Jane's Walk (Bike)

This is the second year that I'll be participating in Jane's Walk. My "walk" is always a bike ride, but I'm sticking to downtown this time, so if you're not a heavy biker please consider coming along. It'll start at Burnside Park on Sunday May 3rd, 11 AM.

This is what I look like so that you can find me in the park.

This year's talk is on parking. We'll talk about how to manage street parking better, alternative uses for street parking space, the problem of downtown parking lots and garages, and my proposal for a Providence parking lot tax.

Please check out the many other Jane's Walk events in Providence too, the rest of which are on foot.

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Extreme Sports: How Biking is Like Skydiving


                                            Figure A: Wiley E. Coyote skydives. 
                                            
David Hembrow explains how bicycling in English-speaking countries is like skydiving:
Skydiving is a very safe sport. In the USA in 2007 there were 2.2 million jumps and only 18 deaths of sky-divers. That's an average of a death every 122000 jumps. If you were to jump once every day you could expect to live to 334 years of age before a skydiving accident killed you.(source: USPA website)
What does this have to do with cycling ? Well, these are precisely the sorts of statistics that many cyclists like to quote 
to non-cyclists to try to encourage them to cycle in countries where there is little cycling.


                                            Figure B: Wiley E. Coyote demonstrates sharrows.

Hembrow goes on:
I share with a lot of my readers that I wouldn't willingly jump out of an aeroplane with a parachute no matter how safe I was told it was. I can see that it's thrilling, and I'm sure it is fabulous fun. However, jumping from an aeroplane offers no utility to me, and it is way past my threshold for subjective safety. Many people feel the same way about cycling.




































The goal of good cycling infrastructure is to make biking into a normal activity, instead of an extreme sport.

Which brings me to another sports idea: 

The thirty miles of protected bike lanes being added in Minneapolis will cost the city just $6 million (and no doubt because the type of protected bike lanes being added are of very high quality with landscaped or concrete barriers, as the cheaper for ephemeral version can be put in for just $30,000 a mile). Can anyone think of a certain sports activity in downtown Providence that is going to set us back a few orders of magnitude more?

Nah, me neither.

PLAY BALL!

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Side-by-Each in Woonsocket

If you missed our first #EntranceRampRI post on Central Falls and Valley Falls, check it out. The theme of EntranceRampRI is that Rhode Island already has most of its bike highways, but it hasn't built the entrance ramps. Here we continue with Woonsocket.

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The first thing you need to know about Woonsocket but will never hear most Rhode Islanders say is that it's beautiful. I mean, just fucking gorgeous. Woonsocket has got to be the most pissed-on city in Rhode Island (not literally--that's probably Providence). But Woonsocket doesn't deserve its poor reputation.


Connecting the existing bike highway up the Blackstone River to Woonsocket's core will really make a huge difference in changing people's preconceived notions about the city. The website for the Blackstone River Trail, in its most recent (November 2014) update states about Woonsocket:
An on-road Blackstone River Bike Route was adopted by the City Council in 2012. Thanks to great partnerships, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor provided signage and other resources to the city in order to establish the route. 

Right now, while the bike path is just a twinkle in our eyes, the only bike facilities in Woonsocket are sharrows. 

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First, a Word from Our Sponsor


(Just kidding) Woonsocket really isn't paying us off to tell you it's great. Take a look at some photos, and see why you should visit.




Of course, one of my faves is clearly the RIPTA waiting area, which is next to the restored train station where commuter service will soon pick up again (a few times a day) between Worcester, Woonsocket, and Providence.


Connecting a City to Biking


Now that you're convinced, let's talk turkey.

We've written about Woonsocket before. When the city released its Downtown Livability Plan (pdf) we gorged excitement over it that in retrospect I think was probably just a teensy bit exaggerated. A lot of the plans focus on the above-mentioned bike path, and Woonsocket should really start thinking outside the box on how to go beyond the bike-path-only approach.

What the Plan Has Going for It
  • It designates a right-of-way to become a separated bikeway. Part of the right-of-way is the Truman Drive, which it suggests should go have a two-to-four-lane conversion. 
  • It talks about parking in a relatively forthcoming way: in the plan, Woonsocket's parking spaces are noted to be only 25% full at peak times. The plan suggests removing some on-street parking from streets where doing so will allow one-way to two-way conversion of streets. Two-way streets have big benefits over multi-lane one-way streets. But as we'll talk about, there are more creative ways to get even bigger benefits than a simple one-way to two-way conversion.
  • The plan has some interesting ideas about using abandoned spaces for temporary purposes, like farmers' markets, flea markets, and the like. I'd like to run with this idea and apply it to some other areas of policy as well.

