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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...

Women Who Bike

Stephanie is the first in what will be a series of Providence women to be photographed and interviewed by Transport Providence co-editor Rachel Playe.  Women Who Cycle will focus not only on daily bike commuters like Stephanie, but also on those who would like to bike but find themselves frustrated by road safety or other issues.  

Advocates have highlighted that the gender parity of who bikes in a city is a good indicator of how safe that city is to ride a bike in.  Cities like Amsterdam boast rates of female cycling above 50%, while even strong American biking cities hover around only 1/3 of bikers being female.

More interviews and photos to come!  Contact Rachel Playe  if you identify as a woman and want to participate.  Remember, we want to hear from people at every point of the comfort spectrum.  What are your joys of biking?  And what frustrates you?  

In Quieter Neighborhood News. . .


Lee Corley of the Steelyard came by to install the new bike racks at FUG.  


Fertile Underground was also putting together superhero costumes for the big citywide cleanup on Saturday April 20th, making for this nice photo op with the garlic bike rack & FUG worker Adam Graffunder.

Eco RI: West Enders Cluck Approval for Farm-Supply Store


We covered Cluck! for Eco RI and had a good conversations with both the large demonstration of supporters and the much smaller group of people on the other side of the street who were against.  We found the points of view of both interesting, even though we obviously favor opening Cluck!.  In particular, the parish's concern about getting better access for elderly worshipers to their church rang true, and we hope that future articles can address ways that Providence's transportation infrastructure can improve for seniors.

Go Eco RI directly for the article.  Below are some more pictures that Rachel took from the event.

Other Ways to Support Cluck!

This from Eat Drink RI:
Cluck! is in need of a zoning variance for the life of the business only to open. We’re asking that you help support Cluck! with an email and/or phone call, and, if you’re a resident, attend a meeting in support of Cluck! Drake Patten, the creator and driving force behind Cluck! (and outgoing Executive Director of The Steel Yard) has offered these suggestions on how to let the city of Providence know that you support the business and would like to see it open at 399 Broadway. From Patten:
  1. Call Mayor Angel Taveras’s office at 401-421-2489 and leave the following message: You are excited about the blighted property at 399 Broadway put back into use as as business supporting urban farming. You understand the owner is having difficulty with a small group of neighbors. Please ask the Mayor’s office to assist in supporting this small business getting its doors open.
  1. Email the City of Providence Planning and Development Zoning office to voice support for the business. The Director of Zoning, Peter Carnevale’s email is pcarnevale@providenceri.comEmail is important so it can be read into the record. If you also wish to call Carnevale’s direct phone is 401-680-5376
  1. Folks can come to the WBNA Community Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, December 11, at 7 p.m. Cluck! will present their plans to the CDC for their consideration. The WBNA meeting is at1560 Westminster St.
And of course, see you all SUNDAY AT 9AM IN THE CLUCK PARKING LOT AT 399 BROADWAY.

Trading Gardens for Pavement


James and I were disappointed when we heard about the Superior Court Judge Luis M. Matos' decision to reverse the zoning variance that had been granted to the urban farm store Cluck!. Cluck!'s Facebook page calls on supporters to come to their site at 399 Broadway on Sunday at 9 AM and to "bring a blanket, bring a picnic, bring yourself and your West Side pride to the Cluck! parking lot!"

The issue of parking is key to this case, in fact, which makes a picnic in the Cluck parking lot appropriate.  Cluck, which labored to open up as a local urban farm & garden business based significantly on bike and bus traffic, was designed to have limited auto parking in line with the ecological ideals of urbanism.  Opponents challenged the store on the basis that its provision of chicken supplies would be unhygienic--and on more publicly contested grounds, that the store would take away free parking spaces for the neighborhood and create traffic congestion.

Transport Providence supports the repeal of parking minimums, which we think act to hinder development, make housing and commercial space more expensive, while undermining walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented community design.  
I'll be there with James to support Cluck! on Sunday, to take photos of attendees and to ask why people are out to support the business.  As someone who does not drive and who considers urban farming important, I need a place close to me from which I can bike heavy loads of supplies back to the apartment.  For me, the city is a hard place to be sometimes, and seeing the city trade gardens for pavement upsets me.  Mayor Taveras has wisely been working to turn more parking lots into farms and gardens, and here we have a source for greenery being intentionally kept a vacant lot.

