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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...

Look in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's. . .

Where's a telephone booth when you need one?


IT WON'T TAKE SUPERMAN to make Providence a functional city.  It will take active people, pushing back against bad ideas coming from our elected leaders.

Stephen Miller, a Rhode Island native and journalist for the Streetsblog Network, recently highlighted on his own blog an amazing new hospital in Buffalo, New York.  There will be no parking for employees at all.  Because of the successful development of a metro rail system within Buffalo, it is now possible for 17,500 new jobs to be created in its downtown without the huge added expense of building parking garages to serve those jobs.  In addition to the hospital itself, the rail-oriented development plan has also caused a boom in real estate and mixed-use development in the area, according to The Buffalo News.  Miller's article points out that Providence could use the same techniques as Buffalo to make itself attractive to new growth, and outlines specific steps to be taken.

This success in Buffalo should be an added reason to view proposals to knock down The Superman Building as flat-out insane.  Buffalo, even more so than Providence (video, see especially 3:32-4:05), is a city that in the mid-20th Century was torn apart by highway-oriented transportation at the behest of people like Robert Moses.  Yet, clearly, Buffalo is learning its lesson and turning back on its mistakes.  Will Providence?

Go Local Providence reports that Fmr. Mayor Joseph Paolino has already started work to try to save the building, but even his statements give a grim testimony to the way that Providence views its landscape.  One of the major problems with the building, he reports, is that it has no parking.  The question remains, why should a building that is across the street from the state's public transportation hub have parking at all?  Especially when downtown looks like this already?  There's a reason that Superman is regarded as being more powerful than a locomotive.  Let's keep it that way.

There are two basic views that one can take towards Mayor Taveras' proposal, and I'm not fully committed to either.  The first is that the mayor through some fault or error of judgment has actually convinced himself that it would be acceptable to demolish the Superman Building.  He states this in a simpering, wishy-washy way, albeit, but it's on the table.  Given the car-crazy comments of even people like Paolino who are lobbying to retain the building, it seems possible that Taveras too might be deluded into thinking a new building designed for car commuters would be better.  That's flat unacceptable.

The second, and more favorable, view of the mayor is that the he is using the sheer shock of the proposal to make it clear what could happen if we don't act to save the building.  I find the mayor's positions on a number of issues very admirable, and he seems like a nice person, so I have tendency towards wanting to believe this second option, if only to give him the benefit of the doubt.  However, assuming the best of the mayor in no way means that we shouldn't get on his case and make his political life difficult for as long as is necessary to stop the demolition.  I've related already the anecdote of A. Philip Randolph speaking to FDR in the 1930s, explaining the many problems of the Sleeping Car Porters to the president.  FDR patiently listened, and said, "I agree, but make me do it".   The point of the anecdote is that change doesn't come from good leaders without a fight, and even bad leaders will deliver good policies with a fight.

People should tweet the mayor to let him know that demolition is not an option (and please include us in the tweet with hashtag #AngelSaveSuperman).  If you belong to a community group, or can even gather a handful of friends, go out and talk to people about why this is important.  This is a transportation issue.  Allowing the Superman Building to be demolished for more car-oriented development could be the straw that breaks Providence's back, while a successful push to save the building could be an opening hurrah for making our city more transit and bike oriented.

Usually I'd say, "Let's try not to become Buffalo".  But perhaps that advice is out of date.

New RIPTA Blog

You're going places when you get on the Route 60.
Bridget Bourne, a native Rhode Islander, has recently started a blog about her joy trips to various places on RIPTA.  Bridget does not drive at all due to Tourette's Syndrome.  A recent spell of underemployment has left her time to take that life's habit to its fullest.  We think the idea of a RIPTA travel blog is great, and wish her success. 

You can check more of her work out at happybusgirl.blogspot.com.


Gratuitous Chick Flicks

Rachel and I got chicks this weekend, and your special treat is to eat up their unbelievable cuteness.


I'm going to resist the urge to splice the singing schoolchildren from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds into the background of this video, even though that would be a fun mood-changer.