Problems with Bike Highways
No funding or planning is really needed to make Truman Dr. a bikeway on one side, but until money is available for an ADA/bike ramp, connecting this to Main St. would be a challenge.
At the time that I wrote the original piece with Rachel, we both were exhausted from constantly pushing against walls about Providence's (complete lack of) bike infrastructure. We wrote it when the first Providence Park(ing) Day was still up in the air and not guaranteed to succeed, and looking back on that pre-Park(ing) Day time I remember just how bleak things felt. The idea that little Woonsocket was going to get a bike path segment was so exciting that the details didn't matter that much. We picked up on it and tried to hammer Providence with the fact: Why aren't you doing this?

But the Blackstone Path extension, which is really just another bike highway, has a lot of limitations. This is one of the underpinnings of #EntranceRampRI.

The bike highway will take a long time. When we get the bikeway, great. In the meantime, what do we do? The window on this, in theory, is about five years, but anyone who knows the constantly evolving roll-out dates for bike infrastructure on the East Coast Greenway and/or any Rhode Island project in general knows that this isn't 

Bike highways provide less bang for your buck (than on-road bike routes). Bike highways are orders of magnitude cheaper than a lot of car infrastructure, but are also much more expensive than converting part of a road into a space for bikes or pedestrians--which is so cheap that activists can do it without permission. The plan mixes a lot of costs throughout different categories, but the big chunk of cost for the pathway is $500,000. The ADA/bike ramp to meet the pathway connection from the Court St. bridge is $5 million by itself, though. I want to put cost in delicate context so as not to give the impression that I'd be against doing this. This point is less that it might not be good to do it than that our first $5.5 million of improvements could have more of an impact than this path. 

Bike "highways" are for getting on and zipping away someplace far, rather than connecting block to block. This is especially the case because bike paths in the bike highway model tend to be built along rivers and in rail beds, where you may be above, below, or cut off by water from other points-of-interest except at certain limited crossings or ramps. This is the case for all of the Blackstone Path extensions.

The bike highway can obscure a lack of other infrastructure. It wasn't until I decided to revisit this report (it's like 200 pages long) that I realized that we got over-excited about this bikeway, and in the process, totally let the plan off the hook for its lack of vision for on-street facilities. A lot of sharrows are proposed in the plan (see this Car-Free PVD piece talking about appropriate and inappropriate use of sharrows). I'd rather have no bike path in the city at all and have serious bike infrastructure on-street everywhere than have a really beautiful bike path but lots of sharrows leading to it.

Bike highways are about beauty, not direct-access. The problem is relatively small, in some cases, especially if the limited-access allows speed. But take this map, for instance:



Where a biker gets dumped off the bike path, they usually have to take Rt. 122 to get to downtown. Rt. 122 is really unfriendly for biking, but look at how direct it is! And look at the number of side-streets that connect to it. By contrast, the bikeway, if built, would arch around the southern bed of the river, then cross to the northern bed, and into Truman Drive.

Switchback Mountain The ADA/bike ramp has not only the issue of cost, but also of access. While these types of switchback ramps do increase the number of people that can walk or wheelchair up and down between two places, they're a real pain in the ass for biking if your goal is to get anywhere at all in a serious way. I've been looking with some disgust at the soon-to-open (hold your breath, I think) East Bay Bike Path bridge connection, because to access it requires first a complex switchback down to India Point Park from East Avenue, and then a tight and multi-tiered switchback back up to the bridge (not to speak of traffic, pedestrians, dogs, children, and so on in between). The path itself gets people to bike on a flat right-of-way, which is a big advantage over passing through the neighborhood. But the switchbacks at the end of that journey sort of kill it for me, especially at $5 million.

Fixing the Problems

Greetings from Mars First things first: the surface of the moon could be a more welcoming place than where you come off the existing bikeway.

