As you can see, it isn’t easy. They are so far just token bike lanes and paths, rather than a real effort to make a city where everyone feels safe getting around by bike. I am hopeful that that will change and the City and State will undertake many new projects for dedicated and protected bike infrastructure in the next year or two. The Mayor bikes to work most days, which is excellent. The City’s planning department leadership is also excited about bikes. Let’s get Public Works and RIDOT on board too, and get some paint on the streets!
On Thursday morning, March 26, a nine-year-old girl was hit by a bus and killed on Smith Street in Providence, walking with her father. The tragedy of such a loss cannot be overstated. My heart goes out to her family.
Yet how many people overlooked the tragedy as merely the sort of thing that happens occasionally? Even those who did pay attention would only have seen accusations about whether the victim was to blame (“why were they not in the crosswalk?”) or the bus driver.
It is time to stop accepting these horrific traffic collisions. It is time to stop blaming the individuals involved and take responsibility as a city for solving the underlying problem. Providence streets are designed to prioritize quick movement of motor vehicles before the safety of people using those streets. It is time for us to flip that prioritization.
We would not be the first city to make this change. New York and San Francisco are the two most notable American cities to have recently adopted what is called a “Vision Zero” plan. Based on a successful program in Sweden, such plans seek to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries for all road users in the city by a certain date. It requires leadership, collaboration, rigorous measurement, and above all, an adjustment of priorities.
I call for Mayor Elorza and his department heads to release a plan for implementing Vision Zero in Providence before another person is killed in traffic in this city. Enough is enough.
FiveThirtyEight, so often an inspiration for data journalism, recently published a piece looking at weather data to show when the last snowfall might be in the 50 largest cities in the United States. Unfortunately, Providence doesn’t make that cut. So I took the liberty of replicating their method to figure out when we can expect to see our last snowfall here:
Half of all winters since 1964 have had their last snow sometime between March 1st and March 29th. The average date for a last snow in Providence was March 17, which happens to be tomorrow. Here’s hoping.
In a recent post, I analyzed parking options near the proposed site on the 195 land for a new minor league baseball stadium. I concluded that there are about 7500 parking spaces within a short walk of the location, compared to fewer than 5000 near McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. Many of those spaces are in private surface lots, and following on the work of Greater City Providence, here are other surface lots deadening downtown:
Good news for downtown
There is some positive movement in replacing desolate surface lots with more productive land use. These locations are colored green above:
- Recent news indicates that Buff Chace of Cornish Associates is planning to buy the old Providence Journal building on Fountain Street, as well as its two associated lots across Fountain Street. He plans to develop these two surface lots into multi-story mixed-use buildings.
- As soon as three purchase-and-sale agreements are complete on the 195 land, development of a parking garage next to Garrahy Courthouse can commence. The emphasis on ground level retail in this plan makes it good news, as structured parking can strengthen the argument for replacing surface lots. Without ground level retail, a garage would be nearly as bad for downtown’s street life as a surface lot.
More work to be done
There is a long way yet to go, however. Real estate development is not easy, and it is based on hard financial numbers. But based on their size and location, here is my ranked list of important surface lots to develop into buildings:
- Westminster & Snow: The two lots on either side of Westminster at Snow Street suck the life out of an otherwise vibrant corridor between Empire Street and Dorrance Street.
- Orange & Friendship: This intersection is in the middle of a bleak parking crater. The prime location near the river and Johnson & Wales ought to make this the perfect location for some street-activating land use.
- Weybosset & Union: The lot directly behind Grants Block receives a lot of exposure due to that parcel’s revitalized use as public space. It is also in one of the most active parts of downtown. A perfect location with many potential customers walking by.
- Washington & Snow: Washington Street is planned as a vibrant cultural corridor, and already has many excellent locations making it active. Despite its relatively small size, this surface lot next to the AS220 building sticks out because the remainder of the streetscape is so continuous.