Lest this be seen as off topic for our blog, let's bring it back to transportation.  Cluck will soon be opening at 399 Broadway, which is something we're very excited for.  One of the largest obstacles that has delayed Cluck's opening has been Providence's parking minimums (PDF, see pages 135-144).  Parking minimums make housing and business space more expensive (PDF), induce people to drive rather than use public transportation or bikes to get around, and shift the price burden of owning a car from those who drive to those who may not even be able to afford a car.  Because a business can technically apply for a variance to the zoning code if they want to develop their space differently, parking minimums also allow for city government to act in a capricious nature, granting variances or not granting them based on its own whims.

We really value Cluck's attempts to create a bike-friendly business along a bus corridor, and would like to see the day when Providence businesses don't have to go through so much trouble fighting to do the right thing.  We hope that people will check the store out when it soon opens.

If you want to learn more about why parking minimums are bad this is a very good video explaining why.

Fines Doubled in Bike Zone

Fines Doubled in Work Bike Zone

HERE'S AN IDEA that's come due.  Providence should institute doubled fines for bike routes, similar to those that exist in work zones. Streets like Broadway and Blackstone Boulevard that carry large numbers of cyclists should have their speed limits more strictly enforced.  Doubled fines would give the city the revenue to cover these routes better with police enforcement, and would give drivers the incentive to avoid expensive tickets.  Studies show that the gap between 25 miles per hour and 35 mph, which feels like very little in a car, nonetheless makes a huge difference to the comfort and safety of pedestrians and cyclists.  There's no reason why the Providence PD can't start doing this right now. At a community meeting last night at the Fertile Underground in the West End, the suggestion that Westminster Street's 25 mph speed limit should be better enforced practically got a standing ovation.  Other residents recounted what we have also experienced, which is trying to cross the street and having people plow straight through the crosswalk.  Mayor Taveras could really score some political points by doing something about speeding throughout the city.  People can tweet the mayor with the hashtag #StopSpeedinginPVD if they think this is a good idea.

Update:  Art Handy, the State Assembly Chair for environment, has already started promoting this idea on his Twitter, and suggests that South County Rep. Teresa Tanzi may also be game:
People should definitely thank them both for their support.

Another great idea came from Peter Brassard, who said:

The "right hook" accidents that occur when cars just sweep around a corner without looking, and hit cyclists who are going straight, is a serious problem.  Brassard has an imaginative idea.

RIC Parking Reform Flyer

In an effort to take the article we wrote about RIC's "free" parking policy to a new level, and help activate students and faculty to change the policy, we've made flyer which is free for anyone to use.  

We also plan to go to the campus ourselves soon so that we can talk to students and faculty about how "free" parking increases the price of their tuition and harms the quality of RIPTA service to the campus.

We hope to see this flyer popping up all over the place soon!

If you have a resource like a flyer that you'd like to share, send it to us at transportprovidence@gmail.com.  We'll review it and consider posting it.

Eco RI: Bike Providence Explains Its Plans


In Eco Rhode Island today, David Everett of Bike Providence--which includes the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. engineering (VHB)--outlined their approach to forming a more ambitious Bicycle Master Plan.   The letter to the editor is worth reading in whole, but we want to focus on one aspect of it, since we recently published criticisms of the BPAC/VHB engineering plan on our site and at Eco RI.  The passage from Bike Providence's letter we want to focus on reads:

Bike Providence has far greater aspirations — the plan will include short-, mid-range and long-term recommendations for appropriate routes to connect all city neighborhoods. The city, BPAC and the hired consultant are currently identifying and evaluating numerous roadways as candidates for bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks and extensions of existing off-road paths. Some projects could require elimination of some on-street parking, curb relocation, utility modifications and/or right-of-way acquisitions. (our emphasis)  These proposed improvements will be included in the plan as either medium-term improvements or longer-term improvements, creating the infrastructure that we’ll need to be a truly bikeable, walkable city.
This is a welcome change, because the past meetings have expressed a lot of reticence about even considering the removal of parking from streets, or the realignment/elimination of traffic lanes, both of which are going to be necessary in order to solve Providence's bike situation.  Any bike plan should address not what will make young, risk-blind people like ourselves bike, but what will get elder women with arthritis to bike, what will make parents feel safe with small children in tow on the way to school or work, and what will get Providence's biking rates up to Portland, Oregon levels. Anything short of that isn't good enough.