The street ahead is Division Street, and at the end of that is 122 (running parallel to the building in the background). To the left is the rail underpass going west and meeting Rt. 126. This area (or even just the parking lot next to it) could be activated
with food trucks to meet social safety needs.
Melbourne, Australia does a really smart thing where the city offers tax-free space to small vendors, whose purpose it is to keep eyes on the street late at night and early in the morning. The vendors are expected to stay open late in return for the tax break. Wouldn't it be great if Woonsocket offered exemptions from city taxes to food trucks at this location? They wouldn't be competing directly with restaurants in this area, because there are none. The role of the food trucks would be to supplant the need for active policing, and it would bring a lot more people in on the bike path--because people would know it was safe at all hours. 


Rt. 122 is no place to bike.

Let People Off the Path Leaving the path area is really hard, because after going past the abandoned lot the Division Street spits bikers out onto Rt. 122. 122 varies throughout the city, but in this part of the city it is a truly unpleasant place to bike in every possible way. The lane widths are wide enough to encourage speeding but not wide enough to allow room for motorists to pass comfortably. What did Woonsocket do to address this? It put sharrows down (I kid you not!). Last I saw them, they were pretty worn down, so even within their own pathetic universe of bad engineering they were failing to do what they should do. 

122 crosses the freight train tracks for the old Providence & Worcester Railroad at a very uncomfortable angle. I'm not sure if this is general knowledge to drivers, but believe me that crossing train tracks at anything too far off from a right angle is scary on a bike. It's scarier than normal here because you can't slow down (a driver will honk), and you can't get the right angle going over without pulling out deeper in the lane. 
Avoiding 122 would be possible if this train underpass were closed to
cars--how about some stone or concrete bollards here? This is currently
a one-way going towards the path, so coming into Woonsocket this way
puts one in danger of a head-on crash with a driver.

Solving this crossing is no big challenge: to the direct left of the path, going west, is an underpass with a very narrow passage--maybe 9 feet. It comes right out to Manville Road (Rt. 126). Crossing 126 could get some improvements, but on the other side is a grid of streets, and cyclists can take Willow Street. I'm afraid it is hilly--there's no other option until the path is built--but it's comfortable to bike. Even after the path is built, Woonsocket should activate some of this residential grid as bike boulevards and bring cyclists back to 122 at a point in the street where it is easier to make changes to accommodate cycling.

Greene & Carrington


Carrington facing east: this is currently a double-one way (possibly to
frustrate through-traffic). I would make it a bike-boulevard, also to 
frustrate through-traffic of cars--but would allow local residential 
access. Bikes would move two-way on this stretch.
Willow Street ends at Greene Street, and one would have to bike north back to the main road (Rt. 122), two blocks over. The in-between block is Carrington Street, which runs parallel to 122 and merges with it. I would make the intersection of Greene & 122 and Carrington & 122 each bike-only, enlarge the triangular plaza that already exists, and allow only local residential car traffic on Carrington. This isn't really an anti-car approach, because it allows residents the advantages of quiet, quasi-suburban streets without losing the connectivity advantages of a city grid. 
Another view looking south down Greene, with Carrington as the cross-street.

Protected Bike Lanes on 122.
The street to the right in this picture is Carrington, which would be closed to direct car traffic (but open to residents coming from the other direction). This intersection would get protected bike lanes and have no right-hook issues since that intersection would be closed. The cross-street to the left leads just to parking and a dead-end.
At this point there's no other way to address biking but to have cyclists go back to the main road, but that's not a problem because this section of 122 is more visually interesting than the previous stretch, and also has room enough to allow bike infrastructure.

122 narrows (relatively) as it approaches Greene Street, and then opens right back up on the other side of Court Square. But there's more room here than you'd think. Here's how I'd set this stretch of 122 up:

Starting further up the street at Park Ave. & Hamlet (122), I would change the signal from a green-yellow-red to a blinking red to prepare drivers for calmer speeds. As they approach the intersection with Greene St., bikers would be able to merge onto 122 (Hamlet Street). The intersection would be greatly simplified by the bike boulevard design at Greene, meaning there'd be no danger of "hook" crashes from turning cars. The protected bike lanes are narrow by Dutch standards but do the job.



