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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...

What a weekend!


Bike to Work Day in Burnside Park, Providence 2013
Farm Fresh arrived via bicycle
Recycle-A-Bike brought their bike valet
Farm Fresh sticker on a waiting bike
Family dropping in for Bike to Work Day
Matt Moritz, President of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, speaking to the crowd
Mayor Angel Taveras addressing Cyclovia dates for Providence 2013
Eric Weis, East Coast Greenway coordinator, speaking
Donated New Harvest coffee for the morning commute
Mayor Angel Taveras and company arrive at Burnside Park

Saturday and Sunday were dominated by Southside Community Land Trust's Plant Sale.  We packed up our bikes with an over abundance of plants and away we went.  

A Meeting with Michael Solomon


WE MET WITH CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT Michael Solomon and his staff person Jake Bissailion this afternoon at his office, and they very graciously sat through a presentation we made about pedestrian and bike improvements that could be done in the city.  As we told them, our interest in this subject is kind of wide, so we could have talked for hours if the two had had the time.  To save them that trouble, we focused on just one route--from Wayland Square to Olneyville Square.  The route is by no means the worst in the city--in fact, it's probably one of the better ones.  We found that when people are willing to pay attention to the details, there are lots of little things that can improve even the best routes. Some of our suggestions were about bikes, but in contrast with our tendency to focus on cycling, a lot of our thoughts about this route were about walking instead of biking.

We found a lot of points of agreement with the Council President, so we're looking forward to seeing what happens from this meeting.  The biggest commitment we got that surprised us was an agreement that parking minimums have to go, and that they hurt business.  The Council President smiled with interest at the idea of Park(ing) Day in Providence, and we look forward to seeing him and other councilors out to celebrate it this September.

Speedy Crosswalks

One of our focuses was non-functional crosswalks.   From leaving Wayland Square, Waterman and Angell turn into semi-highways in terms of their speed, and people don't observe crosswalks again until  Hope Street.  Here are some non-crosswalks in that area:

Angell & Ives

Angell & Cooke

The Council President suggested raised crosswalks to fix these intersections, which sounds like a good idea to us.  We also could see putting stop signs in, because area drivers seem to take those more seriously than they do crosswalks.  The other option would be to go with a full speed hump, like the one on Atwells Avenue.


Biking on Angell & Waterman

Angell and Waterman both have these narrow little shoulders on the left-hand side, which stand in as bike lanes of a sort.  We think those lanes could either be widened, to make proper bike lanes, or the street should have sharrows.  The key to sharrows though would be that the speed limit must be lowered to bike speed and strictly enforced, which is not always done as part of sharrow painting.

The google streetview picture shows that even a RIPTA bus has a lot of room in the existing lanes.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to consider removing parking if necessary to create a wide, buffered bike lane, either.  Most of the time when parking-removal is considered, people get nervous.  But who are the customers in this part of town?  Students--bikers and walkers.  If it can't work here, where can it work?


Extended Curbs

Google streetview was kind enough to snap their shot of Thayer & Angell right as this guy was crossing the street.  If this intersection was designed better, he'd already be there.  It's usually illegal to park near corners anyway, so we would like corners like this to be built out with green space so as to slow drivers down when they make turns.  Doing this also drastically reduces the distance pedestrians have to get across the street.

We didn't go there with the Council President, but we also think that eventually Thayer ought to be a pedestrian mall from Cushing to the north-side of the RIPTA tunnel.  Pedestrian malls are shopper magnets.


Is It Legal for Tractor Trailers to be on Angell Street?

We've several times seen eighteen wheelers coming down the 7% grade hill on Angell Street, something that we were pretty sure was illegal, and were very sure was unsafe.  We asked the Council President if this was legal, and he was pretty shocked to hear that it was happening (I guess that's our answer!).   Hopefully the Providence Police Department will work really hard to enforce the law on this.