One of the important criticisms of BPAC from the Transport Providence article also needs restatement.  The more serious changes to our streets don't always have to immediately be done in a permanent and expensive way, so BPAC should make it part of its mission to move some of those middle- and long-term goals up to the short-term, by using traffic cones and other removable obstacles to experiment with traffic calming and bike lanes.  We would like to hear concrete things about this type of immediate experimentation.

We take the commitments in the BPAC letter as sincere because we know they are coming from a very ernest group of people.  We would emphasize that citizens who are concerned about making Providence bike-friendly should continue to bracket that admiration for the time being, and push the committee hard to hold it to what this letter says.

We hope and expect that the committee views any criticism as helpful to its cause.  The old adage about A. Philip Randolph and FDR applies here.  The leader of the Sleeping Car Porters met with the president during the Depression to talk about the serious problems that faced his union.  The president listened, and then said, more or less, "I agree with everything you said.  Now organize people, and make me do it".  

We should keep up the pressure, and make them do it.

A Neighborly Day for a Bike Rack


FROM CHILDHOOD I REMEMBER the glory of picture-picture, the segment of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in which he taps a framed painting in his living room, and it magically turns into a televised window into the manufacture of various goods.  Gone in this country are both the days of Mister Rogers, and of the boundless sense that anything can be manufactured here through the alchemy of industry.

Lee Corley of the Steelyard--who through happenstance has never seen this segment of classic PBS glory--nonetheless brought Transport Providence to its own erstwhile picture-picture world, taking photojournalist Rachel Playe from start to finish through the complex process of smithing a bicycle rack.  Corley, a Providence native, came to steelwork as a teenager, and now uses her talents to train other young people.  The bike racks in question will soon grace the sidewalks of the Fertile Underground, where they will certainly get lots of use.

It's a good day in the neighborhood.


March 11, 2013:  This article has been changed to reflect the following correction:  The saw used for cutting the steel bars is called a metal cut-off wheel, not a diamond-toothed saw.

Corley uses a table with pivots in it to leverage the bars, which she bends with her own strength.

The welding arc is as bright as the sun, so observers like Khym Carmichael of FUG have to wear protective eyewear.  

"Soldering is like glue gunning with metal," says Corley.  Corley explains that welding is different because it uses like metals--steel on steel--to create a solid, permanent connection between two pieces of metal.

The ends of the pieces are beveled to make space for welding wire to melt between.

Corley uses a metal cut-off wheel to cut the steel.

If you liked this piece you can follow our Twitter @TransportPVD

Providence Bike-Share Could Use Flex-Pricing to Get Over the Hill

When bikes are chic to airlines, we're on the right track.

OF ALL THE RANDOM PLACES, today I found an interesting article about bike-share programs in U.S. Airways' magazine--the most polluting form of transportation commenting on the least polluting?  Hey, I'll take it.

The piece is mostly a touristy narrative about the beauty of seeing the Capitol's neighborhoods by bike rather than missing them on an underground red-line subway trip.  It's worth a five minute glance if you're looking for something light to read.  It's pretty.

OF MORE INTEREST TO ME, though, is author April White's inclusion of an anecdote from her journey uphill from Georgetown to a pizza joint by the National Cathredral.  As she sweatily remembers in the article:

"Much later, I would learn that the routes most commonly traveled by bike-share users have one thing in common:  they're all downhill."

White notes that bike-shares in hilly areas have specialized motor vehicle crews for picking the bikes up and taking them back uphill again, so as to maintain an even distribution.

Which brings me to my point:  Providence's study of how to implement a bike-share(pdf) has focused on this potential imbalance in people going down the hill versus people going up as one of the difficulties that could prevent a program from being successful.

Isn't there a simple way to solve this?  If you take a bike from the top of College Hill and park it at the bottom, without returning it, you pay a surcharge. 

Or conversely, taking a bike from the bottom of College Hill and going up with it could be made lower cost, or even free, in order to save on truck rides full of bikes.

The system could be pegged flexibly to demand, in a similar way to flexible parking prices outlined(video) by Donald Shoup.  That way, no one would have to figure out ahead of time exactly what the right price incentive is to keep the balance right.  The system would adjust itself based on people's behavior.

Flexible pricing could really be the key to making a bike-share move over the hump--pun fully intended--so to speak.