Add Parking & Protected Bike Lanes at Court Square

Yes, you heard me right! Let's add some parking. Court Square has the width to have protected bike lanes all the way along it from here, and over the bridge, but it requires moving some parking around. Let's take the cars (parked across the street in the picture)and move them into the slipway that's at Court Square (in the foreground of the picture to the left). Philadelphia did a great project (below) with this at one of its diagonal streets, and the number of parking spaces equaled out to the number taken away.
In the Grad Hospital district. This wasn't originally a slipway, but the last block of a diagonal street--but it's the same principal. Some seating could be added on the inside of the parked cars. 
From here, the bridge at Court Street should quite obviously get protected bike lanes on both sides. The good thing is that the bridge is huge, and gets almost no traffic congestion, so the protected bike lanes could be made quite wide in order to accommodate people trying to move more quickly alongside those who are trying to pull off and look at the beautiful sites from the bridge.

No Two-Ways About It

I want to address the plans for two-way traffic in downtown Woonsocket. As I said above, two-way streets are a much better option than multi-lane one-ways. The two-way conversion has shown some success in Providence, and is marked among the low-tier improvements that cities can make to lower crime and vehicular crimes in downtowns. 

Two-ways are not the only way to convert wide one-way streets, and I'd argue for keeping the one-way configurations but adding serious protected bike lanes throughout the grid to bring bikes through with more ease. 

In Groningen, Netherlands, the grid is arguably made unnaturally complex to traverse by car because the city blocks cross-city access through its center square to other quadrants of the city (buses and bikes can pass). I wouldn't call for anything as radical as that for Woonsocket, but I think the plan authors overplay their hand on the importance of navigability to a two-way conversion. The biggest impact I think you'll see from two-way traffic is a reduction of speeds, creating the eyes-on-the-street approach to safety and improved pedestrian access. Navigability also improve in downtowns when the amount of bike and pedestrian access is increased, whether there's two-way streets or not, because people simply have the chance to explore their surroundings at a different pace and with greater ability to see around them.

You might wonder whether people who live in the neighborhood would prefer a two-way conversion to my plan, given that two-way streets sound like a more baseline approach to the problem. I'm not convinced they would, though. From what I've heard from people in Central Falls and Pawtucket, residents are often suspicious of the idea of returning two-way traffic. But why are they suspicious? Because they fear too much loud and dangerous traffic and assume a one-way will cut down on that. Let's take the energy of NIMBYism and use it to our advantage. What neighbors want is a nice place to be, and added bike infrastructure (not sharrows) will do more to provide that than simple two-way streets. It may even be possible to leave some of the on-street parking in place that the plan muses about moving, because protected bike lanes can be narrower than second car travel lanes would have to be.

The Side-by-Each City can become a center for biking for much less than is proposed in the Woonsocket livability plan, but also borrows from some really great ideas in the plan, especially the idea of activating spaces temporarily. While a bike path sounds at first blush like the most important thing, I hope I've demonstrated that cheaper facilities can provide more bang for their buck. Let's look at how we can connect the Blackstone Bike Path to Woonsocket using some simple #EntranceRampRI techniques: bike boulevards and protected bike lanes. This plan preserves more on-street parking than the other plan (hey, even I'm surprised), while removing some parking when necessary. And it will also be actionable on a much lower budget. A strong Woonsocket leader would take these plans and move to put protected bike lanes and bike boulevards in before the end of this year, in order to lose no time.

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Revisiting Hope Street

Last year I had some really productive meetings with people on the East Side about how Hope Street could be made bike-friendly. I'd like to revisit Hope St., update some of my thinking on how to redesign it, and encourage the city to take active steps toward implementing the improvements this year. Hope St. deserves a better design than it currently has.

Lose Parking Some Places, Add It Back in Others

My original discussion with Hope St. Merchants' Association talked about losing parking from both sides of Hope St. except between (roughly) Langham St. (near the library) and Fifth St. (just north of Seven Stars). There, the plan was to have bikes merge with cars and buses, but with greatly reduced lane widths (the protected bike lanes would reemerge on the other side of the business district). The Hope Street Merchants were refreshingly aware at how much need there was for biking relative to parking on most of the street, but it's understandable that they wished to keep some kind of parking arrangement out front of their businesses.

Even at the time, I didn't love the plan completely. Merging the bikes in and out of shared space felt complicated, and I'm still not convinced that people who bike on a protected and separated piece of infrastructure will embrace suddenly being cast into traffic. But I also felt like building community support was worth some compromise. I still am open to something less than what I'm proposing below, but would like to give my best argument for it and see if it flies.

