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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...

Suburbs Are Dead When Fortune Magazine Says So


Westboro's housing developments
Banks usually have the worst magazine literature in their lobbies, but not today.  Today I was in my bank, waiting on line and going through the magazines when I saw that Fortune Magazine had the leading story "The End of The Suburbs?" It's part of Leigh Gallagher's new book The End of Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving. I think it's a good read and particularly interesting to me since they highlight the story of a Westboro, MA woman and her coming to terms with the true nature of her suburb.  I grew up going to Hebrew School in Westboro and always thought it had a beautiful downtown.  The older part of town is densely developed.  There's a train line going into Worcester and Boston, there's a town green and the high school is a few minutes walk from restaurants and coffee shops.  It's that kind of place.  However, the town has also sacrificed much farm land for new development sprawl and precious downtown real estate for parking lots.  It's that kind of suburb.  The link only has part of the story for free, so I suggest you pick up the print magazine to get the whole story.

Downtown is dotted with parkinglots

Providence Goes for the Final Four

Eco RI published our rallying cry to make Providence the next Final Four winner.  Does the city have what it takes?  With city help, it just might.

More at Eco RI's page.

If you want to help Providence go the distance, please Tweet Mayor Taveras with the hashtag #parkingcraterfinalfour to thank the city for its support in helping us win this important contest.

A Good Listen

Visit RIPR's website to listen to this great short on downward driving trends, city planning, and what can be done to revive the American city.

A Note on Gender Equity and Organizing

Rachel & one of our friends from Philadelphia, Paul Glover, the inventor of Ithaca Hours


I want to just say as a small note that I get a lot of the credit for running this website, but that Rachel does at least as much work as I do.  In addition to her excellent photos, which I would never be able to match, Rachel suggests many of the stories, does a lot of networking with businesses, handles the facebook and sometimes the twitter, and more or less subsidizes our work by working much longer hours at her job than I do--i.e., leaving me to do the glory work of writing pieces.

I bring this up because I notice sometimes that supportive reposts of things we do say "Contact James Kennedy" or "Look at the great work James Kennedy is doing", etc.  I really appreciate these supportive reposts, but it aches inside me every time knowing that Rachel isn't getting the credit that's due to her.

Please recognize Rachel Playe for the excellent work she does.

There's a long history of women not getting credit for what they do within organizations.  Everything from the the fact that there's a MLK Day but not Fannie Lou Hamer Day, to stories of women being stuck doing the hardest but least rewarded work within activist organizations, and so on.  It's really important to me to recognize Rachel's work.

Thanks to the Office of Healthy Communities!

A before and after gif by Streetsblog Network of Cleveland,
demonstrating how parking (negatively) affects our
If you're going to dish out the criticism, you have to offer praise for a job well done, too.

The City Department Office of Healthy Communities did an excellent job writing a letter to support Park(ing) Day, including providing a Spanish version. I like their translation of Park(ing) Day. I was originally going to do El Día de (A)Parque(ando), which is roughly like The Day of Parking (Park), although "to park" is aparcar, so the conjugation and spelling would be a bit off with my choice. The city used El Día Estacionar(Arte), which is The Day to Park (Art). Thanks to Ellen Cynar and Eric Weis for getting this to us, and special thanks to Azada Perin, who put all the work into the translated version.

Please feel free to share either of these to help explain the concept of Park(ing) Day to businesses in your neighborhood.  

Small Error:  An employee from the city writes us to say that Healthy Communities is an "Office" of Mayor Taveras' administration, rather than a "Department", the distinction being that to be a full-blown department entails a great deal more status and support.  In any case, the Office of Healthy Communities seems to be doing good work.  Perhaps they should get that promotion, already!

Three Things Taveras Admin. Can Do to Make Up for Its Promo Video

(In case you're wondering what video I mean, check out our last post)

The 70s were nice, but let's not go back please.

Union Station used to have not a skating rink, but a parking lot across from it.  And it wasn't intended as a park & ride, either.  It was an example of the city turning itself over wholesale to cars.  In 1970 1975, when this photo was taken, this wasn't the only thing covered in parking and not functioning at all.  The river was under concrete and covered with a monstrous and deadly road, and lots of places to leave your car.

