Why Not Bus Lanes?

Dean St. on-ramp to 6/10 like a mini-neighborhood of its own.
I love bus lanes.

I don't love the RIDOT proposal to put bus lanes on Rt. 6/10.

I applaud the effort that policymakers put forward to try to "re-imagine priorities", but I wish that people who worked so exclusively in transportation planning would know that transit is fundamentally about land use, walking, and biking. These are the major pieces left out of a 6/10 bus lane proposal.

The Embarcadero, after highway removal, as a successful boulevard with transit
and car lanes.
Director Alviti of RIDOT says "They want transit." Who does he mean by "they"?

The director must not mean the Capital Center, Valley, Smith Hill, Federal Hill, Olneyville, Silver Lake, West End, or Reservoir neighborhoods of Providence.

Bus lanes on 6/10 would primarily be about moving people quickly out of the of the city, but it's not clear how the buses would get ridership if they don't hit these neighborhoods.

The beauty of a surface boulevard, versus a raised or sunken highway, is that it can be made to work to the advantage of rapid transit while also meeting ridership needs at these points. Stops could be spaced out at half-mile intervals, with buses getting rights-of-way and signal priority, and pedestrians from the areas around the boulevard could actually. . . you know. . . get on the bus.

The limited-access highway that we currently have isn't just the highway, either. A lot of space is
Would adding bus lanes to a limited-access highway make it a success?
The Embarcadero before it was felled by an earthquake.
taken up in on- and off-ramps. That space should rightly be used to intensify development along the transit corridor, to allow for even greater ridership. Having open land that people can develop would add to the city and state's taxable assets, and make a boulevard even more sensible.

What would you call a bus line that passes through a city, but avoids all the dense neighborhoods in the city? I would call that a joke. And that's what this proposal is.


The Good, the Bad, the Strange, and the Ugly.

The Good

The state is considering tolls on highways--although, only for trucks, so we shouldn't expect much of an impact on commute mode choices.

The Bad

The 6/10 Connector is going to get four out of seven projected toll dollars. Whoa! Expensive!

Read more about why we shouldn't rebuild this thing here.

The section of 6/10 that is "Rt. 6" has had a lot of work done recently, and probably won't be abandoned any time soon, but the section that's "Rt. 10" or "the Huntington Expressway" is the oldest in the state, and could realistically be replaced with a boulevard if RIDOT chose to do so.

The Strange

I'm getting retweeted by a lot of conservative-type people about not rebuilding this urban highway. Is there room to build a left-right alliance, with the left being concerned about climate and impacts on the impoverished neighborhoods around 6/10, and the right angry that they'll be "subsidizing Providence"?

Also strange, Barry Schiller has reported to me that RIDOT is strongly considering bus lanes on the 6/10 Connector, but in my experience this has not been a useful corridor for buses. Transit should be a part of any proposal, but remember: how bike and pedestrian friendly and area is, and what kind of development it gets are the determinants of whether transit is going to be useful here. A new raised/sunken highway with bus lanes is like transit decoration, rather than transit-oriented design.

The Ugly

Well, there's the highway itself.

A little reminder that Providence is the only northeastern U.S. city to make it to the top ten list for per capita highway lane-miles. That puts us in some bad company. 6/10 is one of those no-brainer projects where the state could decide to go multimodal instead of doing the same-old, same-old.

We should put extra effort to following up on details in the coming days, but so far this goes up top on my list of things to be angry about in Rhode Island.


You can always call your state rep or state senator. to let them know this is a waste of money. And though this is a state project, getting your city council member or the mayor up-in-arms about this would be worth a shot too.

Drum Roll Please. . .

Many people helped financially support Central Falls Bike-to-School Day, and now is the time to choose the winners from our raffle. I will make a strong attempt to contact donors, but please email me (transportprovidence@gmail.com) or direct tweet me (@transportpvd) if you have won something and would like to claim it. The donation program does not necessarily give me your email contacts, but I presume many of the people who gave to this follow me on Twitter, and so I'll try to search for you.

Largest Donation Over $150

We had no donations over $150, so the $100 gift card to Dash Bicycles will be retained for a future fundraiser. 