The more I look at the neighborhood on Google Maps and walking or biking through it, the more I feel like the number of parking spots we're talking about is pretty small. Losing parking on just one side of the street the whole way , feels like a much better option than losing it on two sides most of the way and then not at all around the Rochambeau business district. It's definitely much better for cycling, but moreover, it saves a lot more parking for the business district, just in a different arrangement than people are used to.

The business district, from Langham to Fifth St., is about 0.3 of a mile long. In that space, there are already five street crossings on the west side of the street, several driveways, and two bus stops. So the impression that there is a lot of parking here is kind of misleading. Not having a confusing configuration with protected bike lanes on both sides and then no bike lanes at all means that some of that lost parking can be put right on the other side of the street. The two or three blocks south of Langham and north of Fifth St. would likely see greater parking occupancy, and people would just walk the extra two- or three-hundred feet to their destinations. There's also a lot of side-street, and back parking lot parking on some of the properties, which could perhaps be made shared metered parking.

And, the other plus side is that the neighborhood would get a constant in-flow of bikes. I think for a very small number of parking spots the business district would get a huge number of new customers, none of whom would need a parking spot.

The head of the Hope St. Merchants Association, Asher Schoefield, lives in Warren (famous for its bike path), is on the board of the Sierra Club, and is just an all-around joy to talk to about these things, because he totally understands the benefit that good bike infrastructure can have for a street's businesses (he's also a big donor to our Bike-to-School efforts in Central Falls, and you should check out his great store, Frog & Toad--a donation of $1 to our fundraiser gives you a shot at winning $100 in credit there). I've met a couple of other people with businesses on Hope through Asher, and they also seem wise to the importance of biking. I'm hoping the overall opinion of businesses is as positive towards this idea as I expect Asher and company would be. I'm looking forward to public input.

Blinking Red at Most Intersections
Most intersections of Hope Street are two-lane meets two-lane. Turning off the traffic signals, or making them blinking red, will make traffic flow more smoothly, but at a slower peak speed (i.e., slow and steady wins the race). 

There was discussion at the League of American Bicyclists' meeting with Providence Planning about a death that occurred in Minneapolis on a poorly designed protected bike lane. The question in the air was what had caused this death. I investigated this over the weekend with people from Minnesota (isn't the internet amazing? I mean, really. . .) and found out that the issue was that the protected bike lane in question, which was parking-protected, had had poor sight-lines around intersections (the parked cars had been allowed to park too close to the intersection, and turning cars and trucks could "right hook" cyclists). 

In the Netherlands, as I pointed out at the meeting, and in articles, moderate-traffic streets like Hope St. would be allowed to have little or no signaling at intersections, and this works well for safety. I would suggest narrowing lanes approaching intersections for twenty-five feet or so, perhaps at first just with bright green paint, to alert drivers to be aware and to slow down. Over time the city could invest in cobblestones or bricks like in the crosswalks at Kennedy Plaza to give an added push for cars to slow down.

At Hope & Lloyd, Use a Small-Radius Traffic Circle and Divert Bikes to Thayer Street

Albion, RI (part of Lincoln).
The original plan went only as far as Thayer Street, and then left further changes to the imagination. I've been looking at the area beyond that intersection, and thinking of how to make the whole fit together.

Thayer St. should be car-free, two-way, with sections marked out for pedestrians to walk in the street and for bikes to be. Bikes coming south off of Hope would just keep going onto Thayer. Coming north off of Thayer, bikes would merge into the protected bike lanes on Hope St. by making a left off of Barnes St. (editor's note: this didn't make sense because the protected bike lanes would all be on one side of the street. Going north the bikes would just double back the same way they came).Delivery trucks would still be allowed onto Thayer Street, but private cars would be banned. 

Dutch practices at roundabouts

At Hope, Brook & Lloyd, I think the intersection should get a traffic circle. Traffic circles are great for congestion management at confusing intersections, and promote safety for drivers and pedestrians, but are not great for bikes (hence the bike diversion onto Thayer, following Dutch practice of using traffic circles but diverting bikes away from them).

A lot of traffic circles you see have fairly large radii, sometimes with grassy areas in the middle. I know that someone is going to say that the Hope & Lloyd intersection just isn't big enough for a traffic circle/rotary, especially with the need to move buses. My thought for this intersection is just to have a very small turning radius. I've seen this done in Albion, and it works very nicely. The center of the traffic circle is more like a reminder to slow down than a physical impediment. Again, lane narrowings approaching the intersection could also be used to signal a slower zone.