Walking the "L" on Angell
Several of the intersections in this area of the city also have the annoying characteristic of making you cross the street in order to cross again--walking the "L".  The worst thing is that sometimes one intersection makes you walk to one side of the sidewalk only to have the next make you switch again.  On the southern side of Angell & Benefit, there's no crosswalk.  The design of the sidewalk is such that perhaps this makes sense.  Because the corner sweeps widely away, making it possible for people to swing around it quickly--tractor trailers included--this would be a very dangerous place to cross the street.  We suggested that this corner be extended so that those types of turns can't happen, and a crosswalk be put in.

Steeple Street

Rachel grew up near here, but James has only been here a year.  In that time, no less than three times have I seen the fence on the Baptist Church knocked out, probably by a driver who lost control of his or her car.  That, and certain ghost stories of ladies flying off their horses onto the fence posts, make us think that this isn't the place for speed.

Steeple Street has virtually no sidewalk on its south side, and the sidewalk curves into Angell to allow people a smooth transition.  But this just speeds people up, at precisely the most important place for the city to prioritize slowing people down.  We want this corner extended so that people have to zigzag onto benefit and then back onto Steeple.  We also want a wider sidewalk.  And where there's currently a triangle painted to suggest that people shouldn't drive, that could be where the traffic is allowed to flow instead.

Some space could be considered for a protected bike lane, too, since this hill is a direct route between downtown and Brown, but is currently daunting to travel.

Suicide Circle

Crossing Main Street and Memorial Boulevard is really unfriendly to pedestrians.  As Steeple turns into Exchange, there are just too many lanes.  A protected bike lane could continue all the way up to 1-95, and meet the regular bike lane on Broadway.  There's also hardly any sidewalk here, making walking an afterthought rather than a main purpose for the space.

Considering a protected bike lane from the mall to near the Turk's Head on Memorial could not only be good for bicyclists, but it could create narrower lanes of traffic with more pedestrian islands for this lady trying to cross the street.  Some kind of bollards or reflectors could also be considered at turning points to slow left-hand turns, while the corners could be extended for right-hooks.  This is one of my least favorite places to walk, and sadly it dissects two of my favorite pedestrian zones.

One consideration for Memorial could also be putting some trees down the center medians.  Traditionally, this was avoided because engineers thought giving people more line-of-sight was a good thing.  But a lot of cities are intentionally creating limited vistas as a way of slowing down motorists.  

The 92

Moving the buses at Greater Kennedy Plaza has been met with a range of emotions by people working to reduce car-dependence in Providence--everything from joy and excitement to suspicion.  If the buses are reconfigured, maybe part of the plan should be to move the "trolley" buses too.  When we don't bike or walk, we're frequent users of the 92, because it's the only bus that connects us without transfers relatively close to our apartment and our workplaces.  But the 92 does an unnecessary corkscrew around the ice skating rink on its west-bound route, when it ought to just let passengers out on the sidewalk at Exchange.

Exchange is hard to cross--again, not the worst place to be a pedestrian by any means in Providence as a whole, but entirely too difficult to walk across for something near a bus terminal.  As Kennedy Plaza is redesigned, the curly-Q should be eliminated, the street narrowed--perhaps by a protected bike lane, or even by an expansion of the park itself--and the 92 should just go its merry westerly way.

The best part of this is that it would eliminate the sweeping, rounded, northwesterly corner of Burnside Park in favor of a squared-off one.  The existing pedestrian island could just be connected to the corner.  The same thing would happen on the other side, connecting the hanging island at Exchange & Francis to the corner of Sabin Street.

There should be a crosswalk going across Francis on the south-side of the street.

A key feature of fixing corners like this is that we think it could be done on the cheap--and prettier--by sticking some large potted plants in the gaps where these curves used to be, rather than waiting for the bureaucracy of large TIGER grants to lay totally new concrete.  And, if Providence changes these corners and finds it really hates the change, the plants can always be picked up and put someplace else.


Where the Dunkin Donuts Still Is

Around the Dunkin Center, there's another set of these rounded, large-radius corners and let-outs, as Sabin hits Exchange.  And the island for this one, in particular, is troubling, because it's covered in snow whenever it gets plowed in the winter.  You're not usually on the other side of the sidewalk at all, because there are no direct crosswalks either from the east or the west to the other side.  So you pretty much have to walk through this snow, all the while with cars whizzing through to the parking lot.  Making these corners sharp and harder to drive around would help this.

