No New Parking

The Providence Journal is concerned that there might not be enough parking for the Pawsox to move to Providence's downtown. The estimate they used calls for over 3,000 parking spots for sold-out games. Of course that assumes that all of the people coming to games come by car--having 100% of guests come to the games by car is something we should definitely try to avoid. It would be an odd outcome, in any case, being that the proposed site for the stadium is blocks from the statewide bus hub and ten minutes walk from the T station, in the second densest and famously smallest state in the U.S. About 1/4 of Providence residents do not own a car.

Paolino Properties has graciously (I suppose) offered its eleven downtown lots for the use of ballpark visitors, but we need to move beyond that. Time for a parking tax.

Garages are not the solution either. Since each of the newest parking spots being added to downtown will cost in excess of $30,000, we need to think about serious, frequent, user-friendly transit with rights-of-way and modern station-payment options.

Many cities are removing parking. Zurich, Switzerland will only allow additional garage spaces if an equal number of spaces are removed from the street to add to sidewalks or bike accommodations. In Amsterdam, the city removes 2-3% of parking per year as part of the climate plan. You get what you plan for.


I grew up in Philadelphia. Philly has one of the nicest and oldest subways in the country, the Broad Street Line, which runs frequently and efficiently through the entire length of the city. Where the stadiums are, though, is surrounded by surface lots. Do you think many people going to an "Iggles" game get out and walk around, looking for restaurants or shops? No, they get in their cars and head home during the seventh-inning-stretch so as not to be stuck in an endless traffic jam. Phillies games are the only time I think I've ever seen a traffic jam in my home city, where households have fewer than one car per household. Parking policy matters. 

But at the end of the day, if 3,000 parking spots is what we need, we shouldn't worry. We already have 15,000. Remember this video?

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Copy What Works in Policing

A reader sent me something which I think would ordinarily have been worthy of a post on its own. A bicyclist who records bad drivers and sends the video to the police is pretty cool, although it still falls behind the Peatonito as my favorite urbanist vigilante story (you just can't beat lucha libre).

But I thought the comment that accompanied the link submission was all the more interesting. Here's what my reader said:

I like everything about this except the part about handing it over to police.
It's a big problem in our society that we structure our legal system in a way that results in many people not trusting it enough to participate. I don't necessarily blame the reader for this comment. We disproportionately focus the striking force of the law on people of color, we focus heavily on longer prison sentences for all manner of crimes, and in the end we often ignore a lot of important dangers to our society because we're too busy going after minor problems. America has a police state problem.

Progressives love colorful vigilantes, but distrust the police.
How can we fix this?
I wanted to suggest a few thoughts on how to turn this reader around, because I, for one, think getting the police to enforce the law on the roads would be a good step. That'll only happen with citizen involvement.

I'd like to suggest that these goals, though not specifically urbanist per se, are central to making urbanism a successful venture.

1. We need to stop criminalizing behavior unnecessarily.

I've been tossing around ideas in my head for how to approach this, but urbanists need to be active in decriminalizing drugs, getting rid of stop-and-frisk types of police enforcement, and opposing new "lifestyle crimes" or "status crimes" as they arise. 

Getting the police out of the business of arresting people for marijuana use, for instance, would be a major coup for urbanism because it would allow resources from policing to be focused onto the truly deadly patterns of impaired driving and speeding. Rhode Island has a serious problem with both of these. Around the country, they kill many tens of thousands of people per year, but we treat someone lighting up and watching Broad City in one's living room as a more serious offense than rushing down a city street past some school children.

2. We need to get the police to enforce driver safety consistently, and with real penalties, but not necessarily with prison time.

Given that a brush with the average Rhode Island driver leaves me wanting to peal the driver's skin off and use it for shoe leather, it's understandable that the urbanist community has been leading the drive for harsher prison time for DUIs and other driver offenses. While I absolutely agree that it's maddening how easily people get completely off the hook from killing pedestrians or bicyclists--or even other drivers, for that matter--I also feel the need to repeat the fact that many very successful societies don't focus on imprisonment as a way of dealing with vehicular manslaughter, and yet still have safer streets than we do. Some of the societies in northern Europe are among the safest in the world, and instead focus on impoundment of vehicles and heavy fines as the way to punish violators who harm people with their cars. The Netherlands, for instance, is so oriented away from prisons that it has begun taking prisoners from other countries to fill its empty jail cells.

I know it makes intuitive sense to throw people in jail. I know it feels good. It's not what works. We advocate that our policymakers copy the Netherlands for its bike infrastructure, so why don't we advocate that it copy the way it deals with illegal uses of cars? When we do, more people will want to send videos of speeding drivers to the police.