Sales Are a Stahhhhmin'!

The Fertile Underground in the West End has been kind enough to share a chart showing their sales over several months:

We got talking about it at the register tonight, during snow chit-chat.  It turns out that business at their store booms during bad weather.  Good thing we'll be having plenty of that this weekend.

Except for the first peak, around the middle of April in 2012, which was from a party, the peaks in sales the store has had have either been due to hurricanes or blizzards.  Christo, one of my favorite people to talk to at the coop, said that not only did they do "pretty good" business during the initial snow, but it went through the roof "when everything shut down and no one could drive".  

So, maybe cars aren't all that great for business after all.

I can say that I'm looking forward to the brief glimmer of driver sensitivity that follows snow storms, when everyone goes 15 mph and yields to pedestrians.  What are you all looking forward to most about the storm?

FUG will be in the news on our blog again soon, as we follow their efforts to be a more bike-friendly business.  If you own a business and are trying to better accomodate cyclists, walkers, carpoolers, or transit riders, let us know, and we'll also give you a shout-out.  transportprovidence@gmail.com.  

Projo: Artist's Amusing Take on Providence Street Signs

THE PROJO'S TAKE on this sign is slightly different than mine.  They  read it as a ridiculous commentary on the number of silly parking restrictions in Downcity.  If you read this blog, you know a bit about what I think needs to be done with parking in ProvidenceI think it's a better commentary on how often Providence strategizes to change people's behavior with signs alone, when infrastructural change would be more effective.  For more on that phenomenon as it affects bike policy, see my article Get Out the Traffic Cones Already!

UPI reports that the city intends to remove this sign by Tuesday.

Harris Avenue: The Next Greenway


Joggers on North Kinsley
WHEN I'VE SPOKEN to people who have lived their entire lives in Providence, a surprisingly scant few even know where Harris Avenue is. This may just be an extension of the Rhode Island method of giving directions.  "It runs along the Northeast Corridor tracks, roughly parallel to Valley Street," I say to these people, and their faces scrunch into a balls of mishegas,unable to place it.  It takes only the mention of a few of the buildings that used to be on Harris before they start to nod vigorously with recognition.


THE CITY CHOSE KINSLEY AVE. to carry cyclists from the Providence Place Mall west, even designating the street an interim part of the East Coast Greenway.  It's not hard to see what Providence had in mind.  Buildings like The Foundry captivate you on Kinsley with historic intrigue, while the Woonsasquatucket River slices down its belly.  Joggers congregate there, despite few access points, as if clairvoyant of what the place could be.

Despite this, Kinsley is a poor choice for a major bike route.  It would be better to call it the Bike Route to Nowhere than a route from Maine to Florida.  Its access point is a narrow, poorly marked wheelchair ramp through the courtyard of the Providence Place Mall.  Once on Kinsley, a narrow, muddy, potholed bike lane runs unseparated from several lanes of whizzing cars going 40-plus mph.  And no sooner has one gotten past that than the road suddenly intersects with the cavernous, ugly, and dangerous mini-highway that is Dean Street.  Relieved to have crossed that, a few blocks later North Kinsley ends.  Using one of the crossings to the other side of the river, you find that South Kinsley is one way in the other direction.    You're back at the mall you just left.   Wash, rinse, repeat.  

It's no wonder that Kinsley is a bike route with no bikes--and lots and lots of cars.

Cars along Kinsley  travel at 40 mph or more.  A narrow ramp is the access point to the "greenway".

One of many perfunctory 25 mph signs near a beautiful house on Harris.
HARRIS BEGINS unobtrusively at an its intersection with Broadway, on the Olneyville side of the Route 6 & 10 interchange.  Just yon that side of Broadway, the Amtrak NE Corridor/MBTA to Boston wonders aloud why it doesn't have a train station there.  Olneyville Square is no more than a few hundred feet away, and Broadway's bike lane just up the hill, making Harris' desolate emptiness feel out of place.

The posted speed on Harris is--like on many Providence streets--set at a perfunctory 25 mph.  Cars are rare here, but those that exist ignore the sign. Running just a block removed from Valley Street, it's weird to look at the heavy traffic there and contrast it to the silence on Harris, since they go to such similar places.  On the corner of Harris and Broadway sits a handsome house, solo, with artistic metal work in the yard.  One can't help but imagine how the addition of a few stormwater catchers to slow traffic and beautify the street, or a speed bump or two, would improve the fortunes of this surviving house.