- Clemence & Washington: Located behind the svelte, 13-foot-deep Arnold Building currently under renovation by the Providence Revolving fund, this lot is back from the main street (a quality that makes it less bad than lots that do front main streets) but its size and contribution to the sketch-factor of Clemence Street drive it up on my list. Besides, alleys like Clemence are sexy places to activate these days, and a structure connecting to the back of the Arnold Building and with attractive entrances on Clemence would be spectacular.
- Broadway, Atwells, and Greene: This intersection feels super dangerous when you’re walking. Part of that is because of the wide roads with a confusing traffic pattern, but it’s also partly because of the two massive lots serving the Providence Public Library and the Hilton Providence. There’s already a pedestrian barrier of the highway right next to these, and they contribute to an unattractive walk between the dense downtown and two of the West Side’s trendiest commercial corridors.
That’s my list for now. There are a number of other surface lots that could also do with redevelopment, especially in the Jewelry District and abutting the 195 land and the highway, but the above parcels are the most ripe for redevelopment.
Any mention of parking in downtown Providence would be incomplete without mention of better management of on-street parking. We have outdated meter technology that does not allow for payment by credit card. We have a flat hourly rate for parking, and free parking in the evening, which lead to the most desirable locations being inaccessible during the times when they are most useful. To fix this, we need new meters that allow for easy payment and easily adjusted pricing, and we need City Council to allow parking rates to change based on demand. There is no reason we should have to drive around for 15-30 minutes looking for on-street parking. The City should optimize parking rates for 85% occupancy of each block at all times of day.
Last night, Providence’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) held a public forum to establish priorities for the city’s vision for alternative transportation in 2015. More than forty members of the public were present, and about half of those offered recommendations. First, though, the forum was graced by the presence of Mayor Jorge Elorza, who delivered some introductory remarks and then remained present for a whole hour to hear the recommendations of the Providence residents who spoke. Below are my notes on what the Mayor and others said during the meeting.
Mayor Elorza’s remarks
- It was an inauguration pledge of his to make Providence the most active city in New England. That means being bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
- The Mayor referred to Bike to Work Week in May, and proclaimed that henceforth in Providence bike commuting would not be relegated to one week of the year, but instead every Friday will be a Bike to Work Day, and he will join residents in commuting by bike.
- Providence is the perfect city for biking and walking.
- He has been talking with department heads, and is charging them with integrating a complete streets design approach into their work.
- He closed with two opportunities that the city will have in the next few months to take steps forward on bicycling and walking:
- As soon as the snow allows, Mayor Elorza will sign on to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx’s Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets. This challenge calls for mayors to:
- Issue a public statement about the importance of bicycle and pedestrian safety
- Form a local action team to advance safety and accessibility goals
- Take a Complete Streets approach
- Identify and address barriers to make streets safe and convenient for all road users, including people of all ages and abilities and those using assistive mobility devices
- Gather and track biking and walking data
- Use designs that are appropriate to the context of the street and its uses
- Take advantage of opportunities to create and complete ped-bike networks through maintenance
- Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations
- Educate and enforce proper road use behavior by all
- The League of American Bicyclists will have representatives in Providence on April 16th. They will conduct a survey to assess where Providence stands in relation to their Bicycle-Friendly Community standards, and make updated recommendations for how we can attain the next level of bicycle-friendliness. Here are the recommendations they made upon visiting in Fall 2013.
- As soon as the snow allows, Mayor Elorza will sign on to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx’s Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets. This challenge calls for mayors to:
I wrote up a detailed report for BPAC based on those League recommendations, my own assessment of where we stand relative to the Bicycle-Friendly Community standards, new GIS spatial analysis, research on best practices around the country, and talking with members of the bicycle advocacy community in Providence. Below are those recommendations:
- In the Executive Order creating BPAC, section 3f states that BPAC will “perform special studies and projects as requested by the City on bicycle and pedestrian questions, including reviewing development plans and site plans which may have significant impact on bicycle and pedestrian transportation.” The street design process should be altered so that BPAC (or the planning department) must review all plans for bicycle & pedestrian impact before they are implemented.