3. We need to message to the public about what the real dangers are, so that dumb laws aren't passed criminalizing fake ones. 

I saw a Politi-fact today on the claim that babies can be poisoned by swallowing cigarette butts (it's true). Apparently two children die per day across the country from accidental cigarette poisonings, and this is now a talking point in banning cigarette smoking on beaches.

Galilee, near Point Judith
Personally, I have never smoked, I don't like secondhand smoke, and I have relatives who have died pretty gruesome deaths from smoking. I support having a smoking ban in public buildings like restaurants not only from a public health perspective but because I think it's unfair to force the employees of a restaurant to be exposed to serious health risks at their jobs. But the goal of banning people from smoking cigarettes on the beach to me comes off as being about pushing against a habit that is now regarded as low-class: it's easy to pick on something that only the hoi polloi do. It also annoys me because it completely ignores a much larger danger that is thought of as being just a normal facet of everyday life: cars. Along with the two children who die from unintentionally swallowing cigarettes each year, 7,000 die from car-related deaths. Wildlife is harmed by the provision of parking and large, impervious roads to allow car access to our beaches. And along with the many people who die from car crashes, an even larger number die from the pollution of cars. This is a slightly apples & oranges comparison since it includes adults as well as children, but close to 60,000 people die from car exhaust per year in the U.S., twice as many as die from car crashes. And although second-hand smoke is indeed a killer, it's undoubtedly much less harmful in a ventilated area than inside buildings. The focus now to push smokers out of even the outdoor realm strikes me as totally unnecessary--a kind of Tipper Gore "please, think of the children" crusade for bored suburbanites.

We spent decades working to get parents to stop smoking around their children inside their houses, the way my Nana sometimes did when babysitting me as a kid. Now we're criminalizing outdoor smoking. But where do we expect smoking parents to go if they can't walk around in public places to get their fix? They're going to go right back into the privacy of their homes again, which is where secondhand smoke is going to be most harmful to innocent children.

And, God, try to tell these beach-goers that they can't have a parking spot next to their destination, and they'll probably explode.

What would make more sense would be to put a high fine on littering, which is the real problem. If someone throws their cigarette on the ground, they're being a jerk and should pay. But public spaces shouldn't be subject to status crimes, and that's exactly what criminalizing smoking is.

We should think about how policing fits into the society we want as urbanists. I want a Rhode Island that consistently enforces the law, and that means a police force that is effective. But part of the vision means also being vigilant against undue policing, discriminatory policing, and unnecessary severity in punishment. This is not just about being nice to people. It's about being effective. We should copy what works. And a police state just doesn't.

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Rt. 30: Illustrative of Another Common RIPTA Problem

If you've followed the comic saga of #Paisleygate, you're aware of how confusing, time-consuming, and difficult it can be to obtain a state ID in Rhode Island as a non-driver.
 
I had to take several trips to and from the DMV, which got me unusually aware of Cranston/Warwick bus routes. On the final victory lap of my journey, temporary ID in hand, I took the Route 30, which runs from the DMV through the Garden "City" stripmalls and up Oaklawn before getting into Providence. It roughly doubles the route of the Cranston bike path/Washington Secondary.
 
One thing that just fascinated me about the journey was that I was the only one on the bus for much of the ride. At the very height of occupancy, the bus had three passengers. But as we approached the city line, I thought that surely the bus would pick up a lot more people on their way from Cranston Street to Kennedy Plaza, an area full of working class people and walkable destinations.
 
But no!
 
The bus does not go down Cranston Street, but instead turns onto Routes 10 & 6. This is a problem I've noticed about other RIPTA bus routes as well (I have the 54 from Woonsocket especially in mind).
 
Bus routes have to take into account many factors, and in RIPTA's poorly-funded state, having to balance the interests of an entire state must be very difficult. Getting on the highway is presumably a way of making the journey to KP "express". But on my trip, at 3:30 in the afternoon, the 6/10 Connector was already in a state of half-arrest from traffic congestion, so it's questionable whether it really saved me any time.
 
Moreover, it's odd to me how RIPTA prioritizes what should be included or excluded from routes. Returning to the example of the #54 Woonsocket bus route, the route takes riders on several suburban detours into the parking lots of locations like the Lincoln casino, the Lincoln Mall, and a Walmart before finally meeting its endpoint in Woonsocket. The "express" route has cut out what used to be a key feature of the route, which was service up and down Charles Street once it got into Providence. The detours, which have much less ridership potential and take a lot more time to make, remain.
 