Harris from Broadway to Atwells is largely built like a highway access road, but a strange one at that.  Along it, the defiant corner house is joined by a scattering of businesses and even a plucky church.  At the midpoint of the block a huge umbilical cord of a highway onramp stretches from Tobey Street to Route 6, and Harris narrows underneath it.  It's like the street and I suddenly have something to talk about: the aggressive drivers who speed down my block in the morning to the Tobey entrance ramp ignore me on foot as I try to cross the street, and as they sweep into the highway, Harris passes without attention as well.

If you ride your bike on Harris, you'll find it feels safer--at least in terms of car accidents--than even bike lane-striped routes.  Cars that would never slow down on Broadway do so respectfully on Harris.  It's almost as if the alone-ness of the place adds intimacy, and makes drivers ashamed to act like jerks.


A BLOCK OF COLORFUL offices shaped like containerized freight cars stacked on one another pops up near the intersection with Atwells.   I imagine myself a commuter to one of these freight cars, hopping off a brand new Olneyville Square stop of the T from my place in the suburbs, or down and expanded and green-painted Broadway bike lane from the West End, and continuing down Harris, now prioritized for bicycle traffic.  New houses and businesses join my fantasy, taking advantage of the beautified space.

In front of the box car, Harris actually has significant car traffic for once, and I shake my head and join reality.  All of the car traffic is headed into Harris just to leave by the entrance ramp to Route 6, over which survives an ancient rusted sign showing the way to Olneyville.  It's another surreal example of Providence's overabundance of ways to enter the freeway.  There are entrance and exit ramps scattered about this neighbhorhood everywhere, as if everyone has forgotten how to driver on local roads, and instead uses the freeway like some kind 1950s vision of the future: a ramp to each person's house, and no person's house without its own ramp.

As a non-driver, I double-take, because I have never used this ramp.  Where are they going?  I turn back towards the on-ramp, next to which is another branch of road.  The ramp fills, and the local road is empty.  Above it is a sign, rusted, telling me the way to Harris Avenue and Olneyville.  No one seems to be on their way to those places.  It feels clear to me that this ramp could be closed, and Harris Avenue made a different place.


This sidewalk could be connected to divert cars.
IF HARRIS AVENUE BELOW ATWELLS shows ghostly promise, then the part of it that continues on eastbound to the State House from its five-points intersection with Atwells  shows more.   Here, the street parallels the Kinsley bike lanes, continuing its journey with the train tracks.  Unlike Kinsley, though, it passes under the Dean Street highway and past a collection of beautiful mill buildings.  There are few cars.

One of the advantages to going with a bike boulevard model for Harris is that it could make the route as comfortable to ride on as a bike path, but without having to fully ban cars.   Harris' many connections back with Kinsley through side roads could be fitted with diagonal diverters, to allow cars only for local traffic. Its intersection with Atwells, which now has a sweeping, round design that allows cars to turn on a hair pin, could get an extended sidewalk to connect it with its island and prevent that sort of behavior.  A bicycle scramble could stop all traffic except bicycles to allow safe access to other streets.

Down Harris a bit, the wider intersection with Acorn, near the Twin City Supply Co. could be left open for necessary truck freight, but receive a garden roundabout.  Portland, Oregon and other cities use these roundabouts for stormwater collection, beautification, and traffic calming.

Infrastructure like this could be designed in partnership with the businesses of the street to make Harris one of the premier locations of the city.

Harris' width gives it room to add trees or other greenery between it and the Amtrak property, adjacent. 

Acorn and Harris could receive a roundabout with greenery to slow traffic and beautify.

Providence poking from behind freeways.
KINSLEY SHOULD NOT be abandoned in this plan.  Its proximity to the river makes a great place to bike, if only it received some work.  The city could enforce lower speed limits and give Kinsley a buffered bike lane to start in this direction.  A future bike network could take existing plans to connect Kinsley to the Woonsasquatucket Greenway and network those to Harris Avenue as a connection point south and west.  Since Harris eventually enters Kinsley near the mall, speed bumps should definitely be put in near that intersection, and behind the mall parking lot.  Treating Kinsley as the main part of the bike route, though, is silly, because it doesn't go anywhere.