$1 Ante to Win $100 from Frog & Toad Store

The $100 prize was won by Paul Follett. Thank you Paul, for your donation. Honorable mention also goes to Pawtucket Citizen Development Corporation and Nancy T. Whit, who also gave $100.

$50 to Cluck!

Thank you Car-Free PVD, you most mysterious presence, you!

$25 to Garden Grille 

Won by Nancy T. Whit. Thank you!

Cleverhoods Rain Fenders, Each a $20 Value

There were five of the rain fenders: they go to Karen Krinsky of Like No Udder, Steven Kahan, Barry Schiller, Patricia Hinkley, and Aron Griffis. Thank you for your donations.

Herbal Tea from Radia Herbs

Made right in Providence, there were three of those: they go to Jonathan Harris, Jeffrey Leary, and Tim Blankenship. Thanks!


Bike Lanes Help Emergency Access

Can protected bike lanes give us emergency access, traffic-free? 
According to GoLocalProv:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Mayor Jorge Elorza has ordered a restructuring of the city’s fire department as part of his plan to address a stubborn structural deficit now projected to reach $19.1 million by the 2020-21 fiscal year. 
The mayor said Thursday he plans to shift the department from four platoons to three, a change he says could save $5 million annually through a reduction in overtime and callback pay. Although he ordered the change to take effect immediately, he said he hopes to negotiate terms with the city’s fire union over the next month.
Fire-fighters fall into one of those apolitical categories of near-universal approval. If you're liberal, you may not like the local police union, and if you're conservative, you may rail against teachers' strikes. But everybody likes a fire-fighter. And we should: they risk their lives for us. Nobody has bad memories of a fire-fighter "stop and frisking" them, or of getting hit with a ruler in a Catholic School by the visiting firehouse Dalmatian. 

But I support the mayor's plan to cut down on fire services, with a major caveat: Mayor Elorza needs to aggressively explore how fire safety in the city could be improved by wide protected bike lanes and bike boulevards that allow through-access only to buses, bikes, and emergency vehicles.

From an interview with David Hembrow of the Netherlands, last year:
What I can tell you is that Assen has just one fire station which is now positioned on the western edge of the city (I think there's one fire engine stationed at the opposite side of the city) and one two* hospital which is where all the ambulances come from. 
We had study tour participants from a similarly sized US city last year who were amazed by this. They apparently need a dozen small fire stations to ensure that fire engine call out times are sufficiently low.
A key thing to remember: we cannot expect these benefits from mere painted bike lanes. Proposals for better fire and ambulance response times have to turn on bike infrastructure that is wide enough for a vehicle to come down. Building the next generation of bike infrastructure will help us reduce our costs for services like fire safety, and deliver better response times.

At the end of the day, I'm not necessarily happy to suggest making our fire department smaller. But the city should look carefully to see if this would save us money, while maintaining the same level of service. 

Just one more reason to upgrade our bike facilities.


#Keepyourpromise(s), Mayor Elorza

It's time for Mayor Elorza to keep two promises he made during the campaign:

1. Providence bus passes for students who live more than two miles from school.

2. Providence quality infrastructure for biking: not painted bike lanes, and definitely not sharrows, but protected bike lanes or bike boulevards. The mayor specifically promised a protected bike lane connection up Broadway from downtown to Olneyville as a start, and the Hope Street Merchants Association has been quite clear that it wants to see that type of infrastructure for its business district too.

Here's the mayor talking about his strong support for bus passes.

Here's the thing about busing students: it's expensive, and as much as the average forty-year-old American journalist probably pines for a motorized trip to work, what most students are looking for is a fun, active way to get to school. Providing bus passes for students is the right decision now, but Mayor Elorza also needs to tabulate how much money the city could save by upgrading bike infrastructure. It will cost seven figures a year, every year, to bus students to school. What's making that busing necessary is that we don't have good 8-to-80 bike infrastructure. Spending a fraction of the busing budget on biking would help assure that we're not stuck with bus passes as a second-rate solution to student mobility.

