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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...

Temporary Infrastructure is the Place to Experiment.


Tonight will be the third time that Recycle-a-Bike bike valets Waterfire. I'm excited to say that the Waterfire team has been working very hard to make the valet more visible to people, to promote it, to help support volunteers, etc. I really appreciate this commitment from Tim Blankenship and Barnaby Evans.

Some time ago I talked to Barnaby Evans, Waterfire founder, about the possibility of temporary bike lanes on S. Main Street and Memorial Blvd. He said at the time that Waterfire had already approached the city about doing this sort of thing, and that the police department had rejected it on the basis that their mandate was to move as many cars as possible during a high traffic period. 

Evans also said that temporary infrastructure was not what Waterfire was after, and that Waterfire really wanted the city to double down on efforts to get permanent biking infrastructure in place to support traffic reduction at the event.

Why would I suggest temporary infrastructure? Well, like Evans, I agree that having permanent bike lanes, and even better, protected cycletracks, would be ideal for Providence, but temporary infrastructure has a long history of being used to demonstrate a good idea that people aren't ready to commit to fully. Providence Park(ing) Day, which our blog helped organize with partners from RIASLA and AIAri, took an urbanist idea that on its face sounds crazy--removing parking from around businesses--and showed how successful it is. Now people want to see what can be done permanently with that idea.

I think that Waterfire itself is an example of this playing with temporary infrastructure--what urbanists call "tactical urbanism". When streets are shut down to create temporary pedestrian areas, it really shows how much more vibrant our city could be if it had a less car-oriented approach. We should use Waterfire to show what is possible for our city concerning bikes.

I've also argued in the past that I think temporary bike lanes at Waterfire may be a necessity on safety grounds. Imagine having to put a firetruck through all the traffic congestion of Waterfire to deal with an emergency. How would you do it? But if one of the lanes on each the major roads is dedicated to bikes, those bikes can quickly disperse to the sidewalk if an emergency vehicle needs to get through. I've seen this in practice at Critical Mass events. Bicyclists whose whole purpose is to block traffic from cars and take the streets for two wheeled vehicles toss all that aside in a moment when they know that some one's safety is at risk, black bloc clothing or not.

As Portland's Hawthorne Bridge shows, real bike infrastructure can greatly increase the number of people who are able to get somewhere, with little cost and much better environmental results. Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland recently heralded the 20% share of traffic on the bridge taken up by bicyclists. That represents a 20% increase in the number of people who were able to use the bridge before the bike infrastructure was put in, without an adverse environmental footprint or greater traffic congestion. The same can be achieved on S. Main and Memorial Blvd. permanently, but we should try to show that first at big events like Waterfire that already center around pedestrian access and family-friendliness.

Hope to see lots of people out tonight to enjoy the bike valet, either way. We'll be at College Street & S. Main Street.

Re: Zoning, The East Side Tunnel, and GCPVD on Flooding

Ted Nesi reports on our friends at Cluck! who this blog took a role in defending during their zoning approval. Cluck! was also a key participant in Park(ing) Day. Nesi uses Cluck! as an example of how zoning related to mixed-use, re-use of abandoned properties, and parking minimums have created obstacles to growth in Providence.

An article on The Projo explores the governor's ideas about the East Side Tunnel, which has been closed off since the early '90s. The governor wants to use the tunnel for transit, and idea we approve of.

Chafee's ideas about building feeder parking lots for park & ride are not something we like. The tunnel might also better be put to service as a bike tunnel, because less infrastructural investment and upkeep would be needed. The tunnel would help people from the East Bay avoid hills as they come through to Downtown. There's been some interesting interaction from the business community, with Patrick Anderson from Providence Business News also criticizing the governor's proposal:

Such a proposal might look like Maastunnel in Denmark (excuse the untranslated Danish. The video is what's most helpful).

Greater City Providence has been having a great ongoing discussion of the tunnel. Today on Twitter, Jef Nickerson, GCPVD's editor, shared an older submission from their blog that talks about the folly of parking lot-oriented development near watersheds. We hope the governor will keep that in mind as he moves forward with plans.