- Update the Bike Providence plan with new priorities for improving bicycle infrastructure. See proposed prioritization below.
- Adopt the recommendations from the League of American Bicyclists as a work plan for BPAC and pursue a Bronze rating as a Bicycle-Friendly Community.
- Encourage the designation of existing staff member as Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator or the creation of a new position.
- Commend the Mayor for his visibility commuting by bike.
- Facilitate the creation of regular training sessions for
- The public, regarding safe cycling
- Planning & Public Works staff, on engineering bicycle infrastructure
- Police Officers, on a “Share the Road” message and traffic law as it applies to bicyclists and motorists.
- Encourage the endorsement of NACTO guidelines by the City and the State.
- Invite RIDOT and Providence Public Works to be more involved in the Commission.
- Encourage Public Works and RIDOT to keep BPAC informed of street redesign project status to ensure Complete Streets features are integrated in a timely & cost effective way.
Generally, buffered two-way bike lanes on one side of the street are the best balance between safety, cost, and street width. When street width allows, vertical features should be added in the buffers to further protect the safety of people cycling.
Conventional striped bike lanes should be reserved for locations in which extremely low street width does not provide space for parked cars on both sides of the street, let alone a buffered bike lane. Neither sharrows nor wayfinding signage should be considered bike facilities by themselves; they serve merely to provide additional driver awareness on streets featuring dedicated space for people biking.
Some corridors are more in need of dedicated bicycle facilities than others. See this map for a visual of levels of cycling traffic shown by Strava and VHB apps. These recommendations are based on that data:
- Elmwood Ave and Smith Street are suggested in Bike Providence to receive striped bike lanes. These are both corridors that see high use, and the City should use protected bike lanes instead of conventional striping.
- Especially Charles Street due to its level of use, but also Douglas Ave, are also recommended for bike lanes in Bike Providence. That recommendation should be implemented, using buffered bike lanes or, if space demands, conventional striped lanes.
- North Main Street and Broad Street already see a lot of bicycle traffic. Due to high auto speeds and wide width, protected bike lanes should be created on these corridors.
- Downtown has a high level of bicycle use, but no striped bike lanes. Streets downtown seeing the most existing bicycle traffic are Weybosset Street, Washington Street, Dorrance Street, Sabin Street, Fountain Street, Exchange Street, and Exchange Terrace. These streets should be painted with buffered bike lanes.
- Cranston Street sees a high level of use for cycling despite its sometimes narrow width. For portions of the corridor where width allows, a protected of buffered bike lane should be created. In the narrowest portions south of the Armory, conventional striped lanes may be necessary.
- Olney Street is a primary east-west bicycle route across the East Side, due to its relatively shallow incline. A protected bike lane would be appropriate for this wide street.
- Allens Ave has a striped lane, but it is in poor condition. It should be replaced by a protected bike lane because width allows and driving speeds are high.
- Olneyville Square and Plainfield Ave toward Neutaconkanut Park are dangerous places for cyclists and yet have a high level of bicycle traffic. A striped bike lane or protected bike lane should be built to improve the safety of these users.
- Hope Street, Waterman Street, and Angell Street are important corridors through the East Side, and already see a high level of use for cycling. Buffered or protected bike lanes would be appropriate for street widths on all three streets.
- Westminster Street west of 95 sees a high level of bicycle traffic, and is an excellent candidate for a buffered bike lane.
- Point Street and Wickenden Street are used a lot by cyclists as paths between the East Side and West Side due to the gentle slope of Wickenden compared to the steep College Hill. Both streets would be strong candidates for a buffered bike lane.
- Manton Avenue runs through one of the poorest parts of the city, has high levels of bicycle traffic on it, and connects to the Woonasquatucket River off-road trail. It should be a priority for a buffered lane.
Recommendations from other Members of the Public
- The Dean Street bridge over the highway is a particularly bad chokepoint for sidewalk snow removal and is particularly dangerous.
- Prioritize pedestrians where they are.
- There should be more bike parking in commercial districts.
