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.