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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...

Westminster Before & After

Part of the indignity of being a non-driver and paying taxes in Providence to have the streets plowed is seeing the plows pile up the snow on corners of the street. A lot of public infrastructure, like the I-95 walkways, don't get shoveled, or get shoveled in an extremely haphazard way. And so we invited people to do something about it

Because we're at a point where the snow has gotten a chance to fall first as a wet fluff, get shoved into a snow drift by a plow truck, then melt a bit, re-freeze, get rained on, melt, and freeze yet again, just doing something about this one drift turned out to be a big job. The pole there in the photo is a mop stick that I unscrewed and used a bludgeon to just smash as much of this apart as I could, but it was still like moving smallish boulders of ice and snow. My snow shovel actually bent up, and the handle cracked in the process. And I've got some interesting bruises and welts on my hands. But I have to say, in all honesty, that this felt like a really great work out! And as much as I started out the two hours feeling like a strange oddity, once I had started to make some progress, people passing by would actually start to see what was coming and thank me for the soon-to-be path they expected to have on their trip back. And there were a lot of people! For it being a non-work day, fairly early in the day on a Saturday, I think I counted two hundred people passing on foot, about a hundred an hour. 

I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing while I cleared all this away, and part of me felt really dumb. After all, I had passed several privately owned properties that hadn't been shoveled just from the one mile walk from my apartment to here, including several large snow drift mountains that had been left for pedestrians to deal with (We're looking at you, Julian's Pizza). Why focus on this very slow, arduous task of clearing one snow drift when the totality of the street was going to continue to be a mess? 

I've gone through kind of a process here in Providence. When I arrived here, the only places I'd lived had been bike-friendly places (Well, relatively. . .). So I was pretty quickly shocked into wanting to take action about an element of life I had barely thought about before. But when I started talking to public officials about this stuff, I did not feel like they particularly cared about the information I was imparting to them. Sometimes they outright disagreed with what I had to say, but much more often it was a kind of institutional morass. "[Yawn] Okay, yeah, sure, someday. [Yawn] Next order of business.". 

The first feedback I got from public officials was that I had lots of thoughts, but they weren't really compiled in any way. So I'd come up with these (sometimes pretty inane) laundry lists of intersections: You should put a bike lane here. Narrow this street. What's this crossing signal about? How about this sidewalk? I kind of thought that maybe they just didn't know what was wrong, and if I gave them the information, they'd take action. But when I'd send this information, more neatly compiled, the response was to be surprised that I was back at all, and to find a new excuse for how the information I'd provided was too fine-tooth, or not detailed enough, or at the wrong time, etc. And then one day, an official asked me, point blank: Hey, you're not Car Free PVD, are you? And I said no. I actually could see the transition in their eyes. They suddenly at that moment cared even less about what I had to say to them than they did the minute before. It was now apparent that I had no way to actually hold them accountable through some kind of media if they didn't get the stuff done I wanted them to do. 

So in all honesty, although I do enjoy some elements of the writing and so on that go into the blog, a lot of times I feel a bit attached to a computer, which is not a state of affairs I'm particularly comfortable with. And now, I get a bit more respect from officials, who know I have a twitter following or perhaps have had a few articles highlighted on other blogs, but there's still another hurtle. Now the hurtle is (more or less) "So what? You complain on the internet. Anyone can do that." 

Since a lot of people besides myself have continually complained about the state of the I-95 crossings, to very little avail, I decided that maybe just showing that this one pile of snow can be shoveled away might up the ante. On Sunday, if we encounter another pile of snow in this same place because RIDOT has piled it up on the sidewalk, we'll feel deeper ownership over this spot. 

By the way, I have a better option for where to pile the snow, and I hope the city & state officials who are in charge of this stuff will take me up on it.

These slipways have got to go. We're already thankfully starting to ease out of them in Downcity because of the redevelopment of Greater Kennedy Plaza. The fact that cars can turn on a wide, easy radius right off of the service road onto Westminster, Broad, Broadway, etc., means that when a pedestrian is forced off the sidewalk into the street by a bad plow job, not only can they get hit by a car, but the car will be going considerably faster and paying considerably less attention to its surroundings than if it had to stop and make a careful, ninety degree hard right on the farther corner (where the green van is).

We should take advantage of our New England climate and pile up as much snow as possible in these slipways during storms, to help get rid of them until we can put some parklets or concrete in them and make the change permanent.



  1. Great work, as always! Someone cleared a path on the Smith St overpass on Saturday - so maybe your message got out!

  2. That really is exciting! Thanks for sharing that news!