Google must have come by during an accident from one of these maneuvers.

Another example of this type of corner, on Matthewson near Sabin

Maybe this nice floral island could come in a bit, and connect to the rounded corner in front of the Hasbro building, as part of the circulator project?

Crossing I-95

Squaring the corners at I-95 could be as simple as putting some potted plants in the way of the turns.

And Providence could Pinterest-up its chain link fence with some kind of decoration, or do like Philadelphia and put panels up with murals on them, so that crossing this bridge into the West End, people are reminded they are in a neighborhood, rather than being reminded only of the highway.


Broadway needs speed enforcement.  Bike lanes won't protect anyone against someone going 40 mph in their car.  Providence needs to get on top of that with ticketing.

Making the effort for pedestrians on Broadway could really help bicyclists too.  There really aren't enough signalized crossings on Broadway right now, so adding some at places like Courtland & Broadway would help new shoppers at Cluck!  But since the speed limit on Broadway is (in theory) 25 mph, Providence could experiment with the cheaper route of just putting in some stop signs.  That would send the message that the area is less a speedway and more a neighborhood, so it might be better than traffic lights anyway.

The images from Google are pre-bike lane, so it's harder to illustrate, but we'd also like the dotted portion of bike lanes as they approach intersections to have reflective bollards put in, to remind motorists making right-hand turns that the lanes are still there, and to slow them down on the turns.  This would help with right-hook accidents.

We sat the other morning preparing for this at Seven Stars Bakery, wondering whether doing that would affect people's ability to make the turns.  Just then, someone parked right along that part of the street, and a truck cleanly made the turn around it.  So the universe is telling us something.

What's In a Name?


THERE'S A DAVID FOSTER WALLACE ESSAY I like in which he describes--with typically copious footnotes and side thoughts that rival even my ability to digress--the detriments and graces of growing up in the rectilinear world of Southern Illinois and Indiana.  The Northwest Territories were set out into blocks of equally-sized counties by Thomas Jefferson, and the land provides no distinguishable feature outside of acres and acres of corn.  Wallace said he got thrust into his first year at Cornell in the rustic hills of Ithaca New York essentially unprepared for the geography of the real world.  In the essay, he attributes much of his interest in higher math to his rural surroundings, as if calculus and trig had been writ-large on some giant computer grid with homes and farms.

EVEN OUTSIDE OF NEW ENGLAND, everyone knows that the region has haphazard streets, and so I'm not entirely surprised to find that, after my first full-year here, there's been a similar adjustment period from leaving Philadelphia.  The most prominent example of this regional meandering is Boston, with its cow-paths-turned-boulevards.  It's lucky that Boston has a good train system, because trying to get around by any other means could be lengthy and confusing.  Boston's layout, just like Providence's, follows the organic growth of its people more or less just as they happened to decide to put down houses or mills. 

Organic growth is a decidedly un-Philadelphian thing to do.  Not very Quaker, for sure.  William Penn, who was full of utopian zeal about freedom of religion and the rights of the individual (sound like anywhere else?) took his thoughts a step further into the realm of public space.  He named his City of Brotherly Love the next "Greene Countrie Towne" and sought to erase all mistakes of past cities from its face.  Despite plenty of trees, wooden structures were banned in place of much more costly brick to banish the possibility the still-remembered Great London Fire.  City streets were set out on a grid of perfect squares, with equidistant quadrilaterals of park space at intervals.  North-south arterials were numbered--a completely new thing--while all the cross streets were named after tree species.  Very orderly, very silence-on-First-Day, very Society of Friends.

The William Penn utopian in me says, "What is this mess?"
EVEN OLD NEW YORK WAS ONCE NEW AMSTERDAM, and at that time until the construction of the Erie Canal, Philly was the second largest city in the English-speaking world and experimenting with things urban NYC hadn't even thought of.  New York copied its now more famous grid from us.  That's why, when you wander below Delancy Street in Manhattan, you suddenly feel thrust into Europe.  Suddenly there are no avenues and streets neatly numbered to let you know where you are.