The #30, all things considered, is a more direct route. It doesn't have the mind-numbing detours of the #54. But it goes through some pretty wealthy, low-density territory and appears to carry fewer people than it could. Adding Cranston St. back into the mix makes sense.
 
Another thing to explore might be merging several of these Cranston routes into one. Admittedly, with the level of walking and biking safety and sprawl that exists in parts of Cranston, this would cut some people out. But operating a more frequent bus that serves some places very well, while adding to bikeable routes to that bus, might be a better option if we want to get people to stop driving in some areas. Build success, and then push outward. Garden City shows some potential to be walkable (ish) if transit is frequent enough to allow further infill on its parking lots. Why not go for that?
 
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Mr. Gorbechev, Tear Down These Signs.

The Netherlands is dissing RIDOT, and as far as I'm concerned it's welcome attention. 
I'm not sure that I'm personally willing to risk arrest to do it myself, but I'd like to repeat my call to others to find the nearest saws-all and safety goggles* and cut these right out of the ground where they stand. Other cities have blogs which are willing to publish, if not themselves participate in, community-led urbanism. These signs gotta' go, and if you send me your pics of removal anonymously, I'll do my best to keep them that way.

I think it's fair to give RIDOT one week from today to respond, and then bzzzzzz.

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*Hey, you gotta' protect your eyes!

An Incomplete & Totally from Memory List of Things from the BPAC

Mayor Elorza very graciously came to this month's bike & pedestrian advisory commission (BPAC), spoke briefly, and then listened to community members speak. The room was packed.


Highlights from the Mayor:
*The city is going to put extra effort and onus on keeping sidewalks clear during snow storms.
*The mayor has not started biking to work, but as soon as snow is clear, will do so every Friday, saying that Bike-to-Work Day is not just one day in May, but everyday.



Highlights from the community:
*Many people spoke at length of the need to keep snow clear from sidewalks.
*There was an interesting proposal about legislating immunity from shovelers/property owners for injuries accrued during paid shoveling as a way of addressing the alleged lack of people out in the streets shoveling for money.
*People spoke for the need for protected bike lanes throughout the city, on streets like Smith, Douglas, Broad, Elmwood, Hope, and Broadway.
*Signal timings/walk signs were a big topic--the Mayor has already committed in his campaign to make all walk signals in the city automatic instead of having 'beg buttons".
*An interesting proposal came from the RIPTA Riders' Alliance to set aside $1 Million to clear the top one thousand most-frequented bus shelters during storms.
*Bike parking was a big concern: one speaker asked that the city lower the ratio of bike parking needed to offset a car parking spot (perhaps as a way of discouraging excess car parking?). Many, many people talked of the need for secure bike parking at the train station.
*I thought it was a highlight that the VHB representative who wrote the bike plan suggested that it was time to update it.
*I brought my proposal for a parking lot tax, which drew quiet applause and a "Hear! Hear!" from the audience. The parking lot tax would, of course, be used to lower property taxes, and be revenue neutral.
*I also brought a proposal to meter more parking on the street, and return the funding in lowered property taxes in the same way.
*I asked that the city remove all parking minimums. Providence has dialed them back and used offsets like allowing bike parking in place of car parking in some places, but it still has them. It should just get rid of them.
*Several members of the audience brought proposals to allow one side of a street's parking to be used as protected bike lanes, as a way of balancing the needs of parked cars and bikes.
*Dean Street (and its various pseudonyms) came up as a particularly important north-south connector that is impassable to pedestrians and bikers.
*There was a call to connect the Cranston bike path (officially called the Washington Secondary Path), to which I will add that there is a real need to tear out Route 10/Huntingdon Expressway since it is the oldest highway in the state, and replace it with a multimodal road. Rt. 10 blocks access from Providence to the bike path and visa versa, and largely redundantly serves as another north-south route just a mile and change west of I-95.

Commissioner Jen Steinfeld brought a very important point, which is that as a community, biking et. al. continues to be a topic voiced by mostly white people, even though a sizable number of Latino and black people in the city bike, take transit and walk. Although there were a lot of people, myself included, who certainly came to biking as an economic decision, giving leadership and voice to people-of-color would be more likely to hit people from that background, and in any case would bring a whole lot of neighborhood issues to the surface that may not be readily apparent to people based on where they live.

That list almost certainly missed some important points, but please comment below to bring up things I forgot, or things you'd like to add!

