Cool Study on Density and Street Layout

Improvements to emissions from density are non-linear. Pretty interesting. 

For everyone's information, Providence is at around 9,000 per square mile. In a northeastern context, this doesn't feel very dense at all. But on this curve, we're well on our way to better emissions goals, and quite a bit denser than a lot of other cities in the country. Big world leaders like Zurich, Switzerland are only at 11,000 per square mile.

The other thing that the study finds is that emissions are not just affected by density, but are heavily affected by how streets are laid out, e.g., whether there are decent biking facilities, if zoning allows mixed-use places, how frequent transit is. As I like to point out, Groningen, Netherlands, is less dense than Providence, but has sixty times the per-trip biking than Providence has (60% vs. 1.2% of trips). 

Providence benefits from having a number of its suburbs being relatively dense too--some, like Central Falls, are denser than Providence. The East Bay, Pawtucket, Attleboro, and even parts of Cranston can help us meet these goals with their layouts as well, because they are also well on their way. We have good connections to Boston and Newport by bus or train.

Providence, with its good density levels and available land for new development, could densify further, add more non-car options, and really be a leader. Check out the study report here.


Oases, Baking in the Sun

All of these people live in Providence, and all of them want the parking lot tax (and lower property taxes).

Yesterday, a group of Providence residents joined me for Jane's Bike. Our topic was parking, and we explored all aspects of it. 

The bike ride is part of my continued effort to educate the public on the need for a Providence parking lot tax. Some officials in Providence--notably, my awesome state rep.--have been very vocal in supporting the proposal, while our mayor has taken a wait-and-see approach. 100% of the proceeds of the tax would go back to reduced taxes on adjacent properties. 

The Mayor on the Parking Tax

The Providence Business News recently wrote about parking as well, exploring a variety of angles to parking policy, including a parking tax. PBN incorrectly stated that Mayor Elorza is against a parking tax. What the mayor said was this:

I’m all for incentivizing alternative forms of transportation, and disincentivizing our over-reliance on cars. While I like the idea behind the parking tax, and it makes sense within a discussion of developing a more progressive transportation system, we can’t adopt it right now. The larger reality is that our citizens are already over taxed [sic], and we can’t consider adding anything new to that burden. 
Hence, PBN's statement that he is against it. But. . .  
Over the long term, if we can manage to lower some of the other taxes – property tax, the car tax, etc. – I would consider a parking tax, because it’s much more progressive tax. First, it requires visitors to the city to share a portion of the tax burden, unlike the property and car taxes, which only impact residents. It also incentivizes other forms of transportation and ride sharing. (my emphasis)

When a politician gives you an answer like this, what they're saying is get your troops rallied, I'd like to support your awesome cause, but you have to convince me of who the demographic is that will keep me safe for backing you. It's kind of like Obama's pre-evolution statement on gay rights, when he said he "thinks" he's "soon" to evolve, but hasn't evolved "yet".

So let's push him. It's time for Mayor Elorza to turn that maybe into a yes.

The PBN article was, as Stephen Miller of Streetsblog said, "comprehensive but all over the place." My criticism of it, in the same vein, is that the article posits a false balance on this issue, when no balance is needed. Just as climate change coverage frequently presents a thoroughly researched scholar against a wacko with no credentials, so too did the PBN article do this for parking.

It went even further than that. At times it awkwardly editorializes in favor of parking lots in ways that are both bizarre and objectively false:

For those who work in Providence, surface parking lots that cover an estimated 70 downtown acres can seem like oases amid the chaos and congestion of city life. So why are the city and planners across the country actively discouraging them?

This was the opening line.

Besides being absolutely ridiculous, this statement is objectively false. Traffic engineers know well that congestion is worsened by parking lots. It's not only demonstrated by practical engineering, but it even makes intuitive sense if you stop for more than two seconds to think about it: when you're in a traffic jam--any traffic jam, anywhere--where are all those cars coming from and heading to? Parking lots.

Joe Paolino, Guardian of the Impoverished Masses

An interview with former mayor and local parking yahoo Joe Paolino bears being quoted in full, because there's just so much that's wrong about it:

Yet for those who use and operate them, the lots are thriving, often affordable examples of supply meeting demand.  