And Philly takes its grid to a level that New York never did.  So unprepared for life did my home city leave me, that I got lost in Bed. Stuy. one night because the street signs didn't politely inform me of their arterial direction and "hundred" block in a way that could alert me ahead of time of how long a walk I was in for.  Even in the suburbs of Philly, people are inclined to say things like "I grew up on the twelve-hundred block of Roosevelt Drive" which instantly gives everyone around an exact sense of what part of that street you grew up on even if the person lives several miles away on the other side of town (Rachel and I even had some fun with this the other day, when she mailed a postcard to our friend Amy.  Amy's address on Crease Street was someplace I'd never heard of in the city, but I could figure out by the fact that it was name-street and the number in front of it exactly where it was in the city.  Nerdy, but fun!).  

Not in Bed. Stuy.  235 might be the end of a block, only to have 245 start the next one.  The two-hundreds might stretch for a mile, and then the threes will pop up and disappear like crocuses in spring, to have the four hundreds rear their head and stay for another mile.  I found myself, a humble Indiana boy really, trying to figure his way through Ithaca hill country.

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GRIDS ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE.  Places as different as Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Paris were built on wagon wheels, of all things.  Venice was built on marshes that constricted it into canals. Clearly, if there was nothing fabled about having cowpaths for roads, people wouldn't keep coming back to New England to vacation.  That said, I would like to suggest one thing that can be easily changed to merge the advantages of grid with cowpath.  When a street does happen to go the same direction contiguously for some time, it should keep the same name--at least until town borders arrive.  In a city like Providence, attempting to build on its walkability, having streets that are more navigable goes a long way.

For example, is there any good reason why Smith Hill's Oakland Avenue should change its name first to Raymond Avenue, then Dean Street, then Cahir, Stewart, and finally Prairie Avenue?  Like 'Gansett swampahs that nevah go nahth of the Towah, the habit of naming one continuous street several different things for no reason leaves us unnecessarily provincial and lost.  It's no wonder that the average Rhode Islander I talk to knows his or her highway exit, but not how to get to their house on a back street.

Why does Empire suddenly change into Chestnut Street?  Is that to inform us that we've left the Earth and gone to the Moon (admittedly, the potholes might give you this impression)?  Can't Chestnut just be called S. Empire (or for francophile flare, Second Empire)?

Steeple Street has enough charm without its own name.
Is there a reason for us to have a Washington Street that turns into a Waterman?  They're the same street! 

Westminster, since I-95 was built, has been cut off from itself, but manages to name itself Westminster again on the other side of the highway.  But the completely continuous journey it makes to College Street--which is only a few blocks long in its own right--nonetheless requires a name change.

The oddest example of this phenomenon is Angell, which near its eastern terminus is two streets, N. and S. Angell, then merges to one street, briefly becomes Steeple not at the top but in the middle of College Hill, then Exchange, only to change yet again a block later into Sabin, and then Broadway.  

We should just call Broad Street Weybosset the whole way.  Weybosset is a much cooler word, and having a Broad Street so close to Broadway is confusing.

Now, when you tell people they should change their street names, you're going a bit further than advocating for mere bike lanes or better bus service--which is why, even though I've wanted to write some version of this article for a while, so far I've kept my precocious thoughts to myself.  Advocating name changes to landmarks feels like suddenly asking people to drop their dialect, or stop speaking a native tongue, or throw out their grandmother's rosaries.  So, maybe in some cases, like where a street name defines a neighborhood, we could keep two names.  I don't particularly want to find my house on a side-street of Angell.  It just doesn't feel right, not even to me.  And I'm sure many Brown students wouldn't like waking up on Broadway.  But why Steeple Street?  The idea, I'm sure, is to create a "sense of place", but if the place being honored is only a block long, why not just do so through the still-standing structure rather than confusing tourists who might want to pass through?

