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Reclaim the Streets for People

South Main Street, 1930
Update: Eric Weis of the bike & ped commission has contacted me saying that RIDOT does not plan on coming in person to the next meeting. I think we should keep the pressure up and ask them to show up for any community feedback. RIDOT's personnel do say they are working to modify the plans, but I'm a little concerned that if we don't get a hearing this coming meeting, whatever they decide to adopt from the plans will be it--and there's not exactly a track record of impressive work. (Don't kill the messenger, Eric is just passing on the news).

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition would like the public to be aware of the letter it has drafted to the Rhode Island DOT and the I-195 Commission asking for reconsideration of the South Main Street design. RI Bike members came to the bike & ped commission meeting for Providence on the 19th and spoke strongly in favor of design features such as protected bike lanes, lane width reductions to promote 25 mph speeds by vehicles, and automatic walk signals (users currently have to press a button, and pedestrians in Providence will be ruefully aware that these buttons do not always work, are sometimes blocked by snow, and even at their best create a situation where pedestrians are second-class citizens). RIDOT for it's part issued a number of ridiculous arguments for why these recommendations could not be achieved on South Main Street, but has also agreed to rework the proposal and present other options at the next bike & ped commission on March 12th. We would appreciate every bit of help in tweeting or facebooking this letter out to people to get the general public more aware of the process. A number of people showed up at the first meeting in support of the bike and pedestrian improvements, and there were no objections from the public, but we'd like to see the room even more packed this time around!

We can be a great city for biking and walking, Providence!

Letter follows:

Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition
February 17, 2014

Eric Weis, Chair
Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission
Doorley Municipal Building
444 Westminster Street, First Floor
Providence, RI 002903

Dear Mr. Weis:

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition (RIBike) appreciates this opportunity to bring issues before the Commission related to proposed RIDOT ADA improvement plans from James Street on South Main to Smith Street on North Main. We believe that as proposed, these plans do little to increase access to all users; moreover, the decision to start this work at James Street even as the I-195 Commission has issued specific developer criteria for that stretch of road and riverfront is unfortunate in the extreme. It demonstrates yet again a failure to implement both the city’s and the state’s goals for complete streets and integrated transportation into the actual operations of their agencies.  

RIBike calls attention to specific transportation elements identified by the I-195Commission.

 The first, and more comprehensive discussion of plans for this area occurs in the “Developers’ Toolkit” recently made available on line. The toolkit outlines specific development values to be considered for parcels in the I-195 portfolio, and generally notes that availability of high quality transportation choices is one of its strongest assets: “Safe, convenient choices for driving, walking, transit and cycling offer the access options that businesses and their workforce demand ... (and) ... walkability is supported by human-scale streets, dense development, and historic architecture on all sides...”. For the subdistrict called “College Hill/River” (Parcels 5 and 2 from Wickenden to James Street between South Main and the river), the toolkit prioritizes housing, intermediate-scale office/research, live/work, and encourages retail; it calls for special design consideration to integrate parking below or behind development or through use of public parking structures. It further highlights cycling connections, especially the planned City/WALK route, and states that new development should reinforce bike access. As an identified “secondary active street,” South Main is required to promote the safety and appeal of walking, including accommodating City/WALK by providing extra sidewalk width for more generous walking space and plantings, and providing passage where it provides more direct walking route and is flanked by active spaces. Finally, the scenarios for both parcels note that a low-speed street imparts a more appealing scale to the buildings, strengthens access to the river, and provides access to site parking.

A more general discussion occurs in the Commission’s RFI for development proposals, the deadline for which is May 1, 2014. Page 1 of this RFI states:

The Commission has worked to help shape open public spaces that include more than 350,000 square feet of park land, which will showcase the Providence waterfront and promote non-vehicular circulation. City zoning revisions are in place for the I-195 land (part of the zoning approved in summer 2012 for Downtown Providence) that increases flexibility and density; utilities are in place, including the relocation of the City’s primary electric feed by National Grid; and a Master Permit process was approved in late 2013 for the entire district to meet the combined requirements of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Commission (CRMC). The City, State and urban neighborhoods fully support this project. (Bold italics added.)

There will be two public informational sessions to discuss this RFI and weather permitting, site tours on February 25, 2014 and March 25, 2014.These sessions will be held at 11:00 a.m. at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, 315 Iron Horse Way, Providence, Rhode Island, with a site tour immediately thereafter. Advance notice of attendance is required.

RIBike believes the plans proposed by RIDOT for South Main are not only inconsistent with these considerations, they actively discourage a more sensible sequence of planning/construction  and a more comprehensive and imaginative approach to streetscaping --- one that fully supports the non-vehicular circulation stated as a city and state goal. The need to achieve ADA compliance should be part of an overall strategy to reclaim streets for people, not a grudging one-time fix. RIBike strongly encourages representatives of the BPAC to participate in at least one of the planned public sessions to make the case for a complete streets process that addresses key safety and use criteria: slower, neighborhood-speed traffic; design that reduces cyclist, stroller/wheelchair, and pedestrian vulnerability; street crossings consistent with dense streetscape that includes retail and housing; provision for securing bicycles; and re-thinking the current one-way traffic pattern that encourages and enables speeding.
Thank you for your consideration of these concerns. These are not new. RIBike (at the time known as the Providence Bicycle Coalition) addressed the need to focus on moving people and goods, not vehicles, in public comments to RIDOT’s updated transportation plan. The concerns we raised then (attached) are still in place. RIBike welcomes the goals of the city and Commission to incorporate cycling and walking as critical elements of an effective transportation network. We would be more than happy to collaborate with the city, the I-195 Commission, and RIDOT to ensure a better outcome for all transportation interests.

Margherita Pryor, Vice-President
Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition

cc: Michael Lewis, Director, Rhode Island Department of Transportation
     Colin Kane, Chair, I-195 Commission

     David Everett, Providence Planning Department

1 comment:

  1. thanks for publicizing! Let's see what they all say in response!