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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...

Dear Audubon Society...

Dear Audubon Society of RI,

Thank you for your open letter opposing the State House parking lot, and trumpeting Barry Schiller's advocacy for more bike parking and transit at the State House. I am writing this respectfully as an open-letter, which I am putting as a comment to your letter, and on my own blog, Transport Providence.

Parking reform is a vital issue to transportation reform in the state. Parking is among the most expensive aspects of driving, but most of us don't pay the costs directly, and this helps to encourage people to drive. The design of surface lots in all directions contributes to a less walkable environment in which people feel aesthetically pushed to drive as well. 

I disagree with one particular part of your letter, and wanted to respectfully point it out. It states:

"There are alternatives. Parking garages provide more parking spaces for the same footprint of impervious surface. The existing lot to the north of the Department of Administration and Department of Health Buildings seems to offer a site that would not be incompatible with land use in the area."

The problem I have with your group's statement is that it appears to leave open the question of who should fund such a project, and without specifying that it should be left to private markets, the assumption is that the governor should have instead opted to put public funds to garages. This would have been a disaster, and I hope the Audubon Society would clarify its position to state that it opposes such public funding for garages.

Parking garages provide more parking spaces for less land footprint as you state, but for much higher overall cost. Garage parking runs around $50,000 a space, with underground garages often running into six figures for each parking spot.

If left to a private market, and unbundled to other goods, drivers will have to pay the cost of this parking as drivers, and this will affect how they choose to travel. It isn't that many drivers don't already pay this cost, but they almost never pay it in their role as drivers. When they go to a store that validates their parking ticket to make it free, they have paid for the cost in the price of their meal or the goods that they bought. If the state were to fund garages, drivers would pay the cost in their taxes (non-drivers would pay that cost as well).

Choosing to put public funding into garages assumes that the public has some stake in providing what is essentially a private need. By distorting the market around parking--which for many trips, costs more than the gasoline used--policymakers have already spent the last fifty years encouraging the use of cars for every short trip that we make. There is no need to build more parking of any kind, garage or not, because Providence already has too much.

The state can have a role in encouraging garage parking, but not by funding the lots. It can enforce existing zoning, such as that that already exists in the Capital Center District, that bans surface lots. It can stop requiring parking through parking minimums. It can end policies that leave on-street parking "free", despite the fact that taxpayers are required to pay for its upkeep through repayment of repaving bonds. If travelers are left free to evaluate the cost of parking themselves--a cost which in real terms is greater than the cost of gasoline for all but the longest trips--more transit, biking, and walking options will appear.

Thank you again for your efforts on this issue. I look forward to seeing what's next.

An Improved Westminster Street

There's no shortage of parking on the West Side's Westminster Street, but there is a shortage of safe places to bike.

About Sunset Boulevards

Sunset Boulevards is a pilot program of temporary protected bike lanes. 

By implementing temporary infrastructure, Sunset Boulevards hopes to accelerate implementation of biking infrastructure by giving businesses and residents a no-risk way to try them out. The program is so named because the street redesigns have a "sunset clause" to ease implementation.

Protected bike lanes for Westminster Street would be a great improvement to our city which we hope will become permanent soon, but first businesses should get to see how awesome they are in a temporary exhibition.

About Westminster Street Proposal

Sunset Boulevards would like support to implement temporary protected bike lanes on Westminster Street.

Protected bike lanes on Westminster Street would:

*Cost very little to implement permanently, and be next-to-free in their temporary form.

*Get bicycles out of the way of cars and buses on Westminster Street.

*Give a greater number of cyclists--especially small children, mixed-age families, older/retired people, people with disabilities, and people who are not athletic (see especially at 0:55)--access to the road to get to work, shopping, or home. These users do not typically use bike lanes of the sort implemented on Broadway, but will use a bike lane with more perceived and real protection from cars.

*Improve cross-walk safety (see starting at 5:00 especially) for pedestrians by creating islands between the cycling area and the cars that can be used to cross. 

*Remove conflicts between bikes and buses by having buses stay in the lanes instead of pulling halfway out of traffic and having to pull back in. Bus users can use pedestrian islands from protected bike lanes. 

*Create a barrier between pedestrians on the sidewalk and moving cars, similar to what exists with parallel-parked cars.