The other reason people might feel resistant to change is that conquering a poorly-managed road system feels like a feather in one's cap.  A friend related to me once that she had visited a Japanese village in which all of the houses were numbered not by geography, but by how old the house was.  A person who didn't know the whole history of the town couldn't get through it.  And that was exactly how the residents wanted it.  Just like the seasoned RIPTA rider who knows the transfers between one number bus and another, this inches-to-feet-to-yards-to-fathoms conversion adds wrinkles to the gray matter.  And since Rhode Island prides itself on never leaving Rhode Island, provinciality may not be something it minds being criticized for.

My guess, though, is that people will stop telling me to turn right at where the Dunkin Donuts used to be if we add--some, just a little--order to this chaos.  Hey, maybe we could even fade-in arterial direction markers on the signs as they're replaced.  After all, it's a lot harder to figure out which way is north here.  It might help the traffic, the pollution, and the tourist revenue.


Small Correction:  Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile blog, who grew up in rural Indiana, said that the southern part of the state has a topography similar to Rhode Island.  It's possible, then, that the DFW essay I referenced might have been about some other parts of Illinois/Indiana--maybe the central parts?

Tweed Ride PVD

A participant of the Tweed Ride crossing the Point Street Bridge in Providence this past Sunday.


WE HAD A GREAT TIME AT the Tweed Ride this weekend.  James worked the Recycle-a-Bike valet service (email) while I sipped lemonade and ate PVD pops.  What was most exciting about the event was the feeling that biking is finally becoming part of the culture in Providence.  When the RISD Museum wanted to bring their Dandy exhibit to the streets, they teamed with the Tweed Ride to get people there.  Police escort transformed the usually car-stacked ride from Harris Avenue to the East Side into a calm and enjoyable one.  The contrast on the Point Street Bridge was clearest.  No longer were there whizzing motorists on their speedy way to I-195, and we could enjoy the view of the water fully.  

I hope that rides like this one can turn many casual recreational riders into daily commuters. 

Bike to The Good Earth Garden Party

The Good Earth Garden Party should already be on your calendar of fun things to do in the area.  It's next Saturday, May 11th, from 10 AM to 5 PM. Talking to people at the Fertile Underground today, I found out that there are plans to organize group bike rides up to the event from the West End.  Rachel used to work at a farm just west of where the Good Earth is, and would commute by bike, and on the occasions when I got to join her, it was gorgeous--down Cranston Ave., onto the bike path through W. Cranston, and then up the very well shouldered Scituate Ave.  A tad hilly towards the end, but very much worth it.

I expect that there will be at least one group going at 9 AM from FUG to make it for the beginning of the event. Please email us at transportprovidence@gmail.com if you want to organize other times for group rides, since we'd be interested in helping make it possible for people to go at all parts of the day.

Celebrate local farming and local transportation!  May 11th at the Good Earth.


UPDATE:  Molly Hagan, one of the organizers, sent this information:

Date: May 11, 2013
Rain Date: May 12, 2013
Time: 10am-5pm
Location: The Good Earth Organic Gardening Center, 1800 Scituate Ave, Hope, RI 02831
Admission: FREE


Celebrate spring at Rhode Island’s only certified organic gardening center! The Good Earth has a wide range of vegetable starts, annuals, perennials, tropicals, herbs and all of your organic gardening needs. While gathering gardening supplies, enjoy free demonstrations on seed starting, garden design, and food preparation. Meet local artists and browse a stunning array of artwork, clothing, jewelry, and handmade gifts. Sample fresh, local food and shop for certified organic produce!

There will be a range of musical performances including bluegrass from The Rank Strangers.  Julians Restaurant will be serving freshly made food and RiverzEdge Arts Project will have exciting activities for kids. There will also be on-site screen printing! Bring a t-shirt, tote bag, or clothing item and get it screen printed with a Good Earth Garden Party design. There is free parking and free admission, so bring the whole family to kick-off the growing season at The Good Earth!

Now accepting SNAP! Spend EBT benefits on edible plants, herbs, certified organic produce, and select items in our gift shop. For event updates and a schedule of events, visit www.GoodEarthRI.com