- There should be more bike racks at the Amtrak station [BPAC chair Eric Weis commented that in the forthcoming renovation of the train station, there will be more racks].
- Especially the busiest streets should be ensured of sidewalk snow removal. Especially unsafe for people to walk in the street there.
- There should be quarterly BPAC forums like this, timed to coincide with the Public Works design cycle.
- Bill DeSantis, author of the Bike Providence plan for consultant VHB, agreed that the plan is due for updating.
- National engineering standards such as AASHTO and MUTCD are rapidly changing, with updates dramatically improving design standards for bike and walking safety coming soon.
- Frank LaTorre of the Downtown Improvement District asserted his organization’s desires to be part of making Providence more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. BPAC chair Eric Weis commended the DID’s “yellow jacket” workers for an excellent job keeping downtown sidewalks clear of snow.
- Joelle Kanter of the Providence Foundation drew attention to
- the CityWalk proposal for connecting India Point Park and Roger Williams Park,
- another forum hosted by the Providence Foundation on Monday, March 23rd at 5:30pm on Exchange Terrace, and
- a need for cohesive pedestrian wayfinding signage throughout the city to replace and enhance current disjointed signage.
- Another call for cleared sidewalks, with mention of having RIDOT clear sidewalks on bridges.
- It is hard for residents to clear the hard-packed snow drifts created by plows which block sidewalks at intersections; perhaps it would be more reasonable to have a systematic approach to these locations.
- While there is a maintenance contract recently established for the 25 busiest RIPTA stops, perhaps a plan could be created for maintenance of the 1000 busiest RIPTA stops.
- There needs to be muscle behind walkability & snow removal.
[The mayor left at this point]
- Reiteration of the especially bad Dean/Atwells intersection area.
- Crossing the highways is especially tough.
- Signals downtown are not very functional for people walking, also on the West Side. The city should create a plan to deal with obstacles such as these.
- Bicycling and walking are part of the city’s sustainability, and should be included in policy in that area.
- Bicycling and walking are “the sinews of connectivity” in the city.
- Integration between RIDOT and the City is very important.
- The train station needs work. The speaker’s bike had been vandalized or stolen at the train station on numerous occasions.
- The walk from College Hill to the train station is not easy.
- Snow is hard for families with kids.
- The sidewalk network is only as strong as its weakest point; if one person hasn’t shoveled in front of their house, parents with young children have to go back home and drive instead.
- “It will never be easy to own & drive a car in this city, and that’s okay, but it then must be easy to walk.”
- Why are there no entrepreneurial kids out there doing snow removal? Perhaps there is concern about liability that the City can help alleviate.
- Slower traffic makes a safer environment for everyone. Consider a 15-20mph speed limit citywide.
- Overnight on-street parking for residents is great, but where do residential permit holders go in the case of a snow emergency parking ban? In Cambridge, MA, the speaker recalled designated commercial lots that became open to the public at such times.
- While it is good the city lowered parking minimums in the new zoning code, parking minimums should be eliminated altogether.
- We have a problem with too many surface parking lots in the city. They should be taxed to disincentivize use of property for commercial parking enterprises.
- All parking in the city should be metered to distribute demand better.
- Crosswalks are not always in places that make sense; they should be restriped in places that do. Residents may be able to provide good recommendations on the most logical places for them.
- It is good that they mayor is encouraging sidewalk snow removal by residents and suggesting that fines may be issued for noncompliance. In North Providence, where the speaker lives, the mayor indicated that there would not be fines, and the speaker has noticed a significant difference in the number of sidewalks cleared in the two cities, approximately 2/3 clear in Providence and approximately 1/3 clear in North Providence.
- RIDOT should clear bridge sidewalks.
- Crosswalks should be close to RIPTA stops; too often they are not and that just doesn’t make sense.
- The bike network is regional, so we should work with other cities to ensure that it is robust.
- Enforcement of traffic rules is good for safety and should be encouraged.
- Too often institutions encourage employees and students to drive by subsidizing free parking. The City should encourage its institutions to minimize this practice.
- The most vulnerable road users should be prioritized in all streets policy.
- Beyond merely bike racks, the train station renovation should incorporate bike cages.
- It is important to consider access to grocery stores and other necessities when talking about car and bike usage. We should encourage the location of these facilities in such places that residents who don’t want to or can’t afford a car are able to access them.
- Another comment about the danger of Dean Street, especially between Kinsley and Atwells.
- The curve of Wickenden Street was also cited as being dangerous for people walking.
- Another comment about the difficulty of crossing highways, reference to 95 as “the moat”.
- “Gotta let a city breathe.” So there should be more porous connections over highways for people walking and bicycling.
- BPAC Commissioner Jenn Steinfeld made the important point that most of the faces in the room that night were white, and that is often the case with the audience for this commission, despite perhaps a majority of carless households being made up of people of color. How can we change this? We have to hold ourselves accountable to address this misrepresentation. [Someone shouted from the audience “hold meetings outside of working hours!”]
- Getting young people on bikes is a way to reach their parents who might not otherwise be interested.
And that was it! It lasted about an hour and a half, with the Mayor present for the first hour of that. Also in attendance were Director of Planning Bonnie Nickerson, Deputy Director of Planning Bob Azar, Acting Superintendent of Public Works Bill Bombard, and Director of Policy Sheila Dormody. The official list of recommendations was taken down at the meeting by the planning department’s Associate Director for Special Projects Martina Haggerty, who can be reached at email@example.com.
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.
My Facebook feed was flooded yesterday with posts from friends and family at the People’s Climate March in New York City. There were more than 300,000 people there, speaking up for action on climate change. I wish I could have been there. There are talks happening today at the UN about addressing climate change, and I eagerly await news from them.
But what’s next? Speaking up and marching for climate action is important, but how can you and I really create meaningful movement to really mitigate the effects of climate change?
There are so many levels to this complex problem, and that means that whatever your comfort level, there’s probably a place you can fit in. Work needs to be done at the local scale (pushing for all manner of more sustainable policies; personally I’m all about smart growth, local economy, and sustainable transportation policy), at the state, regional, and national scales (calling & handwriting letters to your representatives is rarely a bad idea), and even the international scale. Learning more about climate policy is useful (I love David Roberts at Grist) Talking to people who disagree with you about the importance of climate change mitigation is important. Even personal lifestyle changes are useful, though focusing on those to the exclusion of other activism can be a distraction.
The important thing is to keep fighting. The culture leading to our runaway greenhouse gas emissions pervades our whole world. Both calm, insider approaches that strategically negotiate better policy and angry, outsider protests that call for more action are needed. Climate change isn’t a danger to our future, it’s a danger right now, and if we don’t keep working hard until we have a solution, we will all reap the consequences soon, starting with the least well-off.
As John Holdren said in 2007:
“We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering,” said John Holdren, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an energy and climate expert at Harvard. “We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.”
|Search term||Google results (K)|
|“industrial trust building” providence||204|
|“fleet bank building” providence||111|
|“industrial trust tower” providence||75.3|
|“111 westminster street” providence||47.8|
|“industrial trust company building” providence||43.5|
|“fleet building” providence||41.9|
|“superman building” providence||7.75|
|“fleet tower” providence||0.204|
|“fleet bank tower” providence||0.008|
So the winner is “Industrial Trust Building”. That matches my perception of what the most official name is. But in my three months of experience in Providence, most people call it the “Superman Building“.
In conclusion: Google Search results are a better proxy for something’s official name than its colloquial name. You’re welcome.
I was pretty busy yesterday. I was working on the campaign of City Council Majority Leader Seth Yurdin, who was re-elected with 72% of the vote in Fox Point, Wayland Square, and Downtown. That was intense and rewarding, but there were a lot of other races that I, the election-junkie, was also excited about.
Both maps really show how much of Elorza’s victory was because of the East Side.