You all remember that?  I can't say I know that Providence first hand, but I've heard enough about it from others and seen enough from these types of photos to know that I wouldn't want to be there.

Why is Providence selling its downtown on the "thousands of parking spots" it has?  Moreover, why is it doing that with Kennedy Plaza in the background?  Is it really trying to rub it in to RIPTA?  Is it trying to give the finger one more time to its bicycle community?  

Today was a good day for Providence.  The city received national praise for the work of one of its businesses, Cluck! to ameliorate its impact on the Biggest Little's environment, leading to some really nice conversations in social media and among neighbors about what kinds of positive changes are occurring in the city.  The city seems unwilling to adapt to the positive changes its private sector already wants.

Providence's myopic insistence on ignoring other modes of transportation that are not cars and touting its hideous overindulgence in parking space results in:

*Fewer apartments and houses, more spread out, and more expensive (See Ted Nesi article on lack of new housing, and this graphic explanation by Portland, Oregon's city government on housing prices and parking's effect on rents and mortgages).
*More pollution (from cruising for free parking, from impervious surfaces, and from inducement to drive more in general)
*Fewer jobs and a worse economy:  When we all get free and ample parking, we can pretend the price goes away, but what actually happens is it just gets tucked into the price of our goods and services, and taken out of our wages and taxes.  A single parking spot averages $15,000, and that cost comes from somewhere (in some cases from the state government).
*Uglier spaces: Look, the ad is right, there's plenty to see in Providence.  But the parking isn't it.  Although there's plenty of it, as you can see in this image from Greater City Providence of downtown.

Here's what Providence can do to make it up to us, since this video was a major screw up:

1.  It can waive the $12 a spot fee Providence Park(ing) Day is going to have to raise money for to get a permit each parklet it creates.  The spots in question are unmetered--if they were metered, we could claim them just by paying the meter--so cars never pay to use these spots anyway.  The permitting process does not reserve the spot--to do that one must pay another $85 per spot.  It's just $12 to pay for the intention of being in the spot, with no guarantees to be able to use it.  The Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee has already indicated to us privately that it wants the city to do this, and that at its next meeting it will take an official vote.  We would like the mayor's office to step up and take care of this, please.

2.  Charge actual drivers for the actual parking they're doing.  Providence put out a $40 Million bond, which the bicycling and public transportation community has jumped behind sycophantically on the hopes that some of the roads (not the major ones) will get some sharrows (but no traffic calming). The roads definitely needed the repaving, so the bond itself wasn't a bad idea, but non-drivers who are paying taxes to Providence should have gotten a lot more in return for having to help repay the debt. Providence has thought of every possible creative way to cut services and raise taxes in order to make its budget work.  Let's try having people pay for the things they use, at least when it comes to parking spots.

3.  Make another tourism video, and this time, something more like this (nod to Stephen Miller of Streetsblog for sharing this video, by the way--now that's a tourism ad!):

Providence:  Just take a deep breath.  Disco is dead, and the '70s aren't coming back.  Buy a RIPTA card and jump on the bus like the rest of us--no change needed.


"Anyone who says there's no parking in Providence hasn't come to visit us.  We have thousands of parking spots".

 Park(ing) Day, anyone?

Thank you to Newport native Stephen Miller of Streetsblog.org, currently living in NYC, for catching this and sending it along.


Update:  Check out our most recent post for a policy statement on how the Taveras Administration can fix this mistake.

Flyers for Public Use: Bike-to-FUG Sundays in English & Spanish

Designer Chrissy Teck made this great English and Spanish flyers for Bike-to-FUG Sundays, a collaboration between our blog, Fertile Underground and Recycle-a-Bike.  Please feel free to print these and distribute, or copy the images for electronic distribution on a blog or social network.

Even More to Cluck (!) About.


Editor's note:  This is a collaboration with Eco Rhode Island, which has been a great supporter of our blog as it's grown.  Please check out their publication of this story at their website for additional bonus photos from Cluck! and other great news and opinion articles.  Eco RI recently launched Eco Mass, its Massachusetts website, which did a great article on storm water effects in the Narragansett Bay from our neighboring state.


