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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...

A Parking Tax (And Property Tax Reduction)

One of the things I've brought to all of the mayoral candidates as a proposal has been a parking tax linked to property tax reduction. On street spaces should be metered, recovering revenue the city spends on streets, and parking lots should have a per-space tax. In Pittsburgh, the tax on parking is 40% of value, and it collects more money than resident income taxes for the city, and has resulted in good land use in the downtown.

Donald Shoup writes that the best price for an on-street parking spot is that which will get the spots well used, but leave some open--two or three spots per block is an 80-85% occupancy. There are few places that we have that type of occupancy even with free parking, although in some areas of the city like Thayer or Westminster, the city has or is soon going to be using metering to deal with demand.

When you don't have enough demand for your product, in a marketplace you try to adapt your product to other uses. So the city should experiment with removing some parking spots in order to create space for transit lanes and bike lanes, and in order to get the remaining spots to some very minimal price (maybe as low as $0.50 an hour). Other spots that are in high demand should be charged more money. We have a strong need to use parking lanes on some streets for non-car uses anyway, because in most places we have medium width streets that neither have the calm of colonial settlements nor the expansiveness of Midwestern or West Coast stroads.

Surface lots should be charged a higher tax than metered parking, because we don't want surface lots.

The tax cuts for homeowners and business owners should be in whatever proportion the city is able to collect money from parking. Part of the reason I think tax cuts make sense instead of funding a useful service like schools is that I'm concerned that we'll have politicians trying to create parking in order to charge for it and apply it to educational needs, which in the long-term would be craziness, but in the short-term might make sense to some people. I think if we put a reduction on property taxes in relation to a parking tax, then what will more likely happen is that people will be incentivized to develop buildings on their lots. Having an overall tax cut instead of tax stabilization only for new buildings makes more sense to me too, because it means that long-term residents and businesses aren't subsidizing the newcomers.

I hope people will contact the various campaigns to ask them to support a measure like this. Some of the campaigns have indicated to me privately that they think they could back this, but the more people they hear from on this issue, the more likely that promise is likely to come true.


Options for Opening N. Main Street

A few weeks ago, I suggested that we close part of N. Main from Charles Street to Olney Street--this would open it to bus and bike traffic. This idea came from the example of Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome, who opened the Via del Fori Imperiali to pedestrians. The N. Main opening pairs with my idea to make Exchange Street bike and bus only, and serves as a potential pilot project to add teeth to the promise of bus rapid transit and protected bike lanes for the city's major thoroughfares. 

I took a walk the other day, and since have looked at a lot of maps, and between the on-the-ground experience and the mapping, decided that my idea is even more easily practical than I originally thought. Having cars divert from N. Main doesn't have to mean a dead end to traffic, but can instead just detour cars onto Charles and Randall Streets, bringing them back to N. Main on the other side. This would allow the area between the Main/Charles split and Olney Street to go car-free while only adding 1/10th of a mile to drivers' journeys.

Jeff Speck, author of The Walkable City, talks about "urban triage". This means taking places in our city that have many of the characteristics that would make them nice to walk in and perfecting them rather than throwing our resources into areas that would be expensive to change. While much of N. Main could arguably fall into the second category, my observations

Where Benefit meets N. Main. It even has a (mostly unused) park, as if to suggest that people want pedestrians.

Charles Street just south of I-95 onramps.

lead me to think this small section of N. Main could be improved for relatively little, and could really amplify the advantages of Benefit Street, Olney Street, and the new R-Line. Making these changes would also draw on advantages of business access to sites such as the N. Main Whole Foods while maintaining the same level of access for cars. This section of Charles Street, on the other hand, is basically the entrance way to I-95, and is already even more highly designed towards cars, and has fewer useful services, and so it makes sense to let that stay the access route for drivers.

What Are We Exchanging?
Cars would go 1/10th of a mile farther to get to N. Main and Doyle with the detour.

Transit users would gain a partial right-of-way, which would give buses a head start using the R-Line's already-existing ability to lengthen green lights.

Pedestrians would gain a sitting and walking area on part of the street. Bicyclists would have a safe Olney Street, a safe connection between Benefit and N. Main.

Housing alongside the N. Main hill would become much more pleasant to live in.

Charles and Randall would have cars on them, which is already the case, so nothing is lost or gained here.

What Would This Cost?

The bike and pedestrian aspects of this change are extremely cheap. We can really just put a few bollards down to stop cars from accessing the street in the car-free area (green). In the "local traffic" area (yellow) we could add some speed bumps or other traffic calming, or even leave the street as it is. 

The only slightly complicated part of the project would be making the bus-only lanes accessible by bus without leaving them open to cars. In some places this is done with retractable pneumatic bollards. This would be an investment, but nothing on par with the kind of money we waste on repaving roads over and over after we bang the hell out of them with our cars. As I've said before, the advantages of true BRT with actual bus lanes is that bus drivers, who are paid by the hour and not by the mile, can move their buses more efficiently at the same price. If we're calculating cost-benefits, I'm certain that the labor costs saved by a more efficient bus system would repay the capital cost of bollards almost immediately. But we should try this out with cones and volunteers first, to see how we like it.

So how about it, drivers? Do you think you'd be willing to drive 0.1 mile farther than usual in order to have a more efficient bus system, cleaner air, less road maintenance (read, lower taxes), higher housing values, and more recreational opportunities? It's a no-brainer. Let's do it.


On Hiatus

I've been considering going on hiatus from the blog for a while, and today seems like a good point. The Statehouse, it appears, voted to approve the budget for the Garrahy Garage. I think I fooled myself into thinking that because I had been writing about this and sending letters to representatives, and because I had gone up to the Statehouse and spoken at the meeting on the line item, that I had made my point clear enough that there was a chance the money wouldn't go through. We did indeed get one mayoral candidate (so far) to go on record against the spending. But for the most part, I feel like the effort was pissing in the wind, because Rhode Island just doesn't get that it's going to find itself under water (literally and figuratively) if it doesn't change its ways. It seems we think we're going to change everything through solar cars and cats from space, or whatever other strange technologies du jour happen to pop up.

I feel disgusted and burnt out, and my urge is to not care at all what happens to this city or state, and to just give up. So I'm going to step away from the blog--which feels like an unhappy duty--and try to enjoy myself.

Writing a blog, to me, doesn't feel like a good way to interact with the world. I don't honestly like computers very much. Feeling that there's a responsibility to produce content for people to read about these issues means having to interact with a technology that at once connects me to many people, but also separates me. It means being much more sedentary and alone than I'd like to be. And I'm not sure it produces change.

I should say that going on break from the blog doesn't mean not being involved. I am currently working on what seems like a potential success with Hope Street merchants, to get protected bike lanes installed there. I continue to be excited about Hugo Bruggeman's "better boulevard" idea for Blackstone Boulevard. And the WBNA is now working as a partner to get a temporary protected bike lane for Park(ing) Day. So I'm sure I'll have my hands full. But I'd prefer as little of that to have to do with blogging or Twitter as possible.

So perhaps you'll hear much less from the computer, but see my face in the sun more.

Happy biking/bus riding. Get off your computer and go change something.

Barry Schiller looks at the RIPTA Budget

The Statehouse is considering a number of funding measures around transportation, and contributor Barry Schiller of the Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC) has some thoughts. Barry has also served in the past on the board of RIPTA, and is a frequent contributor to Greater City Providence. We've recommended that the mayoral candidates take seriously many of his other ideas, including a car-free Kennedy Plaza and parking reform.

The current direction the state seems to be going is away from tolls on bridges and instead towards "free" crossing on them--in reality a subsidy to cars. Some transit enthusiasts have been excited by small improvements in the RIPTA budget allocations, but alongside continued subsidies to cars, and with those changes to the budget being really small, they're not really as great as projected. Barry also points out that the budget allocations don't take into account a lot of factors in operational cost that need to be accounted for in order to make RIPTA solvent, and help it expand.

Barry's thoughts below.


With the Senate Finance Committee taking up the budget Monday and our Ripta Riders meeting Tuesday we should try to understand what the tentative budget means for RIPTA.  I finally got a copy of the budget passed by the House Finance Committee.  I'm unaware of any changes on transportation issues when the House passed the budget Thursday evening.

I'll note again Article 21 of the budget sets up a "RI Highway Maintenance Account" funded from various fees, some of it growing over time, and starting July 1, 2015 it allocates 5% of this to RIPTA for operating expenses. That would be new revenue.

In dollars, the Coalition for Transportation choices indicated this is what RIPTA would get from this highway maintenance account is indicated below.

The CTC also got a copy of Ripta's projected operating deficits, assuming no change in service and none fo the additional revenue from the budget, where they make reasonable assumptions of labor cost increases, fuel cost, inