About

Alex believes that cities are complex and messy, but dense smart growth with strong alternative transportation infrastructure is the best medicine for climate change and for our unsustainable car dependence. He also believes that good policy balances input from many different perspectives, especially traditionally oppressed low-income communities. Everyone’s perspective is valuable, even though it’s impossible for policy to please everyone all the time.

Alex lives and works in Providence, RI, to which he relocated in June 2014 from Amherst, MA. Upon completing his master’s degree from Tufts University in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, he served as the founding Executive Director of the Amherst Business Improvement District. Since moving to Providence, Alex has immersed himself in his new city, managing a City Council campaign and organizing the Providence Symposium weekend. He was founding Executive Director for the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition for two years, and now works for the City of Providence in the Department of Planning and Development. He has his fingers in many projects, including numerous websites, folk dance organizing, and local cultural/social groups. He especially enjoys spending time with his wife and cats, and playing tabletop games.

Purple Rhode Island 2016

You may have seen election results maps from the presidential election showing that we don’t live in a “red vs. blue” country so much as a “Purple America”. The same is true in Rhode Island, but from mainstream coverage in the days following last month’s Presidential Election you wouldn’t know it.

The Providence Journal published a map a few days after the election titled “The two Rhode Islands: blue state, red state“. It heavily featured the map at right. While this map is nominally accurate, the state doesn’t operate the same as the national Electoral College, where the winner is determined by who wins each internal jurisdiction. Instead, Rhode Island’s election victor is determined essentially by a popular vote, agnostic of city and town boundaries. Classifying towns as simplistically red or blue is a deceptive use of data. News organizations should make an effort to avoid divisively and arbitrarily misconstruing the data in this way.


Here is the precinct-level map I made along the lines of “Purple America” that shows a more granular depiction of where Rhode Islanders voted for Clinton and where they voted for Trump. Click on the map to see it larger. Importantly, this also shows by what margin we voted, something the binary map published by the Projo does not show. Some trends this confirms or clarifies:

  • The margins by which Clinton won the urban core of Rhode Island completely dwarf the margins by which Trump won anywhere in the state. Even in West Greenwich, Scituate, and Burrillville precincts, no less than 35% of people voted for Clinton.
  • The interesting pattern of precincts next to the water (or next to the Blackstone River) going more for Clinton holds true.
  • There are surprisingly few precincts that were close (white in my map). Mostly in Warwick, Lincoln, and Tiverton.

I am proud to live in Providence, which not only voted overwhelmingly for Clinton but which has also been leading the resistance to his intedned appointment of ultra-conservatives and corporate executives. I’m also proud to live in a state that has blue areas and red areas close by, because talking to each other and pursuing the wellbeing of everybody is a big part of how we must move forward as a society.

RIPTA starts pushing real-time data to Transit App!


Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog post expressing with frustration how important it is for RIPTA to get real-time bus location data to Rhode Islanders through existing apps such as Transit and Google Maps. I just heard that the former, as of a week or two ago, is now available!

Transit is a pretty cool app; it exists specifically for the purpose of showing you real time information about when buses are going to be arriving near you. For each transit line close to your phone’s location, it shows you how many minutes away the next bus is. For each route, you swipe left or right to get information for the other direction.

I understand that not all RIPTA routes have the real time information available through Transit yet, but the “pulsing waves” symbol next to the time indicate that a lot of the forecasts are based on real-time data. Where such data isn’t available, the app relies on schedules.

Congratulations to RIPTA for this big step forward into the 21st Century. It’s not easy making innovative things happen in government, and there are great people working on navigating that quagmire inside RIPTA. Next stop, getting this data into Google Maps!

6-10 Connector plan is way better than it could have been

This post first appeared on RI Future

I’ve been talking up a progressive, urban solution for the 6-10 Connector almost as long as James Kennedy has. So I was excited and cautious and skeptical yesterday at the press event revealing the compromise plan for the corridor negotiated between RIDOT and the City of Providence. There were words from Governor Raimondo, Mayor Elorza, Providence Planning & Development Director Bonnie Nickerson, and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti.

As it turns out, I left the room more optimistic than I went in. If everything in the plan gets built as laid out yesterday, I will be pretty pleased. Here are some pros and cons as I see them:

Pros

Good bike connections: The connection between the Washington Secondary Bike Path (aka the Cranston Bike Path), the Woonasquatucket River Greenway, and downtown Providence is one of the most critical gaps in the state, and the most logical connection is intimately tied to the 6-10 Connector. It’s great to see both the City and the State hear the public’s plea to make this connection. We need to keep holding their feet to the fire to make sure the connections pledged yesterday get built, and are separate from traffic, but their repeated emphasis of this yesterday was a great sign.

“The Missing Move”: It’s a pretty dumb name, but it’s a really important problem with the existing infrastructure. There’s not currently a way you can stay on the highway and get from 10 North to 6 West. Consequently, most people get off the highway and go through Olneyville Square to get on 6 West on the other side. This plan fixes that. While you might think all that traffic would be good for Olneyville businesses, most of them aren’t stopping, and consequently the opposite is true. All that car traffic squished through the awkward alignment of Olneyville Square makes it not a place people want to spend time, and its local economy suffers. Rebalancing the modal preference in Olneyville Square just slightly toward bike/ped may do wonders for the neighborhood.

Tobey Street: The highway onramp at Tobey Street now chokes the Federal Hill neighborhood around it with highway-bound traffic, and the plan calls for replacing the onramp with a local road crossing the highway. There’s even a protected bike lane on Tobey in the plan. While even more bike/ped-scaled crossings of the corridor would have been better, Tobey Street is a big win.

No more flyover shadowing Westminster & Broadway: it was great to hear Director Alviti and others tout the removal of the bird-poop-generating flyover as removing a “physical barrier” from these streets. Today’s flyover really is that, a psychological deterrent from visiting Olneyville Square from its east. The compromise plan does away with the flyover, which will again address residents’ concerns about connectivity.

Connecting Olneyville & Silver Lake: Space is allocated in the plan for new streets connecting the Dyke Street neighborhood of Olneyville under Route 6 to Silver Lake, as well as new development on the south side of the highway. A new street crossing under Route 6 will be built right next to the train tracks as part of this plan, and Agnes Street, another potential crossing, will not be built as part of this project but the City specifically left space in the highway rebuilding to connect Agnes across in the future. The plan also calls for enhancements under Route 6 there to make it more welcoming as a place to be. More connections across = good.

Cons

Image from Ian Lockwood’s presentation at City’s 3/23 Forum

It’s still a highway: One of the primary entreaties of the Fix the 6-10 Coalition has been “a place, not a highway.” James’s whole vision with the Boulevard idea was for it to not be a highway. The whole point of the City’s initial forum with national experts was that it doesn’t need to be a highway and it shouldn’t be a highway. All the national press the issue has gotten says it shouldn’t be a highway. Well…it’s still a highway. Even with the hard work of the City of Providence to make RIDOT’s plan more urban-friendly, we’re still prioritizing and encouraging suburban auto-dependent travel over our capital city’s neighborhood livability and public health. That sucks. Traffic going through urban places should go through on the terms of the people living in the urban places. The alternative we see here is called spatial injustice and engineers obsessed with upholding the traffic flow of the status quo perpetuate it [Side note: RIDOT has repeatedly used suspect traffic volume figures throughout this whole process: “100,000 vehicles a day, mostly regional not local” without producing the data to back this up. If there’s any chance of reversing this decision, challenging that data is part of it]. Even beyond the public health of neighborhoods abutting the 6-10 Connector and the perpetuation of unsustainable regional travel, maintaining a highway in the corridor screws up the walkability of the Memorial & Francis intersection by Providence Place Mall. Realistically, politically, I’m not optimistic that the paradigm will change on this, but maybe if enough people call the Governor, it can.

Dean Street isn’t until “phase 2”: One of the worst parts about the 6-10 Connector today is Dean Street over the highway. Getting from Atwells Ave to Pleasant Valley Parkway by foot or bike? Fuhgedaboudit. It’s a nightmarish highway bridge with multiple on/off ramps making it extremely unsafe. If yesterday’s plan brings the Washington Secondary Trail connection to fruition, Dean Street will be one of the biggest priorities for bike/ped connections in all of Providence. “Phase 2” can’t come soon enough. Don’t hold your breath, but do call the Governor.

The “Halo” is gone: Totally debatable whether this is a pro or a con. I liked it because it was iconic, but I totally hear people who think it wasn’t an ideal part of the plan. One silver lining is that the iconic rendering that replaced it in the slide decks was the Westminster Street bridge. Here’s to making mundane urban arterials beautiful!

Conclusions

Is this plan perfect? No. Can we pack up and go home on this issue? No; we need to hold the State to all the good things in this plan and push to get the best details we can. But a few things are certain:

  1. The advocacy of Moving Together PVD & the Fix the 6-10 Coalition absolutely saved us from the as-is rebuild. I’ve heard that repeatedly from multiple sources. Never underestimate the power of bringing together lots of legitimacy-bearing partners around a compelling vision. We should keep this energy going.
  2. The offices of Governor Raimondo, Mayor Elorza, and Providence Planning & Development all did commendable jobs sculpting this huge project into something better than what it started as. See the Fix the 6-10 Coalition’s statement for more detailed acclamations. Even RIDOT came around somewhat to a plan that’s really pretty decent, and its staff & leadership should be proud of the distance they’ve come on this.
  3. If there’s one thing we learned from Trump’s election, it’s that complacency is absolutely never warranted. The same is true here. While yesterday was a big milestone in the development of this project, none of us should drop our guard, none of us should unsubscribe from that Google Alert, until the ribbon-cutting starts to fade into memory. That’s why I told every reporter I talked to after yesterday’s meeting that “the devil is in the details” and “I look forward to seeing these plans implemented”. We have to keep holding RIDOT’s feet to the fire, and I look forward to standing arm in arm with you as we do that!

RI Budget 2017 – bond language comparison

Last night at 1:30am the Rhode Island House of Representatives’ Finance Committee finished voting on their version of the FY2017 state budget. While we saw the Governor’s budget proposal on February 2nd, the House’s version was secret until last night.

I’ve been very active through RIBike working to make sure voters get a chance to vote on the Green Economy Bond in the fall, which has $10 million for bike paths in addition to a bunch of other important investments. So I was really interested in the article of the budget with all the bonds in it. The House made some changes, but mostly the bonds stay intact. See below for a side-by-side comparison:

Governor’s budget House budget
Sections that were the same between versions of the budget are shown here spanning the whole width; sections that differ are shown side-by-side
ARTICLE 5
RELATING TO CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

SECTION 1. Proposition to be submitted to the people. — At the general election to be held on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November 2016, there shall be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection the following proposition:”Shall the action of the general assembly, by an act passed at the January 2016 session, authorizing the issuance of bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes of the state for the capital projects and in the amount with respect to each such project listed below be approved, and the issuance of bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes authorized in accordance with the provisions of said act?”
Project

  1. Veterans Home $27,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue its general obligation bonds, refunding bonds and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) for the construction of a new Veterans Home and renovations of existing facilities.
  2. Leveraging Higher Education to Create 21st Century Jobs $45,500,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed forty-five million five hundred thousand dollars ($45,500,000) to make capital investments in higher education-related projects, to be allocated as follows:

    1. University of Rhode Island College of Engineering $25,500,000
      Provides twenty-five million five hundred thousand dollars ($25,500,000) to renovate and construct an addition on Bliss Hall, one of the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering’s oldest buildings. This project is the second phase of a comprehensive program to replace outdated buildings with a major new building and to renovate and build additions to the existing complex of buildings serving the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering.
  1. Innovation Campus at a Rhode Island-Based University $20,000,000
    Provides twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) to build one or more innovation campuses involving a university/business collaboration where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services and businesses.
  1. University of Rhode Island Affiliated Innovation Campus Program $20,000,000
    Provides twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) to build one or more innovation campuses involving business collaborations with the University of Rhode Island and may include other higher education institutions where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services and businesses.
  1. Port of Davisville Infrastructure at Quonset $70,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed seventy million dollars ($70,000,000) to fund infrastructure modernization and repairs to the Port of Davisville at Quonset, including Pier 2.
  1. Port of Davisville Infrastructure at Quonset $50,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to fund infrastructure modernization and repairs to the Port of Davisville at Quonset, including Pier 2.
  1. Green Economy $35,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) for environmental and recreational purposes, to be allocated as follows:
  1. Historic State Park Development Program $7,000,000
    Provides seven million dollars ($7,000,000) for major capital improvements to State properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.
  1. Historic State Park Development Program $4,000,000
    Provides four million dollars ($4,000,000) for major capital improvements to State properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.

[I understand that this decrease will be canceled out by a commensurate increase elsewhere, so it is not a reason for concern.]

  1. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides four million dollars ($4,000,000) for the State to acquire fee simple interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands with matching funds from federal and private entities. Funds would be leveraged on average 1:3 of state to other dollars.
  1. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides four million dollars ($4,000,000) for the State to acquire fee simple interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands.
  1. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the State to design and construct bikeways, including the completion of the Blackstone River Bikeway and the South County Bikeway.
  1. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the State to design and construct bikeways.
  1. Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfield remediation projects.
  2. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program $3,000,000
    Provides up to seventy-five percent (75%) matching grants for public, private and/or non-profit entities for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  1. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $2,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  1. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  1. Local Land Acquisition Matching Grant Program $4,000,000
    Provides fifty percent (50%) matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements on open space and urban parklands in Rhode Island.
  1. Housing Opportunity $40,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed forty million dollars ($40,000,000) for affordable housing.
  1. Housing Opportunity $50,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) for affordable housing, urban revitalization, and blight remediation, to be allocated as follows:

    1. Affordable Housing Development $40,000,000
      Provides forty million dollars ($40,000,000) for the state to develop affordable housing opportunity programs through the redevelopment of existing structures and/or new construction.
    2. Urban Revitalization and Blight Remediation $10,000,000
      Provides ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the state to provide funding for the improvement of properties that are blighted or in need of revitalization, including residential and commercial properties and public and community spaces.
  1. (5) School Construction $40,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed forty million dollars ($40,000,000) to be placed in the School Building Authority Capital Fund to repair, upgrade, and modernize Rhode Island public schools, with a focus on high priority projects that demonstrate immediate need (urgent health and safety projects) and those that reflect investments in science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and math (STEAM), and career and technical education learning spaces.
Legalese that stayed the same in both budget versions
SECTION 2. Ballot labels and applicability of general election laws. — The secretary of state shall prepare and deliver to the state board of elections ballot labels for each of the projects provided for in section 1 hereof with the designations “approve” or “reject” provided next to the description of each such project to enable voters to approve or reject each such proposition. The general election laws, so far as consistent herewith, shall apply to this proposition. SECTION 3. Approval of projects by people. — If a majority of the people voting on the proposition provided for in section 1 hereof shall vote to approve the proposition as to any project provided for in section 1 hereof, said project shall be deemed to be approved by the people. The authority to issue bonds, refunding bonds and temporary notes of the state shall be limited to the aggregate amount for all such projects as set forth in the proposition provided for in section 1 hereof, which has been approved by the people.
SECTION 4. Bonds for capital development program. — The general treasurer is hereby authorized and empowered with the approval of the governor and in accordance with the provisions of this act to issue from time to time capital development bonds in serial form in the name and on behalf of the state in amounts as may be specified from time to time by the governor in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed the total amount for all projects approved by the people and designated as “capital development loan of 2016 bonds,” provided, however, that the aggregate principal amount of such capital development bonds and of any temporary notes outstanding at any one time issued in anticipation thereof pursuant to section 7 hereof shall not exceed the total amount for all such projects as have been approved by the people. All provisions in this act relating to “bonds” shall also be deemed to apply to “refunding bonds.” Capital development bonds issued under this act shall be in denominations of one thousand dollars ($1,000) each, or multiples thereof, and shall be payable in any coin or currency of the United States which at the time of payment shall be legal tender for public and private debts. These capital development bonds shall bear such date or dates, mature at specified time or times, but not beyond the end of the twentieth state fiscal year following the state fiscal year in which they are issued, bear interest payable semi-annually at a specified rate or different or varying rates, be payable at designated time or times at specified place or places, be subject to expressed terms of redemption or recall, with or without premium, be in a form, with or without interest coupons attached, carry such registration, conversion, reconversion, transfer, debt retirement, acceleration and other provisions as may be fixed by the general treasurer, with the approval of the governor, upon each issue of such capital development bonds at the time of each issue. Whenever the governor shall approve the issuance of such capital development bonds, he or she shall certify approval to the secretary of state; the bonds shall be signed by the general treasurer and countersigned by the manual or facsimile signature of the secretary of state and shall bear the seal of the state or a facsimile thereof. The approval of the governor shall be endorsed on each bond so approved with a facsimile of his or her signature.
SECTION 5. Refunding bonds for 2016 capital development program. — The general treasurer is hereby authorized and empowered, with the approval of the governor and in accordance with the provisions of this act, to issue from time to time bonds to refund the 2016 capital development program bonds in the name and on behalf of the state, in amounts as may be specified from time to time by the governor in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed the total amount approved by the people, to be designated as “capital development program loan of 2016 refunding bonds” (hereinafter “refunding bonds”). The general treasurer with the approval of the governor shall fix the terms and form of any refunding bonds issued under this act in the same manner as the capital development bonds issued under this act, except that the refunding bonds may not mature more than twenty (20) years from the date of original issue of the capital development bonds being refunded. The proceeds of the refunding bonds, exclusive of any premium and accrual interest and net the underwriters’ cost, and cost of bond insurance, shall, upon their receipt, be paid by the general treasurer immediately to the paying agent for the capital development bonds which are to be called and prepaid. The paying agent shall hold the refunding bond proceeds in trust until they are applied to prepay the capital development bonds. While such proceeds are held in trust, they may be invested for the benefit of the state in obligations of the United States of America or the State of Rhode Island. If the general treasurer shall deposit with the paying agent for the capital development bonds the proceeds of the refunding bonds or proceeds from other sources amounts that, when invested in obligations of the United States or the State of Rhode Island, are sufficient to pay all principal, interest, and premium, if any, on the capital development bonds until these bonds are called for prepayment, then such capital development bonds shall not be considered debts of the State of Rhode Island for any purpose from the date of deposit of such moneys with the paying agent. The refunding bonds shall continue to be a debt of the state until paid. The term “bond” shall include “note,” and the term “refunding bonds” shall include “refunding notes” when used in this act.
SECTION 6. Proceeds of capital development program. — The general treasurer is directed to deposit the proceeds from the sale of capital development bonds issued under this act, exclusive of premiums and accrued interest and net the underwriters’ cost, and cost of bond insurance, in one or more of the depositories in which the funds of the state may be lawfully kept in special accounts (hereinafter cumulatively referred to as “such capital development bond fund”) appropriately designated for each of the projects set forth in section 1 hereof which shall have been approved by the people to be used for the purpose of paying the cost of all such projects so approved. All monies in the capital development bond fund shall be expended for the purposes specified in the proposition provided for in section 1 hereof under the direction and supervision of the director of administration (hereinafter referred to as “director”). The director or his or her designee shall be vested with all power and authority necessary or incidental to the purposes of this act, including but not limited to, the following authority: (a) to acquire land or other real property or any interest, estate or right therein as may be necessary or advantageous to accomplish the purposes of this act; (b) to direct payment for the preparation of any reports, plans and specifications, and relocation expenses and other costs such as for furnishings, equipment designing, inspecting and engineering, required in connection with the implementation of any projects set forth in section 1 hereof; (c) to direct payment for the costs of construction, rehabilitation, enlargement, provision of service utilities, and razing of facilities, and other improvements to land in connection with the implementation of any projects set forth in section 1 hereof; and (d) to direct payment for the cost of equipment, supplies, devices, materials and labor for repair, renovation or conversion of systems and structures as necessary for the 2016 capital development program bonds or notes hereunder from the proceeds thereof. No funds shall be expended in excess of the amount of the capital development bond fund designated for each project authorized in section 1 hereof. With respect to the bonds and temporary notes described in section 1, the proceeds shall be used for the following purposes:
Question 1 relating to bonds in the amount of twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) will provide funds to the Office of Veterans’ Affairs for the construction of a new Veterans Home and renovation of existing facilities in Bristol, Rhode Island. Question 4 of the November 2012 Ballot authorized the issuance of general obligation bonds of up to ninety-four million dollars ($94,000,000) for the construction of a new Veterans Home, but the authorizing language limited the amount of bonds that could be issued by the amount of any federal funding received for this project. The federal government is expected to contribute up to sixty million, five hundred thousand dollars ($60,500,000) for this project, which would authorize the state to issue only thirty-three million, five hundred thousand dollars ($33,500,000) in general obligation bonds under the 2012 ballot authorization. The overall project cost is estimated to be one hundred twenty million, five hundred thousand dollars ($120,500,000). This new bond authorization would allow the state to issue an additional twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) in general obligation bonds, which when combined with the thirty-three million, five hundred thousand dollars ($33,500,000) from the 2012 ballot authorization will provide a total of sixty-one million dollars ($61,000,000) for the completion of this project. The total borrowing for the project from this proposal plus the maximum amount allowed to be borrowed under the 2012 ballot authorization will be thirty-three million five hundred thousand dollars ($33,500,000) less than the ninety-four million dollars ($94,000,000) authorized on the 2012 Ballot.

Question 2 relating to bonds in the amount of forty-five million five hundred thousand dollars ($45,500,000) to be allocated as follows:

(a) University of Rhode Island – College of Engineering $25,500,000 Provides funds to renovate and construct an addition on Bliss Hall, which is one of the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering’s oldest buildings. This project is the second phase of a comprehensive program to replace outdated buildings with a major new building and to renovate and build additions to the existing complex of buildings serving the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering. In addition to constructing an addition to historic Bliss Hall, the project will restore the building and upgrade building systems, improve classrooms, modernize teaching laboratories, and provide advanced research facilities for the next generation of Engineering students and faculty.