*Improve traffic congestion for those who stay in cars by removing many people from car traffic.
In Chicago and Portland, as much as 20% of traffic is bikes on streets that have protected bike lanes.

*Improve the business environment. Cyclists spend more.

*Help residents economize on their travel, so much so that they can often buy a house or business with their improved credit.

*Protected bike lanes on the street can be done temporarily as in Seattle for Park(ing) Day, or permanently with plant beautification as in Indiannapolis.

*Protected bike lanes can be done on narrow streets that have very few lanes, as in Philadelphia.

*Our study of Westminster Street on a peak weekday shopping hour counted only 90 spots taken up, or about 11% of the parallel parking spaces available, with many parking lots nearly empty as well. If the protected bike lanes can get 90 people to bike that didn't do so before, they will cancel out their loss of parking. 

*Studies show that protected biking facilities increase development of businesses, bringing density to an area without increasing reliance on cars.

*Many businesses are already reliant on non-car traffic for their customer bases. While the parking lanes were empty the day we counted cars, the businesses were not.

*When options are given to not use a car, surface parking can be repurposed as buildings (this whole video is great, but see especially the last few minutes).

*Bike lanes are a conservative and market-oriented approach to using road resources, and will save on road maintenance, thus lowering taxes.

If you are a resident or business owner on the West Side, we would like your feedback and support for this project!


Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Providence is 35% without cars, citywide. The actual percentage of non-car ownership is 23%. Providence is high on the list of American cities where car ownership is low.

Happy (Slightly Early) Anniversary

Woonsocket celebration of new bike lanes. This kid grew up in Philly, and moved here, which seems poetic. He still says things like "wooder" and "jawn".

Rachel and I met on December 7th, nearly three years ago, at a karaoke bar in West Philly. I wrote a note to myself at the time that it was "a day that would live in infamy." It has been.

My life would be totally different without Rachel. The whole reason we moved to Providence was to be closer to her family, which lives in the Providence & Worcester area. Rachel is more worldly and experienced than I am. In some ways I'm the ultimate Rhode Islander, someone who barely left his sphere of influence and stayed really provincial. Rachel is the opposite, and moving here with her has expanded my horizons.

When I was back home, complaining about transit or bike lane provisions had always been a casual activity among friends, but it never escalated to the point of real activism. Rachel changed that. It was Rachel that said, "Hey, there's this thing called the bike & pedestrian commission, you should go to that and give them your ideas instead of complaining and doing nothing." It was Rachel that said, "Hey, you should start writing a blog." Rachel rearranged herself on many occasions to take great photos for pieces, and it's been notable that things I've written that are accompanied by clip art from google images get much less readership than things that have crisp photos.

Rachel doesn't do a lot of the writing for the blog, but she suggests a lot of ideas that become stories that I would never think to do otherwise. Our collaboration with businesses in the neighborhood has been almost totally accredited to her efforts, whether that's been greasing the wheels of connection to Fertile Underground and suggesting doing bike events there, or introducing me to the controversy that was going on around Cluck! (Rachel is more connected to farming circles than I am, and really caught hold of the story and said we could bring a specifically urbanist perspective around it related to parking policy). Rachel also did a lot of the work to connect us to people around Park(ing) Day.

There's a whole range of people I interact with in my transportation reform life that really came to me through Rachel and not the other way around. 

Rachel has much better social instincts than me. I may understand intellectually that the best way to connect to people is to ask them what they want, but Rachel is the better half of the two of us in terms of actually carrying it out. Rachel's mantra is "ask people questions." I don't do that well all the time. I like to tell you what I think. She knows that people invest themselves in a project they feel a part of, and to the extent that we've been able to make people feel listened to and invested in change, that has been 90% the result of her wisdom, and not mine. 

And Rachel is my historical memory. I would still be stumbling around trying to know this place, but Rachel knows all the local back stories that make it possible to have a sense of where you are. That was something I always took for granted in Philly, because since my family stepped off the boat they'd lived within a few miles of where they started. I could easily be lost here if it wasn't for how much Rachel is able to fill in the gaps.

In honor of her work, I'd like to highlight some photos Rachel has had on our blog, and some other ones she's taken of the urban experience from before the blog. Unfortunately some of these photos don't exist in their full size anymore, but they can still be enjoyed in their web form. 

Happy anniversary, babe.

The Bus

Before we even met, Rachel did this tour in a veggie oil bus across the U.S., where she and some other young people expounded on the need to combat climate change. She met a lot of characters. Some of these images were lost in their high quality versions, and only exist in web form, with less resolution.


Fertile Underground's bike racks 


World Fucking Champions

Sorry Red Sox. This is from when we were back in Philly, and the other losingest team on the east coast suddenly found itself having won the Series (The Red Sox may have the longest no-Series-win streak, but as the oldest remaining ball club in the country, the Phillies have lost the most games of any team). This is one of my favorite pictures from back home, and Rachel snapped it for The Temple News.

On an urbanist note, can I say that this World Series was a special thing, because Philadelphia teams hadn't won anything since 1980. That year, I think the Flyers, the Eagles, the 'Sixers and the Phillies all won or came close to winning their respective championships, but the next year, Philly broke the age-old rule that William Penn on City Hall should be the tallest thing in the city (that's why the famous Rocky picture where he's at the top of the Art Museum steps doesn't show any skyscrapers). The "curse of William Penn" stayed with the teams until the Comcast Tower was built, and a tiny statue of William Penn was put on top of it to appease the Quaker Gods. And it turns out that it worked.

A community comes together to support Cluck!

Not only are these photos Rachel's, but Rachel was following this story and suggested that we cover it. I probably wouldn't have been as tuned into this as early as I was without her.


Daily Life

Again, unfortunately not all of these are in the highest resolution because there may only be web versions left, but these really capture Philly life.

I'm actually not 100% sure which neighborhood this is, but I assume it's in North Philly.


Bike-to-Work Day

What can you really write about Bike-to-Work Day? It's totally a visual experience, or it's nothing.

I've always really liked this one, because the story is not the mayor's presence, but the camera catching the mayor.


The Divine Lorraine

The Divine Lorraine was once the tallest building besides City Hall in Philadelphia, and it was built at a time when North Philly was the bustling center of a thriving black middle class. Father and Mother Divine were spiritual leaders with a lot of crazy- and not-so-crazy beliefs, but one of their great achievements was creating this huge desegregated hotel. It still stands, though it's been empty for twenty-odd years, and it's slowly falling apart. Rachel broke into the Divine Lorraine and took some incredible photos of it. In some ways these photos represent why we met, because although Rachel and I went to the same university, we totally avoided brushing elbows. Displaying this photo at a West Philly gallery led Rachel away from the Fairmount District and to my neighborhood, and right into our relationship.

The Divine Lorraine is what I think about when I contemplate what might happen to the Superman Building if we don't try to redevelop it. 

Again, these a web versions of these photos, which may not capture their full resolution.


Cluck! repurposes some of their parking lot. 

This is actually the first and only time we've had an article be the top story on Streetsblog, and I feel like the photos are the real clincher for that. Who wants to read about a parking lot being removed if you can't see it? Rachel didn't just take the photos for this, she also suggested the story.


Our logo

This was somewhat collaborative. I drew the logo out on a piece of paper in black marker, and Rachel designed the color scheme and placed in the photo. Rachel also acted as chief critic for a bunch of other versions I tried. 

This photo is from the big snow storm last year, and is from the end of our block at Tobey & Broadway. We originally wanted to do a changing of the seasons every three months and capture a new photo of this exact location, but that proved impossible. The reason Rachel could catch this perspective of the houses here was because the snow slowed down traffic and eliminated many cars from the road. She could stand right in the center line of Broadway and snap this. I love this photo because to me its symbolic of our mission, which is to bring the calm of that storm year round.



Glory from Philly, Providence, and Pawtucket.

Park(ing) Day 

I can't emphasize how much of the work of organizing Park(ing) Day fell on the shoulders of Rachel. And then she took so many great photos to document it. These are just a few.

Maybe in the same vein as the Taveras photo, I love the way this picture dwarfs Art Handy and shows the enormity of the Statehouse parking lot why focusing on just a small part of it.

Maybe The Grange should consider getting these bike corrals permanently. 


The Pretzel Ride 


I love you. Thanks for three years. <3