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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Recycle-a-Bike: Nathan Bishop M.S. to Start Bike Program

It's a proud moment to see that something I'm working on is mentioned in the Recycle-a-Bike Newsletter:

PASA's Everyday Explorers at Nathan Bishop Middle School will be starting the program for the Spring Session, and I will be the instructor.  The program will teach the ABCs and Quick-Check (Air, Brakes, Cables, Quick Release) for bike safety, show middle-school students how to follow traffic laws on a bike, and teach basic upkeep and repair of bicycles.

Thank you to Jenna Johns-Yu of Recycle-a-Bike for sharing this with Transport Providence.

GCPVD: Parking Reform Should Start at the State House


The Rhode Island State House with less parking.
The State House is a great place to start reforming Providence’s parking crisis. The great map that Jef Nickerson put up last April shows that the State House contributes considerably to the overwhelming of our downtown space by surface parking.
From the outset, 10% of State House parking lot space should be repurposed as a vegetable and flower garden, which could be run in private-public partnership with the Southside Community Land Trust. Repurposing State House parking will highlight one of the city’s best reasons for optimism, the Land Trust’s Lots for Hope program. Produce from the raised beds could be used to fill food banks around the state, or could be sold at Rhode Island’s farmers’ markets to return a modest revenue boost to the state budget.
The remaining spaces should no longer be free. Legislators and other State House employees should receive a transportation stipend, equal to the amount of money currently being spent on paving a parking spot for them to use. Those who continue to drive to the State House would not lose money, but they will at least be aware that parking is a fiscal choice. But many others will choose to save money by carpooling, taking transit, or biking to the capital. The plan will be revenue neutral to taxpayers, in that it will simply repurpose funds already being spent.
Parking demand will decrease if this plan is put in place, and as it does, the state should gradually remove more spaces to increase the area of the garden. As in Denmark, where cities have committed to remove 2-3% of parking spaces per year to reduce their carbon footprints, the State House could set a per year goal for removal of spots, with the eventual culmination of a parking lot half the size of the current one. The gradual pace of change will allow for other transportation options to be developed.
If having legislators pay for their own parking sounds radical, consider that in California, a model for just this kind of transportation reform has been in place in many private workplaces since 1992, called “the parking cash-out”. A 1997 study evaluating the effects of the law noted a 17 percent drop in solo driving at affected workplaces, which broke down into a 64 percent increase in carpooling, a 50 percent increase in transit use, and a 35 percent increase in walking or biking to work. And it makes sense: Donald Shoup, who helped push the reforms, and who has become the nation’s leading advocate of parking reform, notes that parking figures greater in people’s choices about car use than even gasoline prices.
Legislators who either use RIPTA or know a colleague who does will be more likely to view multimodal transportation as the urgent issue it is. Although there have been modest improvements in funding under the Chafee administration, Rhode Island still ranks far behind comparably dense and populous states in per capita funding for public transportation. Bringing the transportation crisis directly to the commutes of lawmakers would change that quicker than you can say RIPTA appropriations.
Several readers of my last guest post about redesigning Dean Street as a multimodal boulevard added that the gaping cloverleaf next to the State House should be an even bigger target for reform. Perhaps the most compelling reason that the legislators should look at their own workplace as a locus of transportation change is that it would lay the groundwork for such a future reworking of that transportation nightmare. Parking lots are to cars as still water is to mosquitoes. The cloverleaf can be conquered if we see how parking lots around it justify its existence.
Simply writing about this does nothing. I hope that if you find this idea appealing, you’ll actually take the next step and contact your state assemblyperson, tweet to the Providence Journal, or put together a demonstration on the next Park(ing) Day. We can change the map of Providence, one parking lot at a time, starting right at the State House.

(Originally posted to Greater City Providence's website, where it has inspired two other articles here and here.)