First of all, how can something be subjectively an example of supply meeting demand? Does everyone else catch the trick there? "For those who use them...". No! The parking lots are there because we willed them into existence. We had years of parking minimums, and an elevated highway, putting extreme pressure on the downtown's building stock to lose value and become dilapidated, while also at the same time creating induced demand to drive and park. And that's to say nothing of the fact that the parking lots over that time became a major cause of stormwater overflow, meaning that we all paid for part of their cost in our water bills. What part of that is supply and demand? It's socialism for cars.

"They're not understanding the economics," one prominent parking-lot owner, former Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr., said of the new zoning code that discourages surface lots. "It's flawed policy." 
If parking becomes too expensive, he says, businesses will relocate to suburban communities, where it is plentiful and free. 
Let's introduce the former mayor to Zurich, Switzerland, which is pretty comparable in size and density to Providence:

Then Paolino's gem of an argument comes out:
"A secretary, a downtown worker, can't afford more than $150 a month," he said.
PBN allows this to stand unchallenged, but the argument is false. Lower income people are more likely than any other demographic to be transit-dependent, and while many people of all classes drive, building density to a downtown is a big factor in actually making transit useful to people. Density doesn't build linear changes in transit ridership, it produces exponential ones. For instance, a density doubling can quadruple the number of riders. This is what is needed to allow frequency of service on bus lines, and frequency is the most important aspect of whether working people feel like a bus system works for them. 

A parking lot tax also supports carpooling, which is a working class support. I've argued that without some internalization of the cost of parking, an imbalance of power is left between workers who have cars and those that don't. I know this because I've had to carpool to Boston. The high parking costs in Boston have assured me that any time I've had a job during hours that the T didn't run, a coworker was not only happy to give me a ride, but was quite likely to view my riding along as a business opportunity. People who carpool to workplaces with "free" (as in, bundled to their wages) parking do not have such an advantage, and may find less interest from coworkers.

An Unnatural Village

The owner of a downtown parking lot is a speculator, by nature. Now, a word on speculation: Any of us, all of us, speculate. If you buy a house and fix your kitchen, you're a speculator. Even if you don't hope to flip that house the next day, you're making an economic decision about that property in hopes that it will profit you to invest in it. That's absolutely good. You can take advantage of an arbitrage--speculator!--by buying your winter clothes when it turns warm and those clothes will be cheaper, or try to find a list of your books for the next semester a few months in advance--speculator!--when books will be in less demand. There's nothing wrong with speculation. It's what makes the economy work.

What we talk about when we use the word "speculation" is oftentimes more like what goes on with parking lots: there's some kind of institutionally weird policy that is creating an unusually stark border area between the price of two things, or there's an unfair asymmetry of information. The only types of situations that can exist like this for long are those that have some kind of institutional backing, or else the market would correct them.

With downtown parking lots, you have a weird situation like this. Government created these lots, and continues to supply new money to them through "free" state worker parking. The land that the parking lot is on is nothing like any normal place would have, because no place would have both empty land and high land prices at the same time. 

Detroit has no parking tax: red & orange are parking.
A village developing in the market would intensify a little at a time. You might have a cluster of houses, and then someone might add a story to one, or tear one down and build a taller building, and over time, bit by bit, the village would turn into a city. The land prices wouldn't start high, and when they grew it wouldn't be huge stair-steps. In neighborhoods that grow out of urban renewal, there's the bizarre feeling that nothing is quite "neighborly". Things feel unnatural. It's this stair-step, clearing of the land all at once, that makes for this. In a normal city built out from a village on a green field, the change in intensity of building would be gradual, along a normal bell curve. Only because government created a situation where the tallest building for fifty miles in any direction is next to an empty lot can these lots be worth anything in the absence of development. You don't see development because the land is expensive, but you don't see a big enough change in land price to correct for that because why not make some money off of parking and wait?