Governor and Lieutenant Governor
The other high-profile Democratic primary was for Governor. Gina Raimondo (41% in Providence) ended up edging out Angel Taveras (40%) and Clay Pell (18%) who split the progressive vote. Except I’m a progressive and voted for Raimondo, so go figure.
For Lieutenant Governor, the lowest profile race of the three, Dan McKee beat Ralph Mollis and Frank Ferri. I had been expecting Mollis to cruise to victory, so I voted for progressive darling Ferri (even though I didn’t know much about the candidates or what the office of Lieutenant Governor really does). I should note that while McKee won statewide with 43% of the vote, Mollis won Providence, also with 43%.
One thing I’m interested in is figuring out what the voting blocs are in Rhode Island and Providence specifically. My working theory is that “old-school”, “latino”, and “young white liberal” are three such voting blocs. To study this I looked at the correlations between how candidates in these three races did compared to other candidates. Some interesting findings:
- Two high positive correlations were Elorza-Ferri (76%) and Solomon-Mollis (68%). Those were closely followed by Raimondo-Ferri (63%) and Raimondo-Elorza (61%). Those correlations mean that in precincts where one candidate had a high vote percentage, the other usually did too. This technically means, for example, you could predict 76% of the precinct-to-precinct variation in Ferri vote totals by looking at Elorza vote totals.
- One hypothesis disproved: there was essentially no correlation (-3%) between Taveras vote totals and Elorza vote totals. This indicates that Latinos were not voting uniformly for both candidates. Identity politics is far from everything.
- Another hypothesis, if not disproved, called into question: There was indeed a negative correlation between Taveras and Pell vote totals (-15%). It’s probably true that if only one of them had been in the race, the consolidation of the liberal vote would’ve been more challenging for Raimondo to beat. But the pattern of “more votes for Pell means fewer for Taveras and vice versa” was not particularly strong.
- There was, however, a strong negative correlation (-54%) between Mollis and Ferri, and neither candidate had as strong a negative correlation with the third and victorious candidate for Lieutenant Governor, McKee (-20% and -3% respectively). I interpret that to mean Mollis and Ferri appealed to different types of voters, and those voters tend to group together in the same precincts. McKee perhaps appealed to a more wide swath of voters.
I’ve uploaded all this data and the vote totals I pulled from the RI Board of Elections website in a Google Doc here so you can take a closer look if you want.
I’ve been reading the excellent book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. It has a variety of strategies for creating change, mostly focusing on organizational and social change, but also with some focus on personal growth.
Their basic framework distinguishes change appeals to the “rider” (your audience’s logical, rational minds) and to the “elephant” (their subconscious emotional motivations). Both appeals are important, but traditionally we mostly focus on appeals to the rider. Failing to create a situation that allows the elephant to easily make the change, they suggest, is a major reason why many change efforts don’t work.
I was especially struck by a passage I just read about the “growth mindset” and the “fixed mindset”, concepts coined by psychologist Carol Dweck. The fixed mindset is pervasive and sees us as pretty much static in our abilities and traits. Think of the formulation, “he’s just slow” or “she’s a natural athlete.” The growth mindset instead views abilities as resulting from practice; you can get better at things if you work at them.
I’m particularly interested in the application of this distinction to the idea of failure. In the fixed mindset, failure is to be avoided, because other people will see your inadequacies and see that you’re loser. In the growth mindset, failure is an essential part of learning and improvement.
There are lots of great tidbits in this section (in the whole book, really) but there’s one that really resonates with me as a visual person and graph enthusiast. They refer to IDEO, a leading design firm, and the “project mood chart” that one of its designers sketched out:
[It] predicts how people will feel at different phases of a project. It’s a U-shaped curve with a peak of positive emotion, labeled “hope,” at the beginning, and a second peak of positive emotion, labeled “confidence,” at the end. In between the two peaks is a negative emotional valley labeled “insight.”
I love this idea, and I bet it can be applied to any challenging endeavor, big or small. Look at setbacks as the time when insight happens, and maybe they’ll feel less devastating.
I’m going to try thinking about things this way. Feel free to join me!