Using this design should promote bicycling on Hope & Thayer, allow for better traffic flow for cars and buses, and preserve parking for businesses up and down the street. I encourage Providence Planning to find a way to implement these ideas so that Hope St. can start to be a truly complete street.

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Notes from the Bike League Meeting


Everything you need to know about the League of American Bicyclists' meeting with Providence Planning and the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission is right here.

Right On, Mayor Elorza, About the Idaho Stop

Hooray! We should be really thankful that our new mayor appears to be doing some of his homework about bike policy. The participants on the mayor's bike ride came into the meeting at 444 Westminster reporting that the mayor thinks Providence should get an Idaho Stop Law, which improves safety and makes biking more welcoming. 

What is an Idaho Stop, you say?

Sigh. . . 

The Chair of the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, Eric Weis, reportedly put the kibosh on the Idaho Stop Law idea. Participants in the room said he told the mayor that it would miseducate bicyclists (the Bike League representative had somewhat softer, but similar worries, saying that Idaho Stop Laws can be good, but being unwilling to commit that Providence should or shouldn't have one). I usually have mostly nice things to say about Eric, but throughout the meeting today he used his voice to mostly quell good ideas out of fear that they might not work. He was acting as a liberal stumbling block.

The organized voices of biking in Rhode Island are heavily represented on the BPAC, and those folks continue to advocate for safety training and "education" as a major component of cyclist safety, which is why the Idaho Stop Law sounds so worrisome despite its firm record of improving safety. But it's time for us to stop following a false rubric for change. The Dutch break every safety rule that American cyclists love to teach, and come out safer because they have the right infrastructure and the right expectations for drivers to operate their vehicles.

Pass an Idaho Stop Law.

No More Sharrows, But Let's Leave the Paint at Home Too

Hooray! 

Bob Azar of Providence Planning said he came away from the meeting with the Bike League ready to look at some more serious pieces of bike infrastructure than sharrows, which were previously the most common intervention by the city. In the ensuing conversation, proposals for Fox Point came forward that show that Providence Planning still has to move not just beyond sharrows, but beyond lame paint-only solutions, and recognize that its task is to fix major arterials to make them bikeable instead of focusing on backstreets to nowhere.

Sigh. . . 

The preliminary vision to improve Fox Point was just to put a painted lane on Ives Street. 

Ives is a lovely mixed-use street. The problem is that Ives doesn't cross the highway and is cut off to the north at Angell Street. Gano Street is the most appropriate street for bike infrastructure because it's an arterial. The entrance to the new bike bridge to the East Bay is on Gano Street.

Not putting protected bike lanes on Gano is the wrong choice for our city, period. We've got plenty of room. I've written about this already.

Two Steps Forward and Three Steps Back on Broadway

Hooray! There was discussion about being more creative on Broadway.

Sigh. . . The discussion wasn't very creative though.

The proposal discussed on Broadway was an intervention that allows for wider bike lanes that are permeable to cars--drivers can go into the bike lane. The treatment has been tried in Minneapolis, where it showed safety success. My beef with this is that Midwestern American roads suck even more than ours do, so virtually any modest change is going to be an improvement over the existing setup. We're Providence. We're a four hundred year old city on the East Coast. We can do better than Minneapolis. We're just not trying yet.

We didn't organize a temporary protected bike lane on Broadway so that the city could implement some crappy half-sharrow half-bike lane nonsense from flyover country. Julian of Julian's restaurant came out and spoke to me that day, and I was nervous because I didn't know him and wasn't sure what he'd think. He said that our protected bike lane was "proof that something good can be done with this street." That's despite the fact that Mayor Taveras allowed Paolino and Company to park in the damn thing all day long.

Let's recognize who we are, and do things that are up to our standard of excellence. We ain't no fuckin' Midwestahhhnahhs.

Special Bike Signaling is Expensive, But We Don't Need Signals Many Places

Hooray! The Bike League representative emphasized the importance of protected bike lanes to building a world-class biking city.

Sigh. . . The sales pitch for protected bike lanes was pretty lackluster, nonetheless. The Bike League emphasized the high cost of specialized signaling and other preparations for two-way protected bike lanes, which are the most likely standard for Providence to use. He also scared the bejeezus out of the planners by emphasizing a death that happened in Minneapolis when a protected bike lane was poorly designed.


