|Interactive map with labels here|
The more I ride around certain parts of Providence, the more I feel that shared space would work in many of them. Maybe that sounds like a shocking thing coming from me, who is always pushing protected bike lanes. I'm not giving up on the idea that protected bike lanes are the best thing for major thoroughfares like Hope Street, Westminster, Broadway, S. Main, etc. But there are certain streets where I think getting protected bike lanes might be more work than it's worth.
The key to shared space, for me is getting areas to 15 mph, which is a speed that is safe and practical for bicyclists, poses virtually no hazard to pedestrians, and makes it possible to have all uses on roads without protected bike lanes.
It's clear what non-drivers get from this, but what do drivers get in return? Getting streets to 15 mph may be more achievable if we can reduce signalization, because signalized streets have relatively high peak speeds (podcast) while performing at poor average speeds. I picked out a corridor near Brown to show an example because Thayer Street is clearly ground zero for places that could benefit from this kind of treatment in the Capital City.
A newly installed traffic signal can cost six-figures, and the electricity consumed by the traffic signal can run more than $1,000 a year. Turning the signal off will force drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to make eye contact with each other and move slowly through the intersection in a way that works for everyone. As a middle ground I would suggest moving to blinking red lights for many signals, and adding stop signs to create shorter blocks.
I've made a map of my ideas. Green is things I think can be done immediately with little to no funding. Yellow requires some planning or funding to be done, or more process due to being a larger project. Red are the things I think should be looked at, but which I'm not certain would work (I'd love to get feedback on these ideas).
Some people don't think that stop signs are a good idea, because they're enthralled with the example of Drachte, Netherlands, which did away with all of its signals. Personally, I wouldn't mind us taking things as far as this at some point, but I feel like stop signs are a really low-cost investment that's easily reversible. People also rightly point out that we have way too many signs on our streets such that some of them are ignored outright--visual noise that no one can process. I think stop signs are the one sign that people really do pay attention to, and are a counterpoint to that. I find that not having stop signs at intersections makes people here treat those junctions as if they can speed right through them, and the long blocks that result give them plenty of time to reach dangerous speeds. This is definitely moving towards a less signalized system overall.
Drivers already go effectively quite slow along much of the green shared-space corridor I'm suggesting, and will actually be gaining from not having signalization. But cyclists and pedestrians will also gain, because they'll be able to to cross with priority. And drivers, less impatient, will not jump to the highest speed possible when they see green, but will instead flow at a slower but steadier pace. The protected bike lanes on either side, which are in yellow, give drivers the ability to get up to 25 mph, but also give cyclists separate dedicated space in return. The overall experience is such that the slow area only takes up a very small part of the journey, but has no elongated stops.