Stuff We Built in Less Than Thirty Years


biking in Providence brought up a brief discussion of just how long it might take to get us to be a biking mecca.  It took Amsterdam and Portland, Oregon three decades to achieve what they have, but in my opinion there's no reason we can't accomplish the same in a much shorter period of time.  The cities that tried bike-friendly design in the '70s didn't have any models to work from, and had to rely on trial-and-error experimentation.  We, on the other hand, know exactly what works, and should be able to get 'er done with less effort.

Here are some things that human beings have engineered, along with the times that it took to complete them.  You can decide whether making us the Amsterdam of the East Coast is more or less difficult than these human achievements.

Interstate 80

Approximately Thirty Years--from June 1956* to August 1986

I-80 goes through twelve states, from one ocean to another, and across the Appalachians, the Rockies, and the Sierra Nevada to connect San Francisco with New York City.  It was the longest contiguous freeway in the world at the time of its completion--in other words, something that legitimately takes thirty years to complete.


*Because I couldn't find an exact starting date for construction, I went with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act as the starting date, in order to be conservative with my data.

And in fact, while we're at it, it took us less time to complete. . . 

The Transcontinental Railroad

Six Years--1863 to 1869

Although talks about the railroad began in the 1830s, the actual construction took only six years, from 1863 to 1869, in the midst of The American Civil War and several serious "Indian wars".  And with 19th Century technology (okay, in fairness, it helps if you treat your workforce like expendable pack-animals, but still. . . ).

Okay, not impressed?  How about. . . 

The Hoover Dam 

Five Years--September 1931 to March 1936

Now, keep in mind that this was built during the Great Depression.  And the summer daytime high was 119 degrees--with people pouring concrete, which gives off even more heat when it sets.  Do we mean to say that getting a majority of Providence residents to feel comfortable biking on a regular basis is six times as hard as building the Hoover Dam?

The Eiffel Tower 

Two Years--January 1887 to March 1889

I think it's more than safe to say that the Eiffel Tower was built with less technology than we have today, mais oui?  And in two years' time, one-fifteenth of the time we're told it will take to make us serious contenders in the bike-world.


The Empire State Building 

One Year--from January 1930 to May 1931

Again, this was done during the Great Depression.  Could we seriously mean to say that we think it will take thirty times as long to get our modest goals complete compared to this?

Okay, you say, but that's New York.  We can't do that in New England.  Well, how about. . . 

The Canton Viaduct

One Year--April 1834 to July 1835

The last surviving viaduct of its kind, it has stood for 177 years.  It's what makes train connections from Providence to Boston possible.  Due to its superb, straight, level construction, it is one of the fastest portions of the Northeast Corridor of AMTRAK, one of the few places where the Acela can actually get up to full speed, the other being in South County, Rhode Island.

Okay, look, I'm not saying it couldn't take thirty years to get us to Amsterdam level.  But why should it?  As someone with (a mostly useless) history degree, let me impart the biggest piece of useful information my education has ever brought me:  don't use the passive voice, ever.  If bike infrastructure "wasn't completed", then someone didn't complete it.  In other words, there is an actor, and something being acted upon.  Bike infrastructure can and will be completed quickly and efficiently when we make ourselves a nuisance enough that it has to take front-and-center as an issue.  We should stop talking about the extraordinarily inefficient governance we experience as if it's been bequeathed to us by the tooth fairy.

Meet you all on Memorial Boulevard?

Eco RI: Is Providence Biking Towards a Better Future?

I'm very honored to have been able to speak as part of an Eco RI podcast, along with Eric Weis of the East Coast Greenway, and Jack Madden of Legend Bikes.  It's definitely the beginning of the discussion, so I hope that Eco RI does follow-ups.

September 20th Is Park(ing) Day in Providence

PARK(ING) DAY is a yearly event that started in 2005, which has now spread to every non-Antarctic continent on the planet.  It is a celebration of public space.  Park(ing) Day's temporary nature allows us to experiment in the here and now with our grandest ideas for what could be in the future, but without the expense and red tape of waiting for City Hall to do it.  Putting a physical, tangible idea in people's hands, even for a day, does much more than talking about that idea ever could do, and often accelerates permanent change.

