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East Providence in a Pretzel

I may (fingers crossed!) be helping to design an East Providence bike plan. I'd love comments on this post, as I have only biked in East Providence a handful of times. Rachel's dad grew up in some mixture of East Providence, Providence, and Central Falls, and her grandparents still live in Rumford, so I've been there a tad bit more often in a car too. And I've taken the bus a couple times.

Let's gather what I think I know.

1. This has got to go!

Google finds us an example of a clusterfuck. Oh, and is it one!
This is the intersection of Waterman Avenue, Taunton Avenue, and Broadway in East Providence. Waterman cuts southeasterly from the river, and used to connect directly to our Waterman by a no-longer-standing bridge.* Taunton Ave. is U.S. 44, but within this intersection Waterman & Taunton are both designated as 44 in a huge bow-tie/figure-eight shaped mess. Each of these streets is a very wide double one-way with a lot of weird sidewalk bumpouts to direct people to turn in the right directions. Broadway, which is already a very wide road north and south of this intersection, widens a lot more around it. A calmer part of Broadway passes on either side as the outer parts of a boulevard, while the major part of Broadway passes below-grade under the bowtie.

Fixing this is probably going to be expensive, but it has to go. This is bad on so many levels. The side portions of Broadway are nice because they're relatively slow, but the whole concept that people should be able to speed through underneath the ground means that crossing this street must be nightmare. It's also very confusing above-ground with the bowtie. I took a bus here once (for some reason? I'm not sure why anymore. Maybe just to check it out?) and got very confused at this intersection trying to walk around.

The craziest, and saddest thing about this type of mess is that it must have cost a pretty penny to do.

Some Solutions

The first thing is to acknowledge that at best, if we really hustle and work hard and get the right government grants, and don't get blocked by bad engineering from RIDOT, it would probably take ten years to get the below-grade part removed and brought level with the other parts of the street (probably anyone working in transportation stuff in the U.S. would tell me that I'm wildly optimistic to expect ten-year turnarounds on this stuff, but I refuse to lower my expectations in response to bad planning). So what can we do if the below-grade stays?

*On "normal" Broadway, before it starts to widen approaching the underpass, there should be protected bike lanes in the shoulders, with the normal two-lane configuration that already exists, but with a road diet to the lanes to reduce speeds to 25 mph.

*On Broadway as it starts to widen into four lanes, this would also be the configuration.

*The question arises whether it's better to have the bike lanes divert onto side streets to go around the square, or whether to continue through it. It's not possible to have bikes go underneath with the cars, because of the odd transition that would require (it's also not desirable because of the height change, the darkness, etc.). The side street portions of the Broadway exchange can't be made car-free though. I suggest sidewalk extensions and speed tables to make these side-streets unlikely throughways for cars.

*Alternatively, I think that using diagonal diverters on some of the side-streets to reduce car through-traffic could allow calmer mixed-traffic routes for cyclists (who could pass through diverters). They could go through streets like Grosvenor and go around the bowtie in a rectangle. More study should be put into the exact configuration for this.

*If we can get the below-grade Broadway section brought to street level at some point, we should use the space to create even more of a road diet. The two center lanes should be no wider than the maximum allowed in Vancouver, BC, which is 3 meters, or just under 10'. The square should not be a place for speeding cars. Wide planted buffers could keep the boulevard feeling for the street, with side lanes coming to 9' to slow traffic more.

*Another thought is to use a traffic circle or roundabout with the at-grade six-way crossing. These reduce speeds but also reduce traffic congestion and accidents, and don't require signalization. Since traffic circles are not great for bicyclists, the diagonal diverters would come into play here as well to get cyclists around the square if they were traveling through.

*In the short-term, Waterman & Taunton Avenues should get road diets to keep the same two-lane/two-parking lane configuration, but with much narrower lanes and protected bike lanes. The Double one-way should go. Signalization could help normal traffic flow, with "all green" signals for cyclists to pass from all directions at once every cycle.

The Henderson Bridge & Expressway

These gotta' go too! The bridge is old and in need of replacement, and when it reincarnates it should be in the form of a more multimodal bridge. The Henderson Expressway is a highway to nowhere, and should be removed to create development parcels and small neighborhood streets, with mixed-use and low-parking options allowed in zoning.

Warren Avenue & Pawtucket Avenue

Warren Avenue from Potters Street should get protected bike lanes, and those should continue until Pawtucket Avenue. Pawtucket Avenue should also get protected bike lanes. The intersection of Warren & Pawtucket should get a traffic circle to help calm traffic but allow throughput. Diagonal diverters on Bridgewater could push southbound traffic onto Bliss, and northbound traffic onto Fenmoor, creating a bike boulevard option to avoid the intersection entirely. The intersection of Pawtucket Ave. with Veterans' Memorial Highway should be reconfigured to keep protected bike lanes through the whole intersection, removing slipways and adding signals for bikes. Sharrows and signs could direct bicyclists from Pawtucket Ave. through the hospital, a major employer, and through to the bike path.

These are some of the ideas I have about East Providence's bike plan so far. Please share any thoughts you may have, especially if you're a cyclist and bike in East Providence.


*Isn't weird how we have streets in Providence that change names every couple blocks for no reason, but we have other streets that used to be contiguous that still share the same name even after they stop being contiguous? Wicked weihhhd.


  1. East Providence still has several corridors of open land. I'm wondering if a lot of the city's bike needs could be accommodated off-road. In particular, it seems like one could build a northern extension of the East Bay path as well as an East-West route running alongside the Henderson.

  2. I think that's a good comment. Some of the off-road needs could be met that way. I think that Barry Schiller has suggested extending the E. Bay Bike Path up to Pawtucket, and the planning dept. in E. Providence was interested in the idea of running something in the Henderson area. But the streets themselves have to be bikeable, too. The comparison I would draw is to the idea that Jef Nickerson talks about in GCPVD about how having long distance transit connections to the center of a city where it's hard to walk and easy to park doesn't encourage anyone to actually use transit. With Rhode Island's heavy focus on long-distance suburban trails, I think we've left out a necessary component of the problem. Sometimes a mile of protected bike lanes would carry way more trips than fifteen miles of off-road trail.