Cluck! has earned the exclamation point at the end of its name.

Today George Harvey of Ground Corp, a company specializing in depaving asphalt, came to Cluck! to remove a sizable portion of its parking lot.  Although Providence's backward zoning ordinances require Cluck! to have three off-street parking spots, Cluck! will not opt to have even more.  It will instead use the remaining now-unpaved space for storm water mitigation by planting several tupelo and shad trees.  

Close followers of this story will recall that Providence's parking restrictions were an obstruction during Cluck!'s initial zoning process, almost derailing the popular business, which had already done tens of thousands of dollars of improvements to the abandoned gas station at 399 Broadway.

Harvey's company has been doing similar work in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and Central Falls due in part to funding from an EPA program that trains former prisoners in environmental management in order to fight recidivism.

"When my crew is done its training, it will have the ability to do storm water mitigation, asbestos removal, hazardous waste processing, OSHA 10 construction safety, CPR and basic first aid," said Harvey, who added that Ground Corp employs twelve to fourteen men and women at any time. Harvey said the program only offers temporary employment, but trains its interns in resume creation, and aids them in finding new and stable work.

Rhode Island, the country's second densest state after New Jersey, is currently 12% paved, between parking, roads, roofs, and concrete surfaces.  Much of the fish-killing pollution in the Narragansett Bay results from these paved surfaces, which usher huge amounts of rainwater into the combined sewer systems of the state's towns and cities, pushing untreated excrement overflow into the bay.  The problem has reached comic proportions.  A study published earlier this year noted that Rhode Island's top location for Craigslist "missed connections" was parking lots--putting it at odds with neighboring Massachusetts, where a plurality of missed connections happen on the subway. Although states like Nebraska Tennessee listed their number one location as Walmart--which is practically like saying a parking lot--many states, like New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia listed public transportation as their number one location.  States like Maryland named parks, certainly a more romantic locale than parking lots.

Cluck!'s owner, Drake Patten, who holds a masters degree in archeology, said the process of removing the asphalt reminded her of digs she had been on.  At the University of Virginia, she removed many layers of a road, seeing the various surfaces--concrete, asphalt, cobblestone--that had been popular at different stages in history.  She noted that macadam--a collection of gravel with a binder, similar but more permeable than today's asphalt--had held together the best through the years.  While other layers were destroyed in part or whole by the elements, the macadam layer was intact.  Patten mused about a day in which the on-street parking spots on Broadway might be simple gravel, with only the car- and bike-lanes paved.

Anything is possible.


Update:  A small mistake listed Nebraska's number one missed connection location as Walmart, while it is actually "supermarkets" in general. Fourteen states did name Walmart as their number one location, including Idaho, South Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and West Virginia, and Ohio.  While not one of these states, Nebraska can boast of plans for these new protected bike lanes in Lincoln, which is to say that Providence, Rhode Island actually has a considerable amount of catching up to do to our friends in the center of the country.

The Woonsocket Main Street Livability Plan


Riverzedge Riverfest set the stage for Woonsocket to announce its ambitious hopes (pdf) for its Main Street and other sections of town.  The plans were prepared by VHB, the consulting firm our blog has criticized for not being far-reaching enough in Providence. This has led us to wonder what about Woonsocket's government or other conditions explains this disparity. In Providence, planners have been adamant that bike lanes cannot affect parking, have mostly left out major routes as a focus of change, and have instead opted for minor and often unnecessary "improvements" to backstreets which provide little access to businesses or workplaces.  The Woonsocket plan discusses major routes as a focus for improvement, and includes the creation of physically separated facilities, something VHB engineer Bill DiSantis has criticized in the context of Providence.  The Woonsocket plan also includes improvements for pedestrians and transit users, which we find equally exciting as frequent riders of the 54 bus.

Woonsocket, which has struggled as a depressed mill town since the 1960s, may need just this kind of plan to see its historic downtown revived.