  1. University-Backed Innovation Campus Program $20,000,000
    Provides funds to build one or more innovation campuses involving a university/business collaboration where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services, and businesses. The State will run a competitive selection process to determine the location and type of campus or campuses to build. A winning proposal must involve a Rhode Island-based university, more than match the state’s investment with private or federal funds, include at least one business partner, and spur a substantial number of new jobs at a variety of skill levels. Preference will be given to proposals that include a state university as a sponsor.
  1. University of Rhode Island Affiliated Innovation Campus Program $20,000,000
    Provides funds to build one or more innovation campuses involving business collaborations with the University of Rhode Island and may include other higher education institutions where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services, and businesses. The state will run a competitive selection process to determine the location and type of campus or campuses to build. A winning proposal must involve the University of Rhode Island, more than match the state’s investment with private or federal funds, include at least one business partner, and spur a substantial number of new jobs at a variety of skill levels. Preference may be given to proposals that include multiple higher education institutions.
Question 2 relating to bonds in the amount of seventy million dollars ($70,000,000) to modernize the port infrastructure at the Port of Davisville in the Quonset Business Park, including Pier 2. The Port handles a majority of shipping imports into Narragansett Bay and supports one of the largest auto importers in North America. A primary goal of this program will be modernizing of Pier 2, which has exceeded the 50-year lifespan for which it was originally designed. Question 3 relating to bonds in the amount of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to modernize the port infrastructure at the Port of Davisville in the Quonset Business Park, including Pier 2. The Port handles a majority of shipping imports into Narragansett Bay and supports one of the largest auto importers in North America. A primary goal of this program will be modernizing of Pier 2, which has exceeded the 50-year lifespan for which it was originally designed.
Question 3 relating to bonds in the amount of thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) for environmental and recreational purposes to be allocated as follows:

  1. Historical State Park Development Program $7,000,000
    Provides funds for major capital improvements to state properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.
  2. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides funds to acquire fee interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands with matching funds from federal and private entities.
  3. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides funds for the State to design and construct bikeways, including the completion of the Blackstone River Bikeway and the South County Bikeway.
  4. Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfields remediation projects.
  5. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program $3,000,000
    Provides up to seventy-five percent (75%) matching grants for public, private and/or non-profit entities for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  6. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $2,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  7. Local Land Acquisition Matching Grant Program $4,000,000
    Provides fifty percent (50%) matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements on open space and urban parklands in Rhode Island.
Question 4 relating to bonds in the amount of thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) for environmental and recreational purposes to be allocated as follows:

  1. Historical State Park Development Program $4,000,000
    Provides funds for major capital improvements to state properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.
  2. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides funds to acquire fee interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands.
  3. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides funds for the State to design and construct bikeways.
  4. Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfields remediation projects.
  5. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program $3,000,000
    Provides up to seventy-five percent (75%) matching grants for public, private and/or non-profit entities for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  6. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  7. Local Land Acquisition Matching Grant Program $4,000,000
    Provides fifty percent (50%) matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements on open space and urban parklands in Rhode Island.
Question 4 relating to bonds in the amount of forty million dollars ($40,000,000) to promote housing opportunity programs through redevelopment of existing structures, new construction and/or foreclosure assistance. Question 5 relating to bonds in the amount of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to promote affordable housing opportunity programs, urban revitalization, and blight remediation, to be allocated as follows:

  1. Affordable Housing Development $40,000,000
    Provides funds for the state to develop affordable housing opportunity programs through the redevelopment of existing structures and/or new construction
  2. Urban Revitalization and Blight Remediation $10,000,000
    Provides funds for the state to provide funding for the improvement of properties that are blighted or in need of revitalization, including residential and commercial properties and public and community spaces.
Question 5 relating to bonds in the amount of forty million dollars ($40,000,000) will be used to repair, upgrade, and modernize Rhode Island public schools, with a focus on high priority projects that demonstrate immediate need (urgent health and safety projects) and those that reflect investments in science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and math (STEAM), and career and technical education learning spaces.

Mapping the Midwest

How we define regions is fascinating. There are all sorts of cultural gradations that make one place more or less like another, and yet we articulate those difference with names that frame the differences as black and white.

In the past two years, I have enjoyed two blog posts looking at how different people define the American Midwest. The first, by Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight, surveyed 1,357 people on SurveyMonkey about which states count as “The Midwest”.
hickey-map-midwest2

Indiana, Iowa and Illinois appear to be the core of the Midwest, each pulling more than 70 percent of the vote (that may partly be because of their substantial populations). Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota each pulled at least 60 percent of the vote, so we can probably put them in the Midwest without too much fuss. Ohio, Missouri and Kansas each got more than half.

The second article, by Aaron Renn of Urbanophile, gives a sampling of different attempts to map the Midwest, including Hickey’s.

What is the Midwest? There’s been a lot of debate about this question among folks passionate about such thing. But it defies easy definition. Here are eleven ways various people have taken a crack at drawing the map.

So here’s what I did

Following FiveThirtyEight’s suggestion that averaging different data points tends to get you a more accurate guess than looking at individual data points, I plunged into ArcGIS to combine all the maps cited by Renn into one map. I coded the different regions 1 or 0 if it was a clear “Midwest/Not Midwest” map, or intermediary values like 0.5 0.33, or 0.66 if it was a little fuzzy (e.g. it’s silly to say that the Great Lakes states aren’t part of the Midwest). I averaged all those together (let’s call this “AVERAGE 1”), and then I added some more!

  • A map of dollar bill circulation boundaries, suggesting natural social cohorts
  • A map of football fandoms based on which has the most Facebook likes per county.
  • A map of where people call, similar implications to the dollar bill circulation
  • A map of American dialects (apologies for the harm to your eyes that map may do; surprisingly it’s not the worst map of its kind). When a lot of people think of the Midwest, they think of the accent (a la Fargo). However, I anecdotily noticed that these dialect categorizations didn’t map well onto other delineations of region.

For these four maps, I didn’t code them manually as before, but took the average “AVERAGE 1” value for each region. In essence, this reverted the counties’ values to a mean based on their regions from these last four maps, weighting those delineations but not judging how Midwest-y they are.

Then I took “AVERAGE 1” and averaged it together with these four new values, producing “AVERAGE 2”, which is here mapped:
midwest_combined
Some observations:

  • Yes I like averages.
  • Of course this process was not as statistically sound as it could’ve been, but this was just about getting a sense of social understanding, not seeking hard fact.
  • There’s no way that Western New York is more Midwest-y than northwestern Pennsylvania, is there?
  • While there’s less agreement on the southern counties of Indiana & Ohio, there’s a lot of agreement that Kentucky is not part of the Midwest. See how short the distance is between the 50% area to the <33% area there.
  • Are there gradations of Midwestern-ness in Central Kansas? Am I just an ignorant New Englander to not have any sense of that variation?

So yeah! Hope you like it!

The Givin’ War

At Swing into Summer the past two years, Arthur Davis has recited this amazing poem written by Mac Parker in 1986. It’s a little hard to find the text (Arthur found it from scanned photocopies of typewriter-written pages) so I transcribed it from said scanned PDFs. This piece is amazing, though apparently Parker himself was recently involved in a Ponzi scheme in Vermont that was pretty wacky. It’s so fascinating how art can be amazing even when created by people who have done problematic things (see H.P. Lovecraft).

The Givin’ War
By Mac Parker – January, 1986

People think about farmin’ ‘n they think about neighbors,
Fine, friendly people
Sharin’ life’s labors.

They think of kind people, who forsake sleepin’ at night,
To rescue dear neighbors
From some terrible plight.

They think of getting’ the hay in, or helpin’ with chores,
They think of old-fashioned barn raisin’s
With friends by the score.

Well, it’s true that us farm folks will give ‘til it hurts,
But when it comes to receivin’
Ain’t nothin’ we hate any worse.

The Judsons and the Larocques were neighbors, that’s true,
They lived ‘bout as close
As I am to you.

They could look out the window ‘n see each other’s hay growin’,
They knew when they was bailin’
They knew when they was mowin’.

And while it might be a bit harsh to use the word “spy,”
Let’s jest say that on each other
They kept a pretty close eye.

Oh, they always acted real friendly, they’d wave on the road,
But there was a tension beneath it
You could see it, it showed.

I dunno how it started, this two-family grudge,
But I do know for years now
Neither fam’ly would budge.

So, when Bess Larocque left a loaf of fresh bread,
On the Judson’s front porch
By the door, near the shed,

It caused quite a stir, it made the Judsons suspicious,
They scowled as they ate it
It was warm and delicious.

That was a damn nasty thing to do for no reason,
It weren’t no one’s birthday
Not even the holiday season.

It broke all the rules ‘n it made a real bad impression,
To do somethin’ so nice
Was a clear act of aggression.

Well, we won’t let ‘em get away with it, we’ll counter-attack,
We’ll go right on up there
‘N we’ll give ‘em something’ right back!

But there’ a problem, you see, in a real givin’ war,
You cain’t jest return what they gave you
You have to give more.

So, the Judsons all thought, ‘n the Judsons all schemed
They thought up more presents
Than you’ve ever dreamed.

What they decided was modest – nine fresh coffee cakes,
They’d show Bess Larocque
She weren’t the only one who could bake.

They left a nice note, “To our friends, with best wishes,”
Then they went home to do chores
‘N wash up the dishes.

They was feelin’ quite good, like a wrong had been righted,
But oh, they shoulda known
‘Twas too soon to get excited.

‘Cause that night it snowed, ‘n the wind it was loud,
But when the Judsons woke up
Damned if their driveway weren’t plowed.

See, the Larocques had a snowplow, ‘n as Pete stepped on the gas,
While plowin’ that driveway
He says, “Best wishes, my ass!”

This time the Judsons struck back jest as fast as they could,
They took that whole day
To cut ‘n split firewood.

Then they loaded the dump truck, ‘n that truck they did park,
Then they sat ‘round the kitchen
Drinkin’ coffee ‘til dark.
Then they drove to Larocques’ house, ‘n the roads was real slick,
To unload firewood real quiet
In the dark, was a trick.

But they left two whole cords there, all stacked in the snow,
With a nice hand-written note
Said, “Jest in case you run low.”

Well, good deeds was one thing, but these damn friendly notes,
Really steamed the Larocques
Sure did get their goats.

So, Pete knew what was next, ‘cause he’d seen broken glass,
In the Judsons’ barn windows
The other day, drivin’ past.

So, one day when the Judsons were with fam’ly in Maine,
Pete replaced all that glass
He fixed ev’ry last pane.

‘N though Pete in his life had never written one poem,
He now invented a short one
‘N said, “There, that’ll show ‘em.”

“I know you cain’t do ever’thin’, there’s jest too many chores,
So we have helped in one small way
I mean, what are neighbors for?”

Oh, that was really a good ‘un, Pete knew they had the upper hand,
The Judsons had a hard few months
It was almost more than they could stand.

They thought for hours, searchin’ for the perfect thing,
But they couldn’t find one friendly gesture
To really make their neighbors sting.

‘Til one sunny day in early May, John Judson had a stroke a luck,
He found Pete Larocque on his tractor
Buried axle-deep in muck.

Well, John, he stopped b’side the road, ‘n he got out very slow,
Then he called out acrost the field
“What’s the matter, Pete, won’t she go?”

Oh, Pete, he weren’t at all amused, ‘n he jest mumbled somethin’ about,
How he was gonna git his other tractor
‘N pull himself right out.
But John, he wouldn’t hear a that, ‘n his eyes they had a shine,
He says, “Ain’t no need for that, my friend
I’ll go up ‘n bring down mine.

“I mean, it ain’t no trouble, none at all, to pull you outta that goo,
‘N after all you done for us
It’s the least a neighbor can do.”

