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Now That's a Narrow Street!

We hear a lot of idle talk in Providence about how our streets are too narrow to do anything creative with. Sure, it would be nice to have exclusive transit lanes to allow our buses to move at 30 mph instead of, say, 5 mph as they do now. It would be great if we could have protected bike lanes like the Netherlands. But we're not Salt Lake City or Los Angeles. We have narrow streets!

Well. . .


This Philadelphia Street is approximately long enough for me to use the curb as a (rather uncomfortable) pillow.

It would be misleading to say that this is a major street in Philadelphia, but it's not an alley either. It's the site of businesses, a community garden, homes. And every other street (basically all the named "half"streets between the numbered ones) are about this wide. I'm a tall guy, but you can tell that if I put my head down, I wouldn't fit, laying flat.

Okay, you say, so you have some nice quiet back streets. 

Well, the arterial streets next to this one is about 24 feet wide. That's like Downcity Westminster. Philadelphians take it for granted that such a street is too narrow to have parking on either side (even though technically that would be possible). The street has one travel lane for cars, one equally sized buffered bike lane for bikes, and one parking lane. That's how to use 24 feet effectively. 

I think Rhode Islanders are no strangers to this kind of street from having visited Newport, but it's good to remind ourselves that a city of 1.5 million can survive on narrow streets too.

There's room to criticize Philly. 13th Street, the Street in question, is part of a pair of streets that have trolley tracks on them stretching from Chestnut Hill in the far Northwest all the way through Temple University and down to Packer Avenue beyond where Rocky used to punch carcasses. That trolley still has its guide wires and rail bed, and runs as a bus.

And interesting question to ask would be, is having a trolley back on this street worth the expense? It would certainly capture my imagination to see it, but so long as this street remains mixed-traffic, I'm not sure that the trolley would really bring anything all that exciting with it. Why not make just small sections of this street car-free, to divert traffic onto Philadelphia's geometric grid and back onto Broad Street (i.e., "14th Street")? Local cars could still come through to park or shop, but wouldn't be joined by through traffic. As yet, even the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia doesn't have the vision for something like that.
Yet. Key word. Yet.

Philly could also put some flex-posts or bollards on the edge of the protected bike lane, so that cars can't break the rules and double park in it. The Philadelphia Parking Authority did recently tweet that it would like bikers to tweet and text them parking violations in bike lanes, and the city seems to be somewhat serious about fining motorists, but bollards would make the whole situation simpler. It would also invite even more people to get out and bike.

What's upsetting to me about Providence sometimes is that it doesn't see how far it is behind its potential. I could say the same for my home city. As exciting as it is that Philadelphia is the #1 biking city in the U.S. above 1 million inhabitants (move over, Chicago and New York), with some (cheap, easy to engineer) extra effort, it could be a virtual Copenhagen.

And I think with some effort, Providence could too.

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Update & Small Correction: I'm looking closer at the twitter photo in its large version and seeing that the one I photographed isn't the one with the 23 trolley tracks. I think it's the next one over. I don't think this really affects the general point I'm making, although obviously it means the recommendation for a car-free thoroughfare would be for the trolley street, not the non-trolley one. 

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