From the report:
Of primary importance in the Main Street Livability Plan are roadway-related improvements that enhance safety and accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists. A more pedestrian and bike-friendly downtown will also improve the aesthetic quality of downtown and encourage economic development. 
• Improve pedestrian environment along Main Street: Enhanced crosswalks, curb ramps and bump outs will improve accessibility and safety for pedestrians. Additionally, wider sidewalks in 
strategic locations will provide space for cafe tables, landscaping, bike racks and benches.
• Reconfigure Monument Square: Currently crossing Main, Social or Blackstone Street near Monument Square on foot is difficult due to the intersection geometry and traffic flow. Enlarging the island that the monument sits on - along with bump outs and new high-visibility crosswalks--will improve pedestrian safety and accessibility at this busy intersection.
• Provide additional pedestrian, bicycle and ADA connections to the river: In the long-term, a switchback ramp can connect the proposed bikeway to the Court Street Bridge and provide a fully-accessible connection to the Blackstone River, downriver from the Bernon Street Bridge.
• Improve bicycle connections into downtown: Bike lanes along the Bernon Street Bridge and shared lane markings on the South Main Street Bridge will promote access from the adjacent neighborhoods to the Blackstone River Bikeway and to downtown in general.

Riverfest organizer Kelly Griffith greeted the changes as "vital to the economic and physical health of Woonsocket."

Photos from Woonsocket Riverfest

By Rachel Playe

Recycle-a-Bike valeted festival-goers' bicycles

Loading a bike onto RIPTA bike racks was demonstrated 

Rhode Island chalk artists gathered to make multiple chalk murals at River Island Park.

A 400 Watt bike generator was onsite to explain the engineering behind bike-powered batteries

Northbridge, MA resident Michael Sasseville held a light powered by bicycle-generated electricity.

Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine addressed the crowd with a fifteen foot sharrow stencil behind him.

Extraordinary Rendition: the non-torture kind.

Participants made peace flags and hung them at the park.

Jewelry, found art, environmental and health booths brought a festive atmosphere.

Bike Lanes: The Case for Public Safety

I've been bugging Waterfire to put in temporary bike lanes using ropes and stanchions since the last time I did bike parking there.  I think that it would add an attraction for people at the event, and would also make traffic better by offering a realistic alternative for people to get there without driving.  Temporary infrastructure is also exciting because it's next-to-free and can be reversed if it doesn't work, and gives advocates a way to show how great their ideas are without all the bureaucracy of normal city and state government.  The idea is a pretty realistic one, judging by City Council President Michael Solomon's twitter-favoriting of the idea when I brought it to him, but so far it's not been implemented:

Last night one of the Waterfire board members came up to me at a bike valet event and told me they liked my idea, had really wanted to do something similar before, and were frustrated in their attempts by the Providence Police Department, which barred them under the rubric that as much room for car traffic had to be kept open as possible.

Since it's a police regulation that's blocking this, I want to make the case for these bike lanes from a public safety perspective.  Not bike safety, mind you.  Safety in the sense of being able to deal with crime, or a large fire, or another major emergency.

Providence barely has anything you could call a critical mass (at least in my experience), so this is a picture of a really successful one in San Francisco:

This street is so full of bicycles that it looks like Waterfire does with cars.  I've been in a few critical masses, though, so I can tell you there's one very key difference about this scene than the one we see at Waterfire.  If a police car or a fire truck suddenly has to get through for some reason, I guarantee these people will move to the side.  And because they're on bikes, they can move to the side.  I've been in critical masses where this has happened.  It's actually kind of heartening, because sometimes the crowd feels like a sort of ne'er-do-well black bloc group.  But sure enough, if an ambulance comes, people put their flaunting of authority aside for the common good.  Can you say that for a line of SUVs?

If the city wants to keep people safe--should there be a fire, any kind of violent event, or other emergency where authorities have to be moved in--they should consider roping off one full lane of Main Street and one full lane of Memorial to allow bikes to freely roam.  This would cost very little, as I said--Waterfire probably already has the physical infrastructure to use their own ropes--and it would really open the road so that in case of the worst, there's something that can be done.

Maybe if we experiment with this, it'll be popular and become permanent, like these buffered bike lanes from Philadelphia on Spruce and Pine Streets:

Waterfire was instituted to save the river.  Now let's do something at Waterfire to save our air quality.

Sharrows Popping Up in Woonsocket

Commenter Jason S. mentioned the new sharrows in Woonsocket that have appeared.  During my bike trip up to Rachel's parents house in Whitinsville, MA I snapped a photo of them.  The sharrows lead from the end of the East Coast Greenway, across the Court Street Bridge and into Downtown Woonsocket--which by the way, has very good Pakistani food for cheap.

I'm not a fan of sharrows, overall, but I guess this is a good first step.

Come out on July 20th for the Riverzedge Riverfest to support the development of a more ambitious bike plan for the city.  Recycle-a-Bike will be there with free bike parking when the ride is over, so that you can explore workshops.

A Study in Contrasts

Waterfire provided us with two parking spots on South Main Street to set up bike parking for the evening on the 13th.  I couldn't help but snap this photo of how one motorist chose to use three parking spots across the street.  While we could hold forty to fifty bikes in our spaces, this hummer limo idled for an hour and a half waiting for whomever it was the driver was picking up.

Why shouldn't cars pay for their parking?  We all paid taxes to pave it for them.  City schools, taxpayers, pensioners, or parks could have all had this tax revenue instead.

Math (Ugh, I know. . . )

A Japanese bus shelter shaped like an orange.  As optimal as you get.

I was reading a repost of Greater Greater Washington's coverage of bus-rapid-transit (BRT) in Montgomery County, Maryland, and was struck by the following passage :

"Last November, planner proposed a 92-mile system where buses had their own lanes, whether in the median or in repurposed car lanes, on all or part of each of the 10 routes.  But some residents and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation resisted calls to take away street space from cars." (emphasis mine)

Why would drivers feel this way?  I think it's because they don't understand math.  We're not exactly the math-iest country in the world, so this is understandable.  Let's highlight something called a Pareto Optimal to see if we can break through that problem.

A Pareto Optimal occurs when you have a trading situation.  You might have oranges, and I have apples.  If we both like those, we could trade so that we each have some of both.  

Or perhaps you might not like your oranges at all.   No problem, I do.  You can take all of my apples in exchange for your oranges.  

What's "optimal" about the situation is just that we've traded so that no one can do better without someone doing worse.  Paretos optimals are complex.  If misappropriated, they can be used to justify inequality in society, even though the concept itself offers nothing to bolster an unequal distribution of wealth (the Pareto Optimal(s) are really a range of numbers in most cases, rather than one magic number).  Nonetheless, a person should understand how Pareto Optimals work as a basis for other economic concepts.  Roads are applied economics 101.

As I mentioned, if you don't like oranges, it doesn't benefit you much to refuse to trade with me, because I can give you apples instead.  Your oranges are not worthless, but they're worth very little to you.  In the case of traffic, drivers may not recognize that a second car lane is like an unwanted orange, but it really is.  Drivers benefit from trading that space so that a more efficient carrier can use it.  A bus can carry sixty people, in two car lengths' space.  By giving dedicated space to that bus, you benefit the bus riders and give them a heads up.  But by making the bus attractive, you also benefit the remaining cars.  There's nothing you could do to widen a road that would create as much space for cars as creating a bus lane that's not traversable by drivers.

The million dollar question is, how do we get people to see this?

And Then There Were Two.


Park(ing) Day is growing.  

Drake Patten of Cluck decided today that she will join Fertile Underground and our blog in supporting Park(ing) Day.  Park(ing) Day has celebrated the repurposing of community space to non-auto use on six continents since 2005, but will be in Providence for the first time this year.

Patten's community farm-supply business raised the ire of a small but vocal group of property owners earlier this year, catalyzing a much larger and broader array of community support that culminated in the zoning board granting her business the right to open.  Participation in Park(ing) Day on Friday, September 20th shows yet one more way that the business intends to improve upon the abandoned and drug-addled gas station it replaced.

Please follow CluckRI on twitter and facebook to hear more updates about Park(ing) Day plans and other community events at Cluck. 

