It's gratifying to find Rachel and me in the Phoenix's bike edition not once, but twice. It included a piece I wrote exploring some of the myths that structure the idea that Rhode Island can't learn from the Netherlands, and instead has to copy from pedestrian death-traps like Florida. But it was a surprise to me to open up the pages and find another piece by contributor Zach Green asking whether Providence's bike plan is really good enough. Quoting at length here:
Of the five “E’s,” engineering gets the most focus, as the plan stresses the need to “expand the existing bicycle infrastructure for every level of cyclist.” But a striking aspect of the report is how little infrastructure there seems to be to improve upon. A 2012 inventory found a total of 38.1 miles of existing bikeways in the city, the majority of which are identified as “Phase 1 Routes,” which include “shared lanes, marked shared lanes, and paved shoulders.” Bike Providence’s own definitions help us parse those phrases. The term “shared lane” is somewhat of a misnomer, as it refers to any street where bicycles can legally be operated — basically any road other than a highway. A “paved shoulder” is simply a road where the shoulder — that’s the strip of road outside the normal travel lane — is paved, allowing for travel by bicycle, but also for parking by car. In urban transportation parlance, a “marked shared lane” is generally known as a “sharrow,” and refers to roads painted with the familiar bicycle and double-chevron icon, designed to indicate that a street is frequented by bicyclists.
These options are the most basic of urban bicycling engineering ideas, and for better or worse, they represent the predominant proposals of Bike Providence. The plan suggests repaving roads, adding street signals and signage, and other ambiguous small-scale improvements like “street furnishings,” and often fails to describe how these solutions will improve Providence’s bicycling environment. At times Bike Providence seems willfully uncreative and uninspired, even as it notes that “experience in the US has shown that most bicyclists prefer riding on separated bikeways such as bike lanes, cycle tracks, or off-road, shared-use paths.”
So why don’t we see more of those in the proposal? The plan suggests it is a question of money: “Major transportation and/or redevelopment projects in the city can provide the opportunity to make large scale improvements to the cycling infrastructure, such as off-road shared-use paths, bike lanes or cycle tracks, but these major projects are usually very expensive and take years of permitting and approvals before construction can begin.”
The plan’s architects have said that Bike Providence is designed to be a “living document” that’s continually open and subject to change. The Providence Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Commission, a group appointed by Mayor Taveras, has regularly taken comment on Bike Providence. And local residents James Kennedy and Rachel Playe have written thoughtfully and extensively about the present and future of bicycling in our city on Transport Providence(transportprovidence.blogspot.com), arguing, for example, that the sharrows proposed by Bike Providence fail to realistically address the needs of bicyclists in the city. “Sharrows represent shared space, and shared space is only appropriate in low-volume, slow-pace areas,” they write. “There’s nothing wrong with taking small steps forward, but it is wrong to tell people that you’re taking steps forward when you’re treading water.”
When the plan was released last November, an accompanying press release from Mayor Angel Taveras stated, “The master plan will continue to be evaluated as it is implemented and can be updated periodically as conditions and funding sources evolve,” which neither reads as a full endorsement of, nor inspires a lot of confidence in, the commissioned plan. If Providence is ready and able to become a great bicycling city, then what are the conditions necessary to make that happen? Is it a lack of funds, or a deficit of vision, holding us back?
I'm grateful to Zach for giving Rachel shared credit in the work of the blog, since most often the immediate face of the blog is me. Rachel did equal if not greater work than me on Park(ing) Day last year, which I still think is our crowning achievement, and Rachel took the lead in pushing me to actually follow up on the work I wanted to do. Rachel has only infrequently contributed directly to the writing here, and her photos, though amazing, only come from time to time. But the truth is that we discuss the articles together ad nauseum, and she contributes editorial and strategic suggestions to virtually everything I do. Rachel directed the editing of our recent short on the Blackstone Boulevard slow zone proposal. Rachel also is the largest breadwinner in our household, so while I've held some Americorps positions or done seasonal and part-time non-profit work, or written freelance articles for small checks, or spent time giving free advice to towns in Rhode Island, Rachel does most of the bill-paying. I think if she had the choice, she'd love to be doing the glory work that gets attention, but she's too busy being a responsible adult.
It truly makes me sad when people don't realize how much she contributes to our work, and from time to time I do make an effort to correct people, but it's hard to get past the societal urge to give the most credit to the flashy stuff and give less credit to the grunt work behind the flash--and when you're an extroverted, pushy type-A personality like me, the quieter person next to you just doesn't get the credit they deserve. I really do thank The Phoenix, again for recognizing Rachel's achievements, and I hope that these will be better recognized in the future by other advocates.
How can you contribute to a group that does mostly volunteer work to advocate for biking in Providence and around the state? We've been fundraising, and we're asking you to find us a parking spot. You can send your checks to Rachel Playe or James Kennedy at 149 Doyle Street, Providence, RI 02906 (sorry, West Side--we'll be moving there officially in the next couple days). Please do not make checks out to "Transport Providence", as the bank does not recognize that to mean us.
We're working on getting a paypal account together, which really should have been done by now, but we've just been very busy. Soon!
Thanks! Ride on!