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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.

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