Like any war, it took its toll, you could feel the increased tension,
The signs of this were numerous
Too numerous to mention.

Peter Larocque, he couldn’t sleep, ‘n Bess had put on weight,
‘N Johnny Judson said his ulcers
Were actin’ up of late.

‘N all the kids on the bus were givin’ away their lunches,
Chicken, apples, potato chips
‘N cookies by the bunches.

Who knows what mighta happened, if not for a stroke a fate,
It’s lucky it happened when it did
It almost came too late.

Old Ed Foster, another neighbor, while cuttin’ his second crop,
He hurt his back so goddam bad
Even old Ed, he had to stop.

So all the neighbors gathered ‘round, as farmers always will,
When there’s somethin’ to be done
When there’s a need that they can fill.

So, the enemies, jest like that, were turned into allies,
They got the hay in, they did the chores
They baked Ed raspberry pies.

And animosity seems to fade, ‘n tension mostly melts,
When both sides in a givin’ war
Can give to someone else.

But now Ed is gettin’ better, least this is what I’m told,
So now your guess is as good as mine
Whether this shaky truce will hold.

Best keep an eye on this situation, I really think we need to,
‘Cause with world affairs bein’ what they are
Who knows what a givin’ war might lead to.

Pronunciation of PechaKucha

CLIH2qRWwAA5_5u

PechaKucha is an international event series, organized locally, where presenters provide twenty slides that are automatically cycled through, twenty seconds each. It is a short, fun, casual environment, with a “contractually obligated Beer Break”. I have presented three times at the Providence chapter (which, according to local organizers, may be the only chapter to hold an event every month.)

The Providence organizers always pronounce the name of the series (which is Japanese for “chit chat”) by stressing the second syllable, the “cha”. However, Rhode Islanders do pronounce things in strange ways sometimes, and it is unsurprising that Americans also often pronounce the word by stressing the third syllable, “ku”.

I did some internet sleuthing, and quite quickly found this page, which has audio of a number of native Japanese speakers pronouncing the word. Of the seven samples that were posted at the time of writing, one could plausibly be interpreted as stressing “ku” while the other six all stressed “cha”. Another distinction from default American pronunciation of the word, though, is that the clips mostly de-stress the third syllable, essentially pronouncing it as three syllables: “PechaK’cha”.

Q&A on the 6/10 Connector

6-10 Connector

First published on Rhode Island Future 6/4/15

With Governor Raimondo’s recent push for transportation funding, people are talking about patching up the 6/10 Connector vs. replacing it with a boulevard. Best practice in urban design recommends replacing urban highways with boulevards. But that would be something we haven’t done before in Rhode Island, so it’s understandable that some people have concerns. Here are a few questions I thought you might have about updating the 6/10 Connector for the 21st century.

  1. That’s a big change. Wouldn’t it be expensive to remove the highway?

    Governor Raimondo is proposing a tractor-trailer toll that would allow the State to bond for $700 million. $400 million of that (plus another $400 million RIDOT wants to get from the Feds) is earmarked for the 6/10 Connector repairs. That is expensive.

    Prices vary a lot for building highways, but urban highways with as many overpasses as the 6/10 Connector tend to be on the high end of the scale (and $800 million is quite high). Boulevards (think Memorial Boulevard in Providence, but more multimodal) tend to have a cost roughly ten times lower than an urban highway. Imagine how many structurally-deficient bridges we could make safe with an extra $360-720 million? That’s a very rough cost comparison, but what we can be sure of is that replacing the 6/10 Connector with a boulevard (even tripped out with the best complete streets features you can think of) would cost dramatically less than rebuilding it as a highway.

  2. So many cars use the connector! Wouldn’t removing it create massive traffic jams?

    Actually many cities have removed excessive urban highways and seen no marked increase in traffic. There are a couple reasons for this. Traffic is created through a process called “induced demand” where if you build more highways, drivers will use them. Conversely, if you eliminate an urban highway, fewer people will use it as a short-cut.

    “But wait!” you say. “I use 6/10 as a shortcut! You want to reduce my transportation options!” Actually, in other cities that remove urban highways, they see the traffic that previously used the highway spread out over the city’s other streets. And there’s less potential for traffic jams when drivers have lots of options. It’s like how bugs congregate around lights on hot summer nights, but out in the dark it’s less buggy. 6/10 is the bug-clogged light, city streets are the cool night air.

    And one more thing: our current transportation network overwhelmingly favors driving; it has big highways that cut swaths through neighborhoods that are uninviting to other ways of getting around. Leveling the playing field by making our street system more comfortable for more ways of getting around (RIPTA, walking, and biking as well as driving) gives you more choices and more freedom. Plus, it means more other people are choosing to walk or bike and they’re not clogging up the road in front of you.

  3. It’ll never happen. We can’t do innovative things in Rhode Island.

    I mean, this isn’t that innovative. And hey, we started the Industrial Revolution and moved rivers to revitalize downtown Providence. I think we have it in us to make a prudent economic decision to give Rhode Islanders more transportation options and safer bridges.

    Plus, you cynics, politicians like ribbon-cuttings and ground-breakings. It’s not as sexy to photo-shoot the replacement of an archaic 1950s-era project as it is to pose for the first complete multi-modal corridor in the State.

We can assume that because the 6/10 Connector is in Raimondo’s investment plan, now is the time that something will happen with it. The State should choose the approach that is best for the neighborhoods adjacent to the corridor, which coincidentally is the option with the best return on investment. Replace the 6/10 Connector with an urban boulevard.

Want to help make this happen? Transport Providence is organizing a walk around the area in question today at 5:15 with Providence City Councilman Bryan Principe. The best thing you can do is to talk to people about this. Which people? Especially your representatives (State, Federal, and City if you live in Providence), the Governor’s office, and RIDOT.