Last year's Park(ing) Day was a huge success around the world.  Rebar, the group that created Park(ing) Day, has created a presentation of people's Parks from 2012:

Being West End residents, we want this event to shine the most in our community (in other words, Eat It, East Side!).  So we'd like to see the event's center-of-gravity be at businesses on Broadway, Westminster, and in Olneyville Square.  There are some obvious shoe-ins that we know will jump on this like the Fertile Underground, Dash Bikes, and Recycle-a-Bike, but virtually any restaurant or storefront on these streets would benefit from the extra attention from the public.  We'd love to find ourselves this September eating tacos outside of Mi Ranchito in our own umbrellaed parklet.  Even non-commercial spaces like the Olneyville branch of the library, PASA/HUB, or the WBNA could get involved.

There's a whole spring and summer to put together the parklets, so let the competition begin!

Rhode Island Needs to Educate Drivers About Dooring

RHODE ISLAND NEEDS TO START educating drivers about dooring.  Although it recently fixed errors in its DMV manual that had said that cyclists needed to stay on the sidewalk, it still more or less leaves drivers with the (erroneous) impression that cyclists must always stay to the right.

Here's what the DMV manual does say:
Although techically, someone could read this and come away with something approaching an understanding of the law, the wording of this is awful.  Cyclists are given their rights as a negation here.  Instead of forthrightly saying that cyclists can take a lane just like any other vehicle, it treats cyclists' choice to ride anywhere but on the right side of the road as an unusual aberration.  It also does virtually nothing to explain what would constitute unsafe conditions to be on the righthand side in the first place.

Although you could fit a bike between the white truck and the parked cars here, it would be neither safe nor legal.

Today I rediscovered the annoyance this can present when a motorist got behind me and my partner on Washington Street and honked at us for taking the lane.  On Washington, it's safest to ride down the middle of the lane, because of the parked cars.  And in fact, not doing so is technically illegal.  But the motorist in question didn't know this.  Maybe she read the DMV manual.

After expressing her annoyance at our presence in the road, she sped through Kennedy Plaza, bursting through two crosswalks where pedestrians were trying to cross, and then almost hitting someone trying to get across Exchange Street.  We yielded to the pedestrians, but still ended up catching up to her at the light with Memorial.  In other words, ironically, she gained absolutely nothing in terms of driving time by being obnoxious. 

I tapped on the window and attempted to calmly explain this to her, but got very little traction with my argument.  As conversations with motorists go, it was relatively productive.  The lady didn't curse me out or threaten me by revving her engine at me.  But because the DMV manual implies that cyclists have to stay to the right, she just stonewalled me by saying that I was wrong.

Dooring does have serious impacts at times, and so I hope RIDOT will take it seriously.  I personally broke my collar bone and needed two surgeries because of a dooring incident in Philadelphia.  In my case, the police refused to give me a police report, because they insisted that I was at fault for the accident and wanted to protect (in their words) the other driver.  More recently, in Chicago, a cyclist was doored, and then run over by a second motorist, and ended up with "a cracked skull, broken shoulder blades and hip, 23 cracked ribs and a punctured lung," according to Streetsblog Chicago.  The second motorist fled the scene and has not been located, while Chicago Police--perhaps trying to humorously demonstrate my point that most people don't know the law--cited the first driver for "falling to yield to a horse".

It would be great to see Rhode Island get ahead of Illinois and Pennsylvania on driver education.

Inspirations From Other Cities' Freeway Removals


IF THERE'S ONE REFORM Transport Providence would be more thrilled to see than any other, it would be the removal of Routes 6 & 10 as freeways, and their replacement as multipurpose boulevards.  A boulevard is different than a freeway in that it provides plenty of room for cars, but also public transit lanes, protected bike lanes, and park space.  6 & 10 are a collective nightmare because they cut off so many neighborhoods from each other, and create a royal mess at Olneyville Square, where 50% of the population doesn't even own a car.  

Lots of cities have removed their worst freeway nightmares, and we can too.

STEP ONE:  Have an earthquake.

The Embarcadero before an earthquake destroyed it.
San Francisco has removed several of its freeways.  The City by the Bay has a reputation of being, well, a bit left-leaning and enviro-conscious, but the reality is that S.F. never would have embarked on the removal of its freeway infrastructure if it hadn't completely collapsed without warning.  When an earthquake brought down the Embarcadero and the Central Artery, San Franciscans who hated the freeways suddenly found themselves with an edge in the debate over removal.