CVS Responds

This Seattle plan was unacceptable to citizens, who
demanded a more transit-oriented design. And they
got it. (Streetsblog)

A while back, Streetsblog published a report about new development of CVS stores in Seattle, which the local communities there made to be more transit oriented. CVS, as you may know, is based out of Woonsocket, so it interested me to know what their company's attitude towards this transit-oriented development was, and whether it had any plans to implement it in Rhode Island. I also was curious to see if they had any resentments of being made to change their plans for a store in this way. I would have expected that the stated position of a company would be that the community should leave them alone and let them build whatever (crappy, awful, car-oriented) store it wants.

So, last night I received a response from CVS about what they think about all these questions. Here it is, in full:

Dear Mr. Kennedy,
I am in receipt of your message to CVS today. Thank you for your interest in CVS/pharmacy.
We are committed to opening stores that complement and benefit their surrounding communities. As part of our normal course of business, when opening a new store we work closely with the neighborhood and local officials to address any concerns and try to reach mutually agreeable solutions. Currently, we are actively engaging with the neighborhood groups in Seattle and incorporating their feedback in our new store plans.
We do not have any new store projects in the City of Providence at this time. However, a recent local example of a collaborative relationship with community groups regarding new store developments is the CVS/pharmacy we opened a two years ago in the Edgewood section of Cranston at the corner of Broad Street and Norwood Avenue.
Following a series of meetings with neighborhood residents and Cranston officials in 2010, we designed a store to reflect a more New England “colonial” look, enhanced landscaping with buffers to adjacent residential property, and pedestrian-friendly elements including more walkway access to the store, installation of a bike rack, and connecting the Broad St. and Norwood Ave. parking lots on the site that were only accessible from each lot’s adjacent street prior to CVS taking over the property.
Thanks again for the opportunity to explain one of ways that CVS partners with the communities we serve.  
Mike DeAngelis | CVS/pharmacy | Director, Public Relations 401.770.2645 |Michael.DeAngelis@CVSCaremark.com

So, it would seem that CVS doesn't mind being constrained by zoning to have to develop stores that are more in line with transit, walking, or biking. 

It's also worth noting that there are a lot of zoning code provisions that force companies like CVS to be less transit oriented, even if they should want to be without being compelled by the community. The CVS up on Hope Street is one of only a few stores that has a large parking lot, and it's without a doubt true that when that store was developed, the city required that parking lot. Parking runs at about $15,000 a space, nationwide, with some parking in Providence running around $30,000 a space, and Hope Street is one of the most valued areas of the city, so I would guess that this was an expense for the company. It would be nice to see Providence tackle these problems as it revisits its zoning code in the coming year.

We needn't be afraid that urbanism hurts business. It's actually an aid to business, and companies are more than willing to accommodate our interest in being more green. 

"You Mean You've Never Driven a Car At All?"


I want to thank Jonathan Harris' JWU class for having me today to speak to them about my experiences as a non-driver, and to talk a bit about Park(ing) Day organizing, the Providence bike plan, and other subjects.

The suburb I grew up in, like Providence, was a place where
most people did drive, but where there was space to decide
not to drive. Car in the foreground is my neighbor's car,
which he's had for at least two decades--his "good" car.
One of the questions that Jonathan asked me to address, starting out, was what it was like to be a person who not only does not drive, but who has never driven. And addressing this question for the presentation brought me to some weird conclusions about my own logic that I hadn't explored for some time.

One reason I never drove was that I saw my parents struggle to own their cars. We were a two car household, but each of the cars that we had was always a junker. We had one car that we called the Flintstonemobile, because the floor of the car had rotted out and there was a plywood board over it to make sure that the driver's foot didn't go through to the street. We had another one, at the same time--the "good" car--that had had its key break off in the ignition. The easiest way for my dad to fix that was to hotwire the car. So every morning, my mom reached below the dashboard and switched a switch on a little doohickey that held all the wires together. It was like magic.

My parents are divorced, and I don't by any stretch think that cars are what made them divorce, but money stress was certainly one of many factors. I grew up in what I considered a "middle class" house, but having to maintain two junky awful cars was a serious money eater. I saw my parents develop debt, I saw them fight, and I saw things get tighter after the divorce. And I think I decided that the only way I was going to avoid their fate was not to own stuff like a car. Who knew? I think I'd partly forgotten that it was the trauma of my own family upbringing that made me hate cars.