Hayes Street ramp should stay closed.
On Hayes Street, a one-block stretch next to the mall and the State House, there is currently a closed freeway ramp that says "Under construction".  It's not clear to me for how long or for what purposes the ramp is closed, but it should also be a priority of the city to keep this ramp the way it is--gone.  Hayes, as it stretches around the mall and towards Kinsley/Harris, is relatively quiet, but putting the highway ramp back in would ruin that.


Imagine children playing here.

There are plenty of people who would benefit from this plan, and few who would oppose it.  Few cars seem to use Harris now, despite its wide design.  The street gives better access to bicyclists than other available options.  Condo-dwellers will want a beautified fron space, where they can come out to enjoy themselves or to let their children play.  Businesses like the Steelyard, which thrive on biking, would only do better.  

The Harris/Kinsley corridor could even become the locus of a Water Fire, in order to popularize the idea.  

The Bike Lane to Nowhere could become a Bike Lane to Someplace.


Thank you to Rachel Playe for the photos in this article.  You can see more of her work at www.rachelplaye.com.

Get Out the Traffic Cones Already!

The Providence Bike Plan needs to be more ambitious.

Providence’s bike plan emphasizes a paint-only strategy that lacks ambition and imagination.  Illustrative of this, the height of excitement at the last Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting was discussion of “sharrows” on Camp Street--a calm East Side residential street that does not really need amendments in order to be bikeable.  BPAC has suffered the same fate as many progressive projects in the United States: it acts as its own worst enemy, constraining its vision to peripheral reforms before it even faces any opposition from outside.  If the political process will inevitably whittle down cyclists' proposals, then we should focus on making our initial demands bigger.  Sharrows shouldn't even be on the table.

The most common excuse for BPAC's lukewarm approach is that more serious changes to Providence's roads would be expensive, complicated, and permanent.  This doesn’t have to be so.  An ambitious bike plan can strike at the core of Providence’s transportation problems while leaving the city the option to reverse changes when they don't work.  The expense of experimentation can be minimal.

This Providence stress map shows 'bike routes' to be unwelcoming.
Philadelphia, the country’s number one large city for per capita biking, has shown us how to succeed.  In 2011, the Bicycle Coalition proposed a pair of buffered bike lanes on JFK Boulevard and Market Streets.  The plan required the removal of not one but four full lanes of traffic.  Rather than fret about the permanence and expense of such a project, or have a mini-panic attack about what suburban commuters might think, Mayor Nutter's office sensibly experimented with orange cones and caution tape to test the effects of a road diet.   

Philly's initial attempts to make Center City bikeable were a lot less bold.  The first east-west bike lane I remember in Center City was a bike-bus share lane on Chestnut Street.  It was a fiasco.  The “shared” lane gave neither buses nor bikes truly prioritized access to the street.  Cyclists who didn’t want to sit in unending stop-and-go traffic behind a diesel bus avoided the route entirely.  Buses inched along without their own lane.  The failure to create a critical mass of cyclists, and the periodic absence of SEPTA buses between arrival times left a void, which aggressive taxis were gleefully happy to fill.  Providence's approach to bike infrastructure reminds me of an even more tepid version of the Chestnut Street experiment.

By contrast, Philly's buffered Spruce and Pine lanes wildly succeeded, because they did not impractically require public transit users and cyclists to compete for the same road resources.  Innovations like timing the signals to 20 mph, so that bikers got a consistent "wave" of green lights helped to calm traffic and make the route safer.  They made major routes accessible and convenient, and didn't rely on volunteer cooperation from motorists.

The existence of a partial road block on Waterman near Brown shows that just a temporary narrowing of the street for construction is enough to make drivers act with some civility.  The speedway that Waterman becomes just a few short blocks beyond, from Hope Street until Wayland Square, shows that without changing the roads' construction, Providence's bike routes are little more than a hollow suggestion.

Concrete isn't necessary to change traffic patterns.  All it takes is a little imagination and the willingness to experiment.

(I am happy to report that this article has since been republished by Eco Rhode Island in their "headline news" category)