Possession is nine tenths of the law, it seems, and if you possess a broken freeway, you might be able to get rid of it with greater than usual ease.

The Embarcadero boulevard today, with trolleys and bike lanes.

STEP TWO:  What, not in an earthquake zone?!  Try negligence.

If you don't live in an earthquake zone, don't despair.  You too can someday remove your unsightly highway infrastructure and replace it with something better.  

In New York City, what is today called West Street used to be The West Side Highway.  N.Y.C. isn't exactly home to much seismic activity, but the city, state and federal authorities neglected the West Side Highway so much that it finally collapsed in 1973.  And again, in 1975.  The highway sat decaying for the next fifteen years until finally, the late Mayor Ed Koch negotiated with the federal government to forgo rebuilding the highway and use the money for public transportation improvements instead.

One of the interesting things about the West Side Highway is that before its collapse, no one had really studied what would happen to a removed highway.  At the time, after all, highways were the height of transportation technology.  A video by streetfilms.org (see 1:13 to 2:07) interviews Sam Schwartz, the former traffic commission from that time, as he explains the odd conclusion he was able to come to after the collapse of the West Side Highway:  the highway traffic largely disappeared.  Schwartz lined up counters on every avenue in Manhattan to count where the extra cars went.  Many of them dispersed evenly throughout the rest of the city grid.  The remainder drove at a different time than usual, used public transportation, carpooled, or otherwise avoided using a car to get around.  No traffic problems.

Again, as with San Francisco, in retrospect one looks at New York City and assumes that there must be something special or different about it as a city that makes this possible.  The reality is that New York was much more car-oriented in the '70s than it is today.  At the height of that period, not only were there no bike lanes in Midtown Manhattan, but bicycles were actually banned from that part of the city entirely.  The subway system was notoriously unreliable and in a state of collapse.  Walking around through much of Manhattan was hardly seen as safe or pleasant as it may be today.  And yet, somehow people did without a freeway.  So perhaps we can too.

Of course, one hopes that this doesn't come about through the collapse of a road--although that seems a great deal more likely in Rhode Island than an earthquake of any size.  So that brings us to our final (and best) method of freeway removal:  

STEP THREE:  Ain't No Power Like the Power of the People

If you don't want your freeway removed after a disaster (man-made or otherwise), then you can follow the lead of cities like Portland, Oregon to see how freeways can be successfully removed by simple public pressure.  

Portland, Oregon is today viewed as a mecca for public transportation and biking, but that wasn't always the case.  The Hawthorne Bridge, which today sports a wide protected bike lane on each side leading into a riverside bike route, used to use that same infrastructure to help cars onto the Harbor Drive Freeway.

Where the truck and the white car are in this picture is currently a bike-ramp instead of a highway on-ramp.

As in the previous cases, the change is so complete that it's difficult to imagine how it could be otherwise.  You might find yourself saying that Portland is just different than Providence--it's where hipsters go to retire in their late twenties, right?--remember that before Portland carried through a series of successful transportation reforms, it was viewed as a dumpy, rather nothing place to be by many on the West Coast.  It's because of the reforms that it's now viewed nationally and internationally as a place worth visiting and living in.

If you don't believe me, look at the picture below, and tell me that Portland has always been a great place for car-free living.  Spotted owls selling cars notwithstanding, it doesn't look all that nature-oriented to me:
This is a park today, with an off-road bike route.

Portland residents explain in a streetfilms video that they didn't lose their freeway infrastructure because they lived in a special state where everyone hated cars.  When Robert Moses came to Oregon to propose freeways like those he'd completed on the East Coast, the governor, the legislature, and the whole city government had green-lighted the project.  It was only after public pressure brought people's disdain for the freeway project to a head that the city changed course, and even removed some of its earlier road projects like the one on Harbor Drive.

After all, does anyone even like Routes 6 & 10?  I mean, even among drivers.  I've never heard anyone say, "Gee, I can't wait for my commute home through the connector!"  Maybe we should learn from these cities, and turn 6 & 10 into boulevards that can carry all modes of traffic.