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Look Out for #1



I've been meaning to write something about the RIPTA #1 for a while. The route used to be called the #42, which feels auspicious to me, since forty-two is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I supposed #1 was the only number able to beat the paper-scissors-rock of the original designation (though it is the loneliest*).

The #1 is successful by a lot of measures, at least if you curve things to the low expectations of Rhode Island (sorry, but it's true). I don't have ridership figures sitting in front of me, but just from anecdotal experience I can report that it is well-used (at least in terms of how well-used any Providence transit routes is). The main route runs from Pawtucket center down East St./Hope St., into Thayer, Kennedy Plaza, and through the Jewelry District and South Side. It's pretty linear. It runs (mostly) through fairly walkable areas**. 

But the #1 has a lot of problems too. Take a look at this weekday schedule (I couldn't copy the whole thing into one screenshot, so if you want the full range go to the site):


The #1 has half-hour spacing on weekdays. The frequency gets a little better in the central parts of the route (as it should), but even there it's lacking.

Attleboro Station--much to be desired here, but wait until you
see S. Attleboro. And truthfully, Attleboro center is pretty, if
imperfect--a much better place for transit than S. Attleboro,
which is bordered by trailer parks.
When the #42 became the #1, the Warwick airport became the final southerly endpoint of the route. I'm not one to visit the airport much (I've actually never flown), so the only reason this is even apparent to me is that it flashes on the front of the bus every time I use it. My immediate reaction to this is that having one of the city's most important bus routes split itself off towards T.F. Green airport is fucking crazy. We spent a lot of money to get people to take the train to the airport, and we're not necessarily that successful at convincing them to do so. Why we would duplicate our efforts with the bus system makes no sense to me, especially when many of the places that the #1 connects to the airport also have access to the R-Line, which would take them directly to the door of the Providence T station.

Alon Levy has gone on a couple of informative rant(s) about the warped degree of importance that airports get in transit systems. I'll leave the reasons why RIPTA planners might have though an airport connection would be important to the side, and simply note that for a route an hour and change to complete even from its farthest extremes, the trip from the Providence city line to T.F. Green swallows about a fifth of the route time***. One notes that though the planners at RIPTA were smart enough to focus somewhat more frequency in the center of the route, Pawtucket center does not qualify as part of that "main route", nor even Rochambeau & Hope Sts. Just imagine what eighteen minutes from each bus trip could accomplish if rearranged into more frequency in the parts of the #1 route that have density and potential ridership!

S. Attleboro "Station" (ahem, parking lot). I don't think you can even walk to this
from the adjacent houses.
The fifteen-odd minutes at the northern end of the route are poorly spent as well. I personally think that S. Attleboro Station should be abandoned whenever the Pawtucket/CF one becomes operational. I understand that park & rides are still in vogue in Southern New England, but focusing our transit around surface lots instead of developmental centers is silly, and slows the train route down on top of all else. If people from the edges of Attleboro need to get to the station, the smarter and more efficient way to get them to either Pawtucket/CF or Attleboro center would be through adequate bike infrastructure from the edges of the towns to the centers, not through big state-enterprises in surface lots. The #1 bus running out of its way into fairly sprawly territory just means that the part of the route that go through denser areas can't be spaced frequently enough to get high ridership--the kind of ridership where there's standing-room-only boarding, not the two-thirds-full-sitting buses we see now.

Taken altogether, the fact that the #1 goes to Warwick and S. Attleboro means that about half the route time for those trips is en route to extremes that have very little ridership potential, and little to no walkability. Although not every #1 trip goes to these places, many do, and that adds up to a huge amount of labor-time and wear on vehicles that's being misspent. The people who need access from these locations shouldn't be abandoned altogether, of course, but the state would do a much better service to people if it provided bikeable routes through less-dense areas, since those would cost much less and allow more development potential than park & rides.

As with the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, finding the right question is more important than having the exact answer. It's my view that the #1 route shows that we're not asking the right questions yet.

Update: Jason Becker (@jasonpbecker) brought up a valid point about how bikeable S. Attleboro is. What I had in mind when I said that we should connect S. Attleboro to Attleboro proper and/or Central Falls by bike was this tweet by the Netherlands Embassy in the USA (@NLEmbassyintheUSA):


I think Dutch and American observers alike would note that this picture is not of a particularly fun or exciting biking destination, nor even of a healthy space (for my part, I have to say I really respect the cajones of the Dutch for being willing to tweet to the world the fact that they have such awful places within their borders--not exactly great for tourism, eh? The point when you look at something like this is to realize that even though this is a very suboptimal biking environment, running a path to this location is a much better idea than building a big surface lot.

