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Smiley Campaign's Position on Westminster Bike Lanes

Printed in full. Comments from me in bold at bottom.

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Hi James,

Below please find Brett's detailed position on Westminster and his vision for a protected bike lane that connects Olneyville to Downtown. Brett hopes to have the chance to speak with you as he further develops this plan.


"I am a staunch supporter of efforts to make Providence an easier place to walk, run, and bike, and I know firsthand how hard it is to be a pedestrian here. I’m an avid runner and I lived for years in Providence without a car. That’s why when I declared my candidacy for Mayor over a month ago, I said that making our city a truly pedestrian-friendly city is a top priority of mine and I emphasized my commitment to encouraging biking and public transportation as legitimate alternatives to driving. I understand the important difference a protected bike lane offers and believe we need to add them to our city’s transportation infrastructure.

We also need to always balance the needs of pedestrians, bikers and drivers with those of residents and neighborhood businesses. In this case, it is not clear that Westminster Street is the best location.

The residential and commercial transformation that has happened on Westminster Street over the last 15 years has been incredible. Yet despite clear growth, the success of many businesses is still fragile, and we need to be doing everything to support the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. Removing one – or likely even two – lanes of parking to accommodate a protected bike lane has the potential to seriously harm the businesses along Westminster Street. Further, this street is an important bus route and we would need assurances from RIPTA that we weren’t sacrificing bus service for those commuting by bike. If clear consensus could be developed between local merchants, RIPTA and the neighborhood, then Westminster could be an option.

My vision for Providence includes a protected bike lane that connects Olneyville to Downtown, and I look forward to working with Transport Providence, the City Planning Department, environmental groups, public transit advocates, WBNA, and most importantly, the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission to find the appropriate roads for protected bike lanes connecting these neighborhoods. There is already a well-traveled bike lane in place on Broadway, though improvements should be made to fully connect these two neighborhoods.

Finally, it’s essential that we focus on implementing the “Bike Providence” plan released in November. This plan was compiled with the input of stakeholders and experts, and this is the process I hope to see for any plan of this type. While the November 2013 plan is more modest than I may have preferred, we suffer from chronically poor execution in Providence. Even a modest plan well executed will yield measurable results."

Let me say first that I appreciate an honest and detailed response that disagrees with my position far more than one that is quickly given without thought, which appears to support the position, but which has no follow-through. So this is a welcome response, and I thank the candidate and his aid Josh Block for their efforts on this.

Some points:

1. I fully agree that whatever we do it shouldn't get in the way of RIPTA. I've suggested before that I think the Broadway and Westminster bus lines should be combined into a super-frequent single line, but that's a separate thought and in no way is required in order to have a protected bike lane. I also think having a protected bike lane with actual medians would aid pedestrian/bus-rider access.

2. I also full support working with businesses to make sure that what is implemented is good for the fragility of the West Side. Several businesses have already signed to support on our petition, and indeed, this idea came from efforts at Fertile Underground to increase their bike customer experience. We sponsored a lot of bike events at FUG but found that the state of the street made it really hard to attract more than a handful of bikers. 

3. I think that the parking situation needs to be taken as a full picture. If you spend just five minutes on Google Maps you can see just how much parking there is. I'm coming from a context where I lived in Philadelphia for sometime, and in that city there is even less parking, and yet it's the areas with little parking that people want to visit. Just like in our city, the places with the most parking are often depressed.

There are quite a few parking lots. 

There are also side streets to park on. 

And the survey we did of on-street parking found an 11% occupancy during a peak period of service, with few of these off-street options taken (lots were empty too). If we go with the compromise solution, which is to take just one side of the street, there will certainly be enough space for the cars. 

4. The Broadway bike lane is just fine, but bike lanes built along parked cars without protection only offer a modicum of comfort to riders, and while I could ride my bike all day on the highway if I had to, what I'm concerned about as a bike access activist is making the street usable to children, elderly, disabled, and unathletic people. I think that businesses will do much better when we build a protected bike lane.

5. The proposal is for the bike lane to be tried as a temporary plan, which can be removed, I would suggest proceeding with that so that we can experiment, after there has been more time to consult with businesses.

6. I'm interested in finding other places to put a protected bike lane, and one of my suggestions between Olneyville and Downcity has been Harris Avenue, but I think that nonetheless the purpose of a bike plan is to connect as many streets as possible in as many ways as possible, so that wouldn't obviate the need for a Westminster plan of some kind.

Thanks again for your comments. I look forward to more work together.

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2 comments:

  1. I like your idea for a bike lane on Westminister, however I think Cranston St would be a better choice, not only because there's already that bike lane on Broadway, but Cranston St would directly connect people in Providence to the Washington Secondary Bike Path. Also, regarding lack of on-street parking affecting local businesses, it's worth noting that in the space that one car takes up, you can park about 10 bikes. AND, more business will be attracted when there are more pedestrians and bicyclists, NOT cars, moving along at a pace slow enough to actually notice the businesses along the road. You're right about the on-street parking being totally unecessary on Westminister, especially as you head away from downtown. Cranston Street may be crazy right now, but perhaps the addition of a bike lane would tame it a bit...

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  2. Hey, sorry it's taken me such a long time to respond to this. I think having a Cranston Street connection to the bike path is a great idea, and I certainly support that as well!

    One difference between Cranston and Westminster is that Westminster doesn't even really use its on-street parking, whereas Cranston uses it heavily. I think there's an argument to be made for Westminster being an easier target for parking removal than Cranston Street.

    I'd love to see a study of this done.

    And another big piece to this is getting Routes 10 & 6 removed. I think that someday the horrible crossing that people have to make into Cranston from Providence won't exist. Keep your eyes peeled for more ways to help remove those highways!

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