In the Netherlands, on very wide arterials similar to our N. Main there are specialized signals to control bikes and cars crossing each other. But on many moderate-sized streets, cars and trolleys are allowed to cross the protected bike lanes uncontrolled (see the section on chaotic biking). That's not only many hundreds of thousands of dollars per signal cheaper, but it's also safer. People pay attention to one another. As long as there are only two lanes in each direction, there's no need for signals.

I've proposed that the city make all the signals on Hope Street blinking red and turn one of the parking lanes into a two-way protected bike lane the whole way. Working on protected intersections to make turning radii more right angled at the crossings would help a lot with safety at intersections, would be good for pedestrians and bus riders, and would also be a hell-ton cheaper than trying to put in new bike signals. We need to act. The waiting game is over.

By the way, this type of intervention makes sense for lots of other streets too. Broadway and Westminster St. on the West Side are narrow enough to get this kind of treatment, with the only caveats being the intersections with the services roads (which themselves should come down to one lane in each direction eventually). So be bold, Mayor!

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A Highway with No Entrance Ramps

I have an unexpected day off due to a fire near Calcutt Middle School. Please consider donating to our efforts for Bike-to-School Day at Calcutt.

We have a raffle for a $100 credit available to Dash Bicycles for top donors, and another $100 credit at Frog & Toad open to all donors of a $1 or more.
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How can we make the Blackstone Bikeway more useful for transportation? This will be part of a series where we explore how the existing bike paths can be better connected to people.

The Netherlands has "bike highways" which act as extensions to its urban bike routes. These were an afterthought there, put in as a way of building off of the huge success of shorter routes. The bike highways--often fifteen miles long, connecting outer suburbs to the core cities--get pretty strong usage, though not the kind of numbers that 2 or 3 mile journeys get. 

By contrast, Rhode Island has all its major bike highways built, but has forgotten to put in the exit and entrance ramps.

The map to the left is outdated, because the South Kingstown bike trail is missing, but this is a close approximation of the major bike routes in the state. A lot of times, the reason that urban areas lack completed bike trails is that the property rights issues are complex, or there's a need to build a bunch of expensive bridges to get over multiple waterways. Instead of extending our bike paths at great expense, what we should be looking closely at is how we can connect those paths to populated spaces. Often the gaps are very small and would require almost no money to fix.

Valley Falls

Valley Falls: people like biking, but don't
necessarily do much of it for transportation.
Valley Falls is the first village north of Central Falls (the two get their names from each other--"Central" Falls being located at the waterfall between Pawtucket and Valley Falls). There's a lot of latent demand for biking in Valley Falls because of its location next to the Blackstone Bike Path, but the town isn't really built to take full advantage of it.

Valley Falls should:
  • Work with Central Falls to establish protected bike lanes on Broad Street, which is the main thoroughfare through both of them.
  • Take advantage of bottlenecks at small bridges to make bike and pedestrian-only spaces.
  • Connect the Bike Trail to its core by re-evaluating space on some of its streets.



The Blackstone Trail crossing, done just like it says, "the wrong way". The blinking red is a great idea, but the lane widths approaching this crossing should be narrowed significantly to reduce speeds at the crossing.
Dense housing makes Valley Falls a potential hotspot for biking. This street is all of a block and a half from the bike path, but is not a comfortable place for biking. Note the huge width even of the parking lanes.

All of these houses have driveways, and the parking lane here should become a protected bike lane from the Blackstone Trail to Broadway, a block up from here.
Church Street bridge: This sign isn't even technically following Rhode Island law, where bicycles are considered full vehicles with the right to bike in the street and take lanes. But this narrow bridge would be better suited to bikes only, with the sidewalks reserved for pedestrians, instead of dismounted cyclists.

There are several other crossings from one side to the other of the railroad, and those could be left to car traffic.

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Central Falls

Central Falls is the densest location in Rhode Island, just 1.3 miles square, with 20,000 inhabitants. It has low incomes that make car ownership a financial stress, but the city doesn't have any bike infrastructure at all. It has a "bike route" made of sharrows that takes people away from central locations in the town and isolates them on the other side of the railroad tracks, often through areas that feel socially unsafe.

People already bike in Central Falls, but are forced onto the sidewalks.