Here's what everyday looks like in Portland, Oregon, a city much less dense (and much rainier and hillier!) than Providence:

And here's what it looks like in Assen, Netherlands, a rural community that has five or six times the biking rate of Portland:

Please contact the mayor, and tell him to keep both of his transportation promises. I supported the mayor because of his bold approach to transportation, and I will not vote for him again if he breaks his promises.


On Helmets and Dooring

Broadway bike lane, Providence.
It's taken me a week to follow-up on Bike-to-Work Day, but there was a set of bullet points sent out by the City of Providence that I wanted to go over. From GoLocalProv:

The City of Providence encourages all bicycle commuters to take the following safety measures when biking to work: 
·         Have your bike checked over by your local bike shop
·         Always wear a helmet

·         Ride in the right-most lane that goes in the direction that you are traveling
·         Obey all stop signs, traffic lights and lane markings
·         Look before you change lanes or signal a turn; indicate your intention, then act
·         Be visible and predictable at all times; wear bright clothing and signal turns
If any advice was offered to drivers, the GoLocalProv people edited it out. But my guess is that no advice was offered in the first place.

Many of these bullet points are arguably good advice, say, if given by a friend, but feel like inappropriate advice given by a city. Let's take a prominent lightening rod: should we wear helmets? There's mixed evidence on helmets. Some studies have said that they reduce head injuries very significantly, while others have been unable to repeat the same results. Moreover, some advocates of helmet-less biking have pointed out that very few of the serious injuries on bikes are due to head injuries. You'll see this in action when a journalist covers someone whose legs were run over by a truck, i.e., "The cyclist bled from his legs and died. He was not wearing a helmet." And Dutch cyclists have been very vocal that Americans should stop promoting helmets, because they're nearly completely absent from biking in the Netherlands. 

Dutch don't wear helmets.

I've always been a helmet wearer. In the one instance where I was in a serious collision on my bike, having a helmet seemed to have been helpful, because the helmet broke (as it's designed to do) but my head did not. I also broke my collarbone clear through in that crash, and had to get two (luckily Medicaid-covered) surgeries (Medicaid covered me in a by-gone pre-Obama era because I was unable to work as a dishwasher and janitor, my jobs at the time, while my collarbone healed).

Here's where I get into the role of government and the role of friends. The reason I got into a crash was that I was talking to my friend Thomas, who was riding behind me on his cruiser without a helmet. Thomas was making me really nervous, and I told him as much. I turned my head just enough to talk to him, and when I turned it back a person had swung their door open right in front of me. I had no time to stop. I hit the door, went over the handlebars, and landed half-sprawled in the trolley tracks on Philadelphia's Baltimore Avenue. Adrenaline is an amazing thing. I not only immediately got up (thinking, urgently, "GOTTA' GET OUT OF THE TROLLEY TRACKS") but picked up my bike with my broken collarbone and carried it to the sidewalk. Pacing around, someone told me I ought to sit down. When I tried to get up again to pace some more, I realized I couldn't lift myself off the ground with my arms anymore.

The driver was a real jerk and blamed me for the crash. The Philadelphia Police were also jerks. I went to the precinct after getting out of the hospital and asked for the police report, and the officer played runaround with me and refused to give it to me. Another officer came out later, and urging me to leave, told me that the officer was friends with the driver who had doored me. Pennsylvania law is actually very clear that dooring is the responsibility of the driver, so there wasn't any question that he was responsible. But eventually I let the situation go, because there was Medicaid to cover my surgeries.

I share this because this incident forms one of the kernels of why I hate door-zone bike lanes so much. If I had been doored at a time when a trolley was coming by, I'd not be telling you this. If a delivery truck had been passing through, I wouldn't be telling you this.

Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia.
In Providence, traffic moves much faster than in Philadelphia. The Broadway bike lane feels like a death trap to me, because the traffic is moving around 30 mph or greater, except during brief periods of traffic jams (Philadelphia traffic averages around 15-20 mph). I have never understood people's willingness to settle for such a lousy piece of infrastructure on Broadway, because it's truly not good enough. It doesn't make me--a seasoned bike rider--feel safe. But it especially is unlikely to get small children, elderly people, or disabled people biking. Send me a photo if you ever seen a child with training wheels in the Broadway bike lane. You never will see it.