Minor League Baseball Attendance

Ted Nesi of WPRI 12 today had a good piece about the attendance numbers for the Pawtucket Red Sox (who are interested in building a new stadium in Providence). Ted’s great chart made me interested in digging deeper, so I looked at the attendance over the past ten years for all 14 teams in the International League.

  • Correlation between capacity & attendance? Nope.

    Minor League attendance 1There is 0.22 correlation between the capacity of a stadium in the league and the annual average attendance numbers for that stadium. That’s not much correlation. Basically, people don’t choose whether or not to go to minor league baseball games based on how big the stadium is.

  • A new park can be great for attendance! Or very, very bad.

    Minor League attendance 2Four of the fourteen teams in the league built new stadiums in the past ten years: the Charlotte Knights, the Columbus Clippers, the Gwinnett Braves, and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Three of those saw attendance numbers go up (all three significantly, 5000, 2000, and 2000 per year) but the Gwinnett Braves’ attendance fell significantly after moving to their new stadium, by about 2500 per year.

    Also, the 2015 numbers are not for a very large quantity of games yet. It’s interesting to see that all the teams are down for 2015 in this chart. I take that to mean that the games later in the season are pretty universally more well-attended than games earlier in the season. That makes sense.

  • But what about the popularity of MiLB overall?

    Minor League attendance 3But what about the popularity of minor league baseball in general? How do we account for that when looking at an individual team’s attendance numbers? Here’s how: control for the total league attendance. This third chart, instead of looking at the number of people who came to each team’s games on average, looks at what percentage of the league’s total attendance was contributed by each stadium.

    If every team’s home games contributed equally to the league total, each team would contribute 7.1% of the total. Therefore, we can see which teams are over- or under-performing against the league as a whole by seeing whether their contribution to the league total is above or below that line. In this chart, you can see that the PawSox have been having good seasons for attendance relative to the league average ever since 2008. Their share of the total league attendance has been declining, but it is only in 2015 that the share has dropped below 7.1%. Keep in mind the note from before, though, that this year’s numbers are based on a smaller sample size and have a lot of opportunity to change before the end of the season.

the season.

Westminster Street facade inventory

I live in the Armory neighborhood of Providence, and mostly use the Westminster Street corridor to get from my house to downtown. It’s an up-and-coming commercial district, with the “hottest new bar” in Providence and many new businesses interested in opening on it.

But, as with even the best, most vibrant commercial strips in any city, there are some lulls in Westminster’s streetscape. Long, blank walls abut the sidewalk on buildings clearly not interested in people walking. Fences impart a “keep out” message. And the most street-deadening feature of all, parking lots either between a building and the sidewalk or worse, taking up a whole lot. When these subconscious barriers are present in a streetscape, they make the neighborhood less walkable, both by making it feel less safe and like it’s a longer walk than it is.

What features would be more welcoming; what could property owners do to encourage potential customers to stop by and spend money? Commercial buildings can have large unobstructed windows to encourage window-shopping (it works for services as well as products). Parking lots can be tucked behind buildings so they don’t create a vacant feeling on the street. And if a property must have a fence for security reasons, they can steer clear of chain link fences and fences that obstruct pedestrians’ view, instead preferring shorter, black ornamental iron fences. And the best thing of all for the streetscape is the presence of lively businesses that have a lot of people coming and going.

Westminster facade legend

I made a map of the bright spots and dull spots on Westminster Street on the West Side, from highway to highway. These assessments are subjective and perhaps incomplete, but are based on the principles above.

Westminster facade

A few zones of note along the street:

  1. On the east end of the street is Canonicus Square, at the Dean/Cahir crossing. This is the most vibrant part of the streetscape, despite the south side of the street being not especially welcoming to walk on due to the blank facade of the housing tower and the street-adjacent parking lots by the high schools. Why? Because it has a vibrant commercial strip along the north side. Many of these businesses have big windows that invite passers-by to peek and see what’s going on.
  2. The first zone in the middle of the corridor that makes walking less desirable are the one-two punch of the Citizen’s Bank and John Hope House parking lots. These two massive asphalt canyons on the south side of the street make the walk from Winter Street to Bridgham Street seem extremely long. There’s not much across the street from them to invite pedestrians, and John Hope even has an opaque hedge blocking your view. This section of the street sends the message that is for cars to get through as fast as possible and not for people to spend any time.
  3. The second zone in the middle of corridor that could use improvement is the north-side block between Courtland Street and Bridgham Street. There’s one massive vacant parking lot for sale with a big chain link fence around it, Paper & Provision Warehouse that is an active business but features a street-adjacent parking lot and a blank brick facade with no windows, and then another brick building whose facade is essentially blank. The primary two things I can conceive of making this better would be the sale of that vacant parking lot and its development as something people want to walk by, or the renovation of one or both brick building to add bigger windows.
  4. There is a welcoming zone on the western half of the street as well. Between Dexter Street and Parade Street, there are a number of welcoming facades, including the West Side Diner, Community MusicWorks, Loie Fuller’s, and Healing Paws. These good street frontages combined with other facades I classified as neutral (Mi Ranchito with tinted windows, La Perla Fruit Market with covered windows, WBNA set back from the street with hedges obstructing view) make the walk from Parade Street to Fertile Underground seem not very far at all.

Other factors that would make Westminster a more lively commercial corridor would be the addition of bike lanes and sidewalk bump-outs at crosswalks (especially at the wide cross streets Parade & Dexter). Also, it doesn’t take much to fill a dead space on a streetscape. If a really awesome business moved in to either of these dead zones, even across the street from the biggest problem area (e.g. Julian’s Pizza) it would do a lot to enliven the streetscape for the benefit of all businesses and residents of the neighborhood.