Woonsocket: Ride to Support Bike Lanes


Woonsocket, Providence's gorgeous but underrated smaller brother to the north, will be taking major action for bicycling access soon. You can be part of a historic bike ride to bring Rhode Island into the 21st Century.

Riverzedge will be sponsoring a bike ride through Blackstone, MA and Woonsocket advocating for bike lanes.  Woonsocket is already home to a beautiful part of the East Coast Greenway, which will eventually connect completely off-road from Worcester, MA to Newport via Providence.  Woonsocket city government has promised bike lanes within the city itself for five years, but has not followed up on the promise.  The Riverzedge bike ride will trace the route expected bike lanes would follow, if they were to be implemented.  Riders will be encouraged to stay single-file in the part of the road that would be for bike access, in order to demonstrate how smoothly such a system could work.

Put this ride on your calendar!  July 20, 2013!  Bring the whole family!


Update:  This article has been modified in order to clarify its meaning.

FUG Leading the Way on Two Transportation Projects

Visit Fertile Underground at 1577 Westminster Street in the West End

Fertile Underground (1577 Westminster Street), the West End's community grocery cooperative, decided at their General Assembly yesterday to support two great transportation reform endeavors:  Park(ing) Day and Bike-to-FUG-Sundays.

In cooperation with the Recycle-a-Bike bike valet, Fertile Underground will use two of its front parking spots for temporary bike parking on Sunday mornings in order to encourage families to cycle in.  The store will feature a different discount or special offer for cyclists each week.  Recycle-a-Bike will offer the service for free, but suggests a donation of $1 for the valet attendant to watch each bike.  

As we've previously pointed out on this blog, bikes take up so much less space than cars, that removing the parking spots in favor of bike parking actually greatly increases the number of people who can shop at the store.

An image from Muenster showing the space needed for sixty people in three different modes.


Green Line Cafe at 43rd & Baltimore Avenue in Philadelphia
FUG has also become the first business in Providence to make a hard commitment to be part of Park(ing) Day on September 20th.  Park(ing) Day is when businesses temporarily use their parking spaces for something other than parking.  It highlights the huge amount of space used to store cars--an East Providence-sized area in Rhode Island alone, and an area the size of Puerto Rico (or about three Rhode Islands) nationally--and how that space can be used for more creative purposes like public gardens, outdoor seating, sales areas, or bike amenities.  As a temporary model, Park(ing) Day is low-risk, but sometimes the changes are so popular that they get adopted permanently, as in my old neighborhood of West Philly, where the Green Line Cafe instituted outdoor parklets with seating.

I'm really excited that Transport Providence has been able to partner with FUG on both these projects.

Providence Public Library: Hurricane of 1938 Exhibition

In case you were thinking of taking your chances with climate change, the Providence Public Library has an exhibition at their main branch on Empire Street that shows just how destructive hurricanes can be to low-lying New England cities like Providence.  The exhibition is in the newly-restored historic section of the main branch, which is worth seeing in its own right.

The exhibition especially focuses on the 1938 Hurricane, but also on an 1845 storm and on Hurricane Carol (1954).  The '54 Hurricane was of truly national proportions, not just devastating New England, but hitting all of the northeastern states with ferocity.  A crazy plan following the storm had the government knocking down towns in New Jersey in order to make way for a flood control dam on the Delaware River.  The plan partially went through, with many of the towns being seized and knocked down using eminent domain, only to have the government change its mind.  The land, cleared of habitation, became the Delaware Water Gap.

Just look at all those streetcar trolleys in the Downtown in '38. . . Think we can bring that back?

Eco RI: Bonus Photos for Cyclovia Article


If you haven't checked out Eco Rhode Island (twitter), the state's premier blog for environmental concerns, please check them out.  Today they posted an article I wrote covering 2013's first Providence Cyclovia.

Here are some bonus photos and video that you can enjoy from Cyclovia:

This should be safe to do everyday.


This guy's gonna' whip you into shape, literally.

Kids learning to fix their tires with Recycle-a-Bike

I need an allen wrench to raise my seat!

I got a real kick out this backwards rider:


And this shot of the clown and girl on the tandem is cute and hilarious: