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A Meeting with Michael Solomon


By JAMES KENNEDY & RACHEL PLAYE

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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


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.

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