Some people like the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs (mine was a pretty dense one, denser than Providence, but still. . . ). You can imagine a point where Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts might eventually see enough growth that someone might want to develop here. My preference would be a) Let's not, but b) If we're going to, then let's try to build some walkable density around the train station, rather than a lot for people to park & ride and c) If we can't do that perfectly (i.e., we get some kind of a semi-walkable medium/low-density mishmash of suburban housing, then biking is an acceptable way to connect that housing to the train. 

Let's also remember what we're talking about substituting. Who is getting #1 bus service? It's a bus to Pawtucket and Providence on that end of the line. So there's also a train for these folks to take to S. Attleboro (and since there's nothing in S. Attleboro, chances are they're taking the train beyond, probably to Boston). So why put bus resources into this? It might be true that some kind of bus service is needed from some other place in the area, as a lifeline, but not along the Providence/Pawtucket corridor. So biking makes more sense.

Some people do apparently bike in S. Attleboro (I wouldn't. . . ):




I think that ultimately we want to think about how we can make piece-by-piece improvements for biking in order to serve these folks.

But definitely agreed, that S. Attleboro is of much lower value as a biking destination than a lot of other places which are ahead of it.

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*Oh man, I can't believe I found a live version of this crappy song.
**The Jewelry District notwithstanding. I think they call it the "Knowledge District" because you have to be a genius at Frogger to cross the street.
***And even this is kind of misleading, because that route time is spent mostly on the highway, meaning that a much longer distance is covered in that time, but with nothing of substance--nothing to ride from or to--in between.

I'm a Transportation Activist, I Can Be as Contrary as I Choose!

A group in Seattle has come up with a list of smart language about safer streets that has now been picked up nationally by People for Bikes. Seattle was leading the way on great transit, biking, and walking improvements when all of a sudden it became paralyzed with rhetoric of a "war on cars" (the term "war on cars", I'm fascinated to find out, originated with North America's favorite coke-addled mayor, Toronto's Rob Ford, who ran on a specifically anti-transit and anti-bike platform. So consider the source before using it. . . ). 

New language, say the Seattle advocates, helped reset the message, and now the city is moving forward apace with protected bike lanes and more frequent transit schedules, and the public at large supports the changes.

A lot of this new language is great. Take a look.


I'm trying to wrap myself around exactly how I feel about this all. As I said, a lot of it is just smart. After watching the great Streetfilms video about Indianapolis' Cultural Heritage Trail, I started gushing about how great "bioswales" were, even though previous to the video I'd have not known a bioswale from a biohazard. Calling the darn things "raingardens" just describes what they are better. Direct language!

And making sure to tell the public that you are not just a bicycling machine, but perhaps a parent, or a worker, or a retired person, is also clearly smart.

I hope you won't mind something as middle class as a gif! 
Oh, heavens though, what is a gif?
But some of this is kind of inane. I get annoyed enough at the adage that "Everyone is a pedestrian at the end of their journey" without having to say "Everyone is a person who walks at the end of their journey". The recent snow has been a reminder to me that there is a decidedly strong difference between someone who is a pedestrian only for a few paces at the end of their journey, and someone who has to walk the whole way. Many stores in the area take good care to clear the setback sidewalks in their strip malls for customers who roll on up, but dump ten feet of snow on the sidewalks out front for those walking through. Notwithstanding the truth in the unifying message that everyone, including those who only drive places, has to cross the street or walk down the sidewalk eventually, it's clear that there's a real divide. When people tell me that I'm supposed to ignore that, I feel preached at (the image that springs to mind is a clench-toothed Mrs. Crawley from Downton Abbey: "I'm just trying to be useful," she says. Call me the Dowager Countess, but I feel like ringing a terse bell at these people).

A lot of this feels like a repeat of other messaging trends. Many people still don't like anyone to complain about how uncomfortable it is to be a cyclist (sorry, "person who bikes") on streets designed for car-use only, lest somehow this will dissuade people from taking up biking. But the battle isn't one of marketing. People take up biking because the infrastructure makes it sensible for them. These new guidelines to call people a "person who takes the bus" or a "person who bikes" feel like messaging voodoo, intended to win people with jedi mind tricks. Just say what you mean. 

If a person is so inconsiderate that they can't put two-and-two together to figure out that a pedestrian is a "person who walks", I think we're better off drawing a clear bright line in the sand and fighting that person than trying to drag ourselves behind them like whinnying sycophants.

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