GCPVD: Exit-stential Problems at Dean Street

Providence has too many highways, and I wouldn’t be an opponent of removing some entirely. But if we’re going to have a highway system snake through the city, let’s at least make it useful. The Dean Street exit ramps should be removed, in my opinion, and a multi-modal boulevard should replace the highway-let that the street currently is.
As a bike commuter, I hadn’t really experienced rush hour traffic on Routes 10 & 6 until I had the recent occasion to sit motionless on a school bus with the kids I was transporting from Nathan Bishop Middle School to Del Sesto M.S., for a basketball game. It seemed an oddly short route to have to be taking a highway, I thought, and seeing how traffic was, I thought I’d probably could have gotten the kids faster there on bikes moving down local streets.
The Dean Street exit can’t possibly be doing any motorists any favors. It’s only a stone’s throw from several other exits in Smith Hill, Federal Hill, and Downcity.
Dean Street is a mess for drivers and non-drivers alike.
When we design a highway, it’s supposed to be fast. With so many exits, we’re encouraging people to use the highway for local travel, and that’s probably a big part of why speeds at rush hour are so slow. If you’re only going from Downcity to Federal Hill, or from Smith Hill to Federal Hill, you don’t need a highway to get you there. The nearest I could possibly imagine someone needing to have an exit on the highway from Downcity would be somewhere near the edge of town along the Cranston border. Having all these tiny little exits scattered everywhere makes the highway useless for it’s stated purpose.

If that was the only problem to having exit ramps on Dean Street, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal. But the ramps are huge, and eat up prime real estate in Federal Hill that could be developed. With a generous sound buffer of trees planted between it and the highway, the remaining land from the former exit could become a new section of historic Federal Hill, designed to be walkable and small business-friendly.
Once, on a whim, my partner and I took Exchange Street from where it intersects with Sabin, to see whether it was a bikeable route. It was beautiful until we got to Dean Street, and then it felt almost like there was nowhere to go. Exchange Street could be carried through this new neighborhood as a bike-friendly route, and bring Federal Hill a tourist-friendly connection to the convention center area.
Providence doesn’t have all that many options for traveling between Smith Hill and Federal Hill, so Dean Street is also a prime target for change because of how important it could be to connect multimodal transportation between the two as yet alienated neighborhoods. Dean Street is wide enough that it could maintain a car connection north-south over the highway, while bus-only lanes and protected bike lanes could be put into a new Dean Street bridge to speed traffic for non-car users.
(Originally posted at Greater City Providence's website.)

Eco RI: Rhode Island College Must Reform Its Parking

As I look for a campus to get my graduate degree, a surprising factor weighs into my decision: How much am I going to pay for parking? As a non-driver, Rhode Island College may end up charging me the most of all.

RIC's "free" parking results in a campus covered in lots.
The Rhode Island College website boasts that parking is a free service offered to all students. Economists have a more accurate name for “free” services that are included with the cost of something else: bundled goods. The price of parking on campus is not actually free, it’s just bundled to the cost of tuition. Students pay for a parking spot whether they want one or not, even if they don’t own a car.
In fact, 99 percent of parking spots in the United States are bundled, from groceries to restaurant service, and at almost all of our jobs — so few of us think about parking’s cost. It’s not chump change. The median price of just one parking space is $15,000 (pdf). With four parking spaces per car in the United States, the real-estate value of all those asphalt rectangles adds up to far more than the total value of all the country’s vehicles.
Workers pay that cost in lower wages; customers pay it in higher prices for goods; renters pay it in higher housing costs. At Rhode Island College, a “free” parking policy results in higher tuition for students, whether or not that cost is actually itemized on one’s bill.
A movement is afoot to challenge free parking. In California, where businesses are now required(pdf) to match any free parking by paying non-drivers the equivalent of the cost of a non-used spot in cash, cyclists, bus riders and carpoolers all earn hundreds of dollars per month just by choosing not to drive alone to work. If RIC itemized the cost of the parking space students were buying in their tuition bill each semester, they might start to fight for that portion of their tuition to be returned to them. Why pay for something you don’t use?
Of course, if one has chosen to take the bus to school, free parking has made that more difficult as well. Parking expert Donald Shoup’s 2005 study (pdf) shows how zoning requirements for free parking challenge even well-funded transit systems. San Francisco, which supported its train system with the highest per-square-foot charge to real-estate developers in the country, nonetheless subsidized cars 4.7 times more for each additional parking space it required a building to provide.
In Rhode Island, which has one of the worst-funded public transit systems in the country (pdf), the destructive effect of free parking on public transportation can only be more pronounced.
Bundling one good to another isn’t always a bad idea. Students rarely choose a university for its janitorial services, but the cost of janitors is included in tuition because having a clean campus is universally needed. Letting students go a la carte and forego the cost of a janitor would be a disaster, leaving the campus a mess. But parking is not such a universal need. Students who can’t afford a car shouldn’t rack up more student-loan debt in order to hide the cost of driving.
Parking isn’t free. We’re all paying for it. That’s the part that has to change.

(Originally posted at Eco Rhode Island)

(This article has now again been republished, now at Greater City Providence).