On the positive side, there were a lot of things that also influenced me not to own cars. When my dad was younger, my grandparents never bought him a car or helped him get one, so he took the trolley to school. He later got a bike and started biking everywhere. I never knew my dad as a cyclist, because he'd given it up by then, but we would go past hilly, highway-ish expanses of road way out in the suburbs and my mom would point out the window and say, "Your dad used to bike up that hill there." This started the wheels turning in my head that maybe there was the physical possibility of doing such things. 

Several of my aunts didn't drive. My Aunt Dee died young, from type one diabetes, but the warmest memories I have of her were of her stories from the 13 trolley to Yeadon, where she used to live. My favorite of these was this story she had about these two blind men who were walking around at 69th Street, and each of them was headed towards the other, towards eventual collision, with my aunt watching, and wanting to intervene, but not getting to. Then men knocked each onto the ground, swinging canes, yelling, cursing at each other that "Don't you know I'm blind, watch where you're going!" until each of them realized that the other was also blind. The two men hugged.

My other aunt, Jane, still doesn't drive, and although my Aunt Renie picks her up once a week to take her to store to shop, my aunt gets to work without a car, and has done so for decades. Even in the dependence that having to be driven to the store by someone else, I see something nice. My Aunt Jane and my Aunt Maureen maintained a close family tie through their constant, weekly interaction. I think that we have lost something in our culture by not considering carpooling as a serious option.

My mom's dad took the car every morning when she was growing up, and my Nana didn't drive. 69th Street Terminal was still considered a place to go when my mom was a kid, although that was rapidly changing due to white flight, red lining, bad transportation and housing policies, and other influences that destroyed our cities. But my mom used to tell me this story about going in on the bus and getting off to switch to the train to go to Wannamaker's on Broad Street. My Aunt Maureen had a balloon, and my mom was fighting with her over it, and it suddenly popped. Everyone in the place jumped against the wall or onto the floor. My Nana just kept going, unphased. I would ask my mom to tell me this story, over and over again, because it just signaled something magical to me. 

I think by the time I turned 16, the reasons I decided not to drive had changed. I had become really political. September 11th happened just after my 16th birthday, and I was looking at what I considered an oil conflict, and didn't want to be part of it. My life had started to center more and more around people who lived in the city. I didn't want to contribute to pollution. But as I look back on why I didn't drive, for real, I think these early family experiences were something that influenced me.

I couldn't afford to drive if I wanted to. Changes in the economy, decisions I've made about how to live my life, family background, etc., all contribute to this. But I think that even if I could drive, and even if there was no political reason not to, that I would still prefer the culture that is taking public transportation or biking. I think our society grows from having these systems in place.

A'ight! It's Down! (The Gauntlet, We Mean).


Park(ing) Day's political moment shouldn't be lost. Here are a few items to keep in mind as we figure out what its legacy is in the coming year:

1. Parking at the Statehouse needs reform.

In partnership with Greater City Providence, we highlighted the need to reform parking at the Statehouse earlier in the year.

Rep. Art B. Handy's (D, Cranston) parklet at the Statehouse removed ten (TEN!) parking spots, and the lane to get into those parking spots, from the Statehouse parking lot, to no ill effect. In fact, throughout the day, employees came out to buy coffee from Presto-Strange-O and eat ice cream from Like No Udder, complimenting Handy on what an improvement the parklet was.

The current plan is to expand parking for the Statehouse, a project which the state has already invested $3.1 million into (about $30,000 a spot). A better plan for the Biggest Little would be to put that money into bike lanes and bus service serving the capital, to reduce the number of employees who have to drive. This will leave enough parking for those who still do need to drive. And our state capital is lucky enough to have its site directly across the street from a train station. There are better solutions than more parking.

Handy's experiment shows that employees are willing to have their parking reduced if it means the convenience of on-site coffee, seating, and gardens. The Statehouse should put out competitive bids for companies like Presto-Strange-O to apply to become the businesses that take up those spaces.

Reduced parking can be treated as an employee benefit too. If it costs $30,000 to buy the land for a parking spot around the Statehouse, even before paving and other considerations come into play, then what might an annuity of that spending look like for an employee? I could see someone arguing, fairly, that employees deserve an affordable way to get to work. Great! Then give people the option of taking the money in the form of parking, as money for bike equipment, as bus fare, and so on. Employees who choose to carpool should also receive money in return for the parking they are not using.