Central Falls should:
  • Put protected bike lanes on major north-south routes, with Broadway as its first goal. 
  • Dexter Street should follow close behind Broadway as a location for protected bike lanes.
  • Use its bridges carefully: Central Falls has seven bridges crossing the railroad, and one very close across the Pawtucket border. Two to three of these should be reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, while others should be put to use for cars and pedestrians.
  • Work with RIPTA to reform the 72 bus so that it's frequent, direct transit, and put bike parking near bus stops to allow multimodal use. With the new train station to open in Pawtucket, it might eventually make even more sense to have the 72 go back and forth just to Pawtucket, but on a hyper-frequent schedule.
  • Put the Blackstone Bike Path extension through Central Falls on the back burner. It's taking forever, is going to be expensive, and it largely means drawing people through Central Falls on bikes without having them actually experience the city. 
One bridge that would make perfect sense to convert to bicycle use would be the Sacred Heart Ave. bridge. The bridge, which is two-way, empties onto a one-way eastbound street, so the bridge's westbound traffic lane should be taken away and made bike-only. 


Westbound traffic off the bridge is currently taken up Wood St. and then Fales (the latter which is a double one-way). Fales should lose one of its lanes for protected bike lanes, but stay a one-way street. Wood Street, pictured above, should get bollards to allow only local car traffic and deliveries, like in the Netherlands.

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Check out more stories as they unfold at the hashtag #EntranceRampRI.

Let Food Trucks Feed the Meter

Providence has a relatively thriving food truck scene for a city of its size, but I still hear yearly grumblings that restaurant owners challenge the legality of parking a food truck on the street. Food trucks are asked to park two hundred feet away from business districts, told they can stay only for a short period of time, or asked to leave entirely. Often they agree to these terms, but the situation isn't really fair to the trucks or productive for the neighborhood.  Thayer St. is ground zero for this problem, probably because of its very success: it has high levels of pedestrian activity at most hours of the day and night, very few parking spots, and very high rental rates. Food trucks are part of what makes Thayer Street a great place, so this conflict needs to be worked out.

As with many problems in Providence, the food truck situation comes down to poor parking management. 


A parking spot is like real estate that we insist is free most of the time (against all logic). Then, when people treat that spot as if it's free, we get annoyed with them, because of course many of the things that a person will do in a free space go against what we might want as individuals. This is what sets the stage for the conflict on Thayer--the parking is metered, but at an arbitrary, fairly low rate--instead of being based on occupancy levels. It makes perfect sense that restaurants who pay rent for building space should want trucks to do the same, but the rules that are set up by the business district and the city don't allow for that to happen. The result is a semi-detente where food trucks are kind of allowed, but kind of not allowed. Businesses don't like uncertainty, and that's exactly what this is.

The city doesn't allow "feeding the meter". Feeding the meter is when you pay the cost of being in a parking spot, but for longer than the arbitrary time limit on the spot. Most of Providence's street parking is free, and turnover is encouraged using these clunky time limits. Especially weird is when the parking isn't free but there's still a time limit. After all, if people are staying longer than you'd like them to, maybe you're not charging the right price?

It's like ticketing a person for seeing a second movie, or buying a second burrito. 

Give the restaurants what belongs to restaurants, give the trucks what belong to trucks. What the Thayer St. business district should do is insist that money collected from meters should go to them, so that they may use it as they may. Perhaps they just want the money to help pay rent. Or maybe they want to plant trees, fix sidewalks, and add more attractions like chairs and tables to the street. Whatever they use it for, though, the food trucks could be a major component of paying the fees. Let the trucks feed the meter all day long if they wish, so long as the rate is set high enough to leave a few spaces open on the street. 

The most active times on Thayer are without cars.
Higher parking rates may end up attracting more trucks. As you raise the fees, if the trucks still find it worthwhile to be on Thayer, they'll stay. Oddly enough, the fees may bring more trucks rather than fewer. Other trucks may see the success and join them, even bidding out some private cars. But is this a problem? No. The trucks must be attracting enough pedestrian customers to pay for the spots. The street will be becoming more active.

We already close Thayer St. from time to time, and when we do, it's packed. The new parklet on Thayer usually has far more people at it than a car parked in it could bring. So why not extrapolate from this experience and realize that a street full of food trucks may be far better than a street holding a few people's private vehicles?  Parking is space that should be put to its highest use, and this is the way to sort that out.

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I've tinkered with this article a bit to fix typos and correct awkward phrasing.