So, the appropriate role of a mayor is to fix things like this. The appropriate role of a friend is to counsel the wearing of helmets. The mayor has gotten far more praise than he deserves for riding his bike everyday. Don't get me wrong, it's a great thing, and I applaud it for as far as it goes. But Jorge Elorza has the power in his position to fight for institutional changes to our streets, and has so far failed to follow up on that promise. He can take the city SUV everywhere for all I'm concerned, so long as he turns this around.

But one thing I don't want to see his administration doing is putting out silly bullet points telling people to wear helmets, not putting out similar bullet points for drivers (who, after all, are the responsible parties controlling the huge, fast-moving machines), and not putting enough effort to infrastructure improvement.


Central Falls Bike-to-School Photos

Friday was Central Falls first-ever Bike-to-School Day. Our principal, Heather Dos Santos, rode her bike from East Providence, through Providence and Pawtucket, and finally to Calcutt (the first leg of her journey, to the Pawtucket border, was on two flat tires with a loose wheel that was rubbing against the frame!). We fixed the bike up, and she was off on her way. Our vice principal, Meghan Baker-Hollibaugh, joined us on the East Side and continued biking with us. 

Several staff members expressed interest in the biking day, but many live farther away than would be realistic to be bike commuters. One staff member reported that she plans to start biking to school on good weather days as soon as her move is complete from Exeter to Lincoln. 

More than thirty students biked, out of around five hundred, for a biking rate of 6%. This is far behind the Netherlands, where 95% of students bike, but was a big jump for Central Falls, which usually has only one or two students biking, tops. Central Falls is extremely dense and small in footprint, has a low-income population, and is almost completely flat, but has no biking infrastructure at all to meet its population's needs.

Students listed the reasons they don't normally bike:
*My parents won't allow it: many parents do not allow students to bike because of fears related to traffic or social safety--all of the students but one, among those who biked, said that their parents had worried about them biking, asked them not to bike at one point or another, or warned them to not be hit by a car. Most students I saw biked on the sidewalk, which is pretty typical for adults and children in Central Falls. RIDOT controls many of Central Falls' arterials, and historically has removed parking to widen travel lanes on them for faster car throughput (Dexter St., for instance, once had parking on both sides of the street, and only has it on one side now, but is 'not wide enough' for bike lanes, according to RIDOT. RIDOT owns several parking lots along Dexter, a holdover from when the state DOT knocked buildings down for parking in the 1980s, said CF director of planning, Steve Larrick). Larrick, would like to see the city be able to explored protected bike lanes but is concerned that RIDOT will stand in the way.
*My bike will get stolen: while parents worry about cars, students are worried that their bikes will be stolen. Students are not usually allowed to take bikes into the building, but were allowed to do so on Friday. Students overwhelmingly reported that they would change their biking habits if they were allowed to do that everyday. The Bike-to-School Day fundraiser bought three bike racks for the school, but if an equal number of kids biked everyday, it would only be bike parking for 20% of students.
*Kid stuff: it was notable that 20%+ of fifth graders biked, a handful of sixth graders did, and no seventh or eighth graders biked at all. Certainly as students encounter themselves as budding adults, they take cues about what normal transportation is. The fifth grade class I subbed for played a game on Friday where they chose who they were going to marry, what job they were going to have, what house or apartment they'd live in, and what car they'd own. When I pushed back that I didn't own a car and asked whether a person could grow up and take the bus or bike, the students said that cars were part of being an adult.
*I don't have a bike: while we only interviewed students who had biked, those who did not sometimes reported not having a bike when they spoke to me the day before. Some students also reported just not having ever learned to bike.
We had a great breakfast available for all the students and staff who biked, and were joined by Mayor James Diossa. Transport Providence will be partnering with the city to do studies of city- and state-owned streets, and will make recommendations to the mayor on how to proceed in making Central Falls a bike-friendly place. Here are some photos from the day (all photo credits, Rachel Playe):