Pittsburgh has the highest parking tax in the country--contrast to Detroit.
A parking lot corrects this situation. The 40% tax set by Pittsburgh--the highest in the country, although theirs was at one time set at 50%--collects more revenue for the city of Pittsburgh than the income tax in that city. Providence should do the same, but give all the money directly into lower property taxes on actual buildings. You may resent paying high parking rates, but if your taxes are cheap on a beautiful, centrally-located building, guess what? You'll adjust. Buildings will be taken care of better and new buildings added because of the corrective force on land prices. It's not just that you're taking away the competitiveness of parking, which sounds anti-market. What's actually happening is that parking is competitive for government-created reasons, and you're putting the land parcels back into a natural market such as would exist in any gradually developing city. Owners of lots can choose a variety of things: One could still own a plot of land, knowing that parking won't provide the boost that it did, in hopes of that "perfect deal" for the expensive skyscraper. One could build a place-holding building to provide temporary uses, or open the land to outdoor tent bazaars, and hold onto the land but avoid the tax. Or one could sell: but selling means selling the expected tax alongside the favorable location of the land, so the price will go down. A lower land price sounds ominous, like something's wrong with our city. But remember, if you were building a new Providence like Roger Williams did, the land just beyond the last settlement would be the cheapest land within the pale of the city, not expensive. And so you're allowing for the great market creativity of the past to come about again. Reduced land prices mean that the improvements to that land have a disproportionate value, increasing the value of buildings all around. And that's exactly why we need the parking lot tax. We're not waiting around for glimmering "oases" of asphalt.

What we want are buildings, in the form of neighborhoods.

Contact the Mayor!

So let's push this parking tax, until we get it. Our mayor is not against the parking tax, but what he needs to hear is that we think it's important enough to deserve his attention. Give the mayor a buzz or send him an email and let him know that a Providence parking lot tax makes sense. 

Elorza's Budget Empty on Bicycling

Will people be able to bike in the park, but not to the park? Elmwood Avenue, Providence.
While I have given early applause to Mayor Elorza's choice to bike to work everyday, it's now inching towards the territory where it becomes a symbolic fig leaf to cover a lack of real policy.
Just as this budget focuses on city services, it also focuses on quality of life. With both our new Parks Director and our new Director of Recreational Services, we have hired dynamic new leaders who are already hard at work on exciting plans to increase opportunities for healthy activity. As someone who rides his bike to work each day and who runs in Roger Williams Park each weekend, I am committed to supporting sports and recreation and to making Providence the healthiest and most active city in New England. Just this month, we received a Health Equity Zone grant to improve recreation programming and to help us achieve that goal.
As we take care of our bodies, we must also take care of our environment; and there is perhaps no greater global issue than that. I am proud of the partnership with the Rhode Island Foundation to invest in Roger Williams Park to forever keep it the cherished asset that it is.
I'm not objecting to the choice to invest in Roger Williams Park, which I think is a great goal. Nonetheless, the city needs to put actual money towards biking if it's going to grow as a transportation option, though. Roger Williams Park is a great place to ride your bike around in circles, and not at all an advance for low income people, children, elderly, or disabled people wanting more comfortable streets on the S. Side. 

I'm excited to see that the city is expanding parking meters throughout a variety of neighborhoods. We absolutely need to meter our high-demand parking areas if we're going to give a good turnover for parking spots. It's also a great way for the city to take in money, although I would like the city to think about returning parking meter money to businesses near the meters in order to encourage more neighborhoods to support metering, as is done in Pasadena, California and a number of other places under the tutelage of UCLA parking expert Donald Shoup. This is also the idea behind my proposal for a parking lot tax.

The city's still not going to deal with the tenant tax, where renters are taxed at a higher rate than homeowners through a higher tax bracket on rental property. I'm disappointed by this, but not as surprised.

Come on, Elorza! I don't want to give you a hard time like this, but this was a disappointment.


Gina Raimondo on Bikes

This isn't really a post, per se, but a stub of a post. Has anyone at all heard anything substantive come out of the governor about bikes or transit? 

We had this during the campaign:

What's funny is that I didn't really pay attention to this commercial when Raimondo was running, but now that I'm watching it, I wonder how many eight year olds go down Westminster Street on their bikes. . . 

I'd like it if people started a conversation on how to change this.

In Connecticut, meanwhile. . . 


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.


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.



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.


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. 


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.