2. Let's add parklets permanently, especially where it would be easy to do.

One of my favorite parklets was Analog Underground's, at the end of my block on Tobey Street & Broadway. The spot that they used turned into a bench, a picnic table, a huge garden with trees and potted plants, and a music listening area. Analog Underground currently has no legal on-street parking, because the area at the end of that block has been marked a no parking zone. Why not allow them to turn that into a parklet then? Seems like low-hanging fruit.

3. Add more bike parking.

The Grange did a great job on their parklet, providing bike corrals in the street. Not only does this serve as a convenient place to park for people on bikes, but it also reduces the risk of dooring, at least in that area of the street. Plus, adding bike corrals provides even more space for customers, but at less expense. Bike Newport led a ride out to the city's parklets, and look at all the people they brought, many of them from all over the state.

4. Add bike lanes where parking isn't being used.

Westminster Street has a very low usage of its on-street parking on the West Side, but has many bikers. It would benefit businesses to put eight-foot bike lanes in those lanes instead of low-use parking lanes.

Currently the bike plan does not talk about doing this. When I last spoke to Bill DiSantis, the engineer from VHB in charge of the bike and pedestrian plan for the city, he downplayed the idea, saying that it would "take years". Look, I can't blame people for the feelings of skepticism. Parking makes people act like territorial animals, and proposals to remove parking can sometimes get a lot of flack. But our blog has already started conversations with businesses like Fertile Underground about the need for bike lanes, and the idea has been popular with them. The Bike Master Plan needs to ambitiously put out proposals for parking lane bike lanes, especially on streets like Westminster.

In case this sounds a little out there, consider that Seattle Department of Transportation created a parking lane bike lane for Park(ing) Day this year. Not a bunch of activists. Nothing "guerrilla" about it. The city itself sponsored the plan.

And for all youse out there that say Seattle is a namby pamby liberal elitist shack of Al Queda-loving queers, let's remember that the private sector is doing the same in that city, with Amazon spending on a protected bike lane to save its company money on parking capacity. And hey, by the way, watch yer mouth.

5. Pom-poms.

'Nuff said.

Park(ing) Day Photos


In what the Projo called "unparalleled park(ing)" Friday, Providence celebrated its first city-wide Park(ing) Day.  The event was co-organized by our blog in partnership with RIASLA and AIAri, and numerous residents and business took part.  Here is some of what they produced.  There was no way to capture every moment on Friday, there were so many parklets to visit and I want to see what we missed!  Please post your own photos on Park(ing) Day's facebook.  (Photos, Rachel Playe)

And don't let Park(ing) Day be just one day out of the year! Check out some of our recommendations to Providence to keep the spirit of Park(ing) Day alive.

Nate and Christo of Fertile Underground taking a break on Friday afternoon
AIRA of RI's office opening up for Park(ing) Day
My drawing at Union Studio's parklet
Analog Underground playing records as the Park(ing) Day bike ride, led by Bike Newport, stops on their parklet tour.

Dogs enjoy parklets too
Birchwood Design Group has an interactive parklet that highlights architectural details on Westminster st.

The Greene School comes from West Greenwich to set up their library parklet
Artist Hans Vermy set up his cartography parklet on Weybosset

Olneyville's art gallery Yellow Peril's parklet

Trinity Theatre setting up for Park(ing) Day Friday morning
Union Studios opened up their parklet for free drawing space

Beta Group handed out apples on Friday

URI students rolled out a green oasis on Westminster St
Birchwood Design Group made their parklet out of upcycled materials from the office

And you look what you can see from their homemade telescopes

The Parks Department placed their art instillation in front of City Hall...
...and left some clues along the way as to where it's located

The Lincoln School wants you to stop a while and make pinwheels

Zip Car offers some lawn games for your lunch break

Art Handy, Rep and Chair of House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, leads the State House parklet with Besto Pesto and Like No Udder trucks stopping by

The Greene School collected people's secrets to hang in on their "secrets tree"

NCA had a photo school

AS220 brought art and music to the street
Cluck! held down the west end of Broadway

Foremost Bakery joined Cluck! to serve breakfast and lunch
Pastiche's parklet gave both patrons and workers a place to sit outside

The Grange provided bike parking and outdoor seating
Former PVD Pop's Val handed out pom poms for the Park(ing) Day bike tour
Broadway's oasis of music and greenery at Analog Underground

Fertile Underground's outdoor living room provided the comforts of home outside...even scrabble

Roger Williams University  students hang out on Washington with lawn games

Thank you Providence!