters. In addition, I'm headed to Denali NP in a couple weeks to tag-along with a meeting with some highway engineering/construction types that are scoping the DENA park highway/road (DENA being some odd acronym for the Denali National Park; apparently there are tons of FLA's in the NPS (Four-Letter Acronyms)).

So that was today. Biking as my life depended on it, dropping in on casual friday to finally meet my boss, run some errands (trying to find a pool for lap-swim) and, of course, keeping all of you up-to-date.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


Well as we've all expected, d-day finally arrived, the Day of Departure. As I write this, it's 10:30pm local time, and it's 59 degrees and sunny here in Anchorage, Alaska. My flight was a 7:30am departure from MPLS International, with a direct flight to Anchor-town.

My first lesson learned: always aim to be one of the last people to board your flight. Reason being, is that you can pretty-much pick whatever seats are still open to be yours for the flight. I've heard-tell that this can even work in First Class. Think about it: how often has your steward(ess) ever asked you for your boarding pass to confirm your seat? Never, and that's why I go to sit directly behind First Class, with a row to myself and ample leg-room.

Beyond that, I got some great views of Glacier Bay National Park and Mount Fairweather from my spacious window seat.

From there, my new roommate/host Natalie picked me up from the airport, and it was time to explode the bid damn box, assemble the bike, sort out my room and see the town.

There was a little biking around town to run some errands (in my genius, I packed both mine and Kendra's U-locks; off to the Post Office) and orient.

After a tasty curry dinner, Rob showed me some of the better hills in-town for long-boarding, where we made some great, long turns in the crisp spring air and sharp, ever-present light of not-dusk, then it was back to the apartment, where I find myself now. Tomorrow, it's off to meet my new boss and figure out the weekend. Rumor has it there might be some trad climbing just out of town, and some biking to be sure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Well, I've spent most of this day organizing my resources and writing my professors, letting them know what I'll be reading over the summer. Now, at 1:30pm, I've got 2 or 3 hours of free time to pick the effects that I'm shipping up to AK with me.

Over the course of the next day or so, I'll be organizing my thoughts on the last couple meetings I've had with people in transportation at the U, and an independent planner in Minneapolis, who helped establish Nice Ride. For now, however, it's time to pack.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Step 1

My flight to Alaska is swiftly approaching, but that isn't my focus this week. In the search for a capstone research question, and eventually a site to design, I first need to know where the academic and design thought has got to for the topic in question.

What is that, exactly? Hell if I know. Those who know me could predict this next part, and for those that don't, this is a good introduction. At present I want to know as much as possible about all the newest, most innovative bike and pedestrian design/policy implements being employed around the country, then create something better.

How do I go about that? Reading. Yes, much respect to all my public school teachers for giving me the ability to read and think critically (take that, Scott Walker). My mission is to talk to as many like-minded professionals (those in design and planning, who care about smart street infrastructure) and see what they recommend.

So far, I've got a draft of the U of M 2011 bike plan; a 2005 research report by Krizek and Barnes about predicting benefits of bike networks; a 2011 paper by Pucher out of Rutgers on cycling trends and policies; and a 2005 NCHRP tome on the investment analysis for bike facilities involving 5 research centers and universities. At present, this list is just a shotgun smattering of bike-related research and academic propaganda, but it's a start. As this endeavor rolls forward, I'm hoping to hone-in on the fringe of bike and pedestrian facility policy and design. I want to find the debated, maybe controversial, and probably unsupported-by-research edge of what contemporary professionals think is remotely feasible. Let's see where it goes...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Greetings all-
This is my first foray into the blogoshpere, so let's see how it goes.

Premise: For starters, let me lend some context.

I'm about to head into my last year in both a Master's of Landscape Architecture and Master of Urban and Regional Planning courses at the University of Minnesota and the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, respectively. As such, I need some capstone project ideas. This project has to encompass both realms, be pertinent, be innovative, be well done and be interesting. No pressure.

Also, as part of my illustrious education, I've landed an internship working at the National Parks Service Alaska Regional office in Anchorage (map | website | NPS AK parks). I'll be working under their one-and-only landscape architect, and their transportation planner. From what I understand, the former does all the site design for the parks up there, and the latter is working on a NPS long-range transportation plan. What specifically, I will be doing, only time will tell.

This blog will {hopefully} be a way for me to track research, report on Alaska, and maybe to distill what the hell I'm doing with my life by reflecting on the work up there.

So you can expect ranting, venting about work, nerdy digressions on biking/planning/design, pretty pictures and much, much more.

For now though, my ticket is purchased: June 2-Sept 1 via Suncountry Airlines. Arrangements have been made: I'll be crashing a friends gear-room for the duration of my stay. Logistics have been sorted: the federal government has started a file on me, and multitudes of background checks have been run. All systems are go, and I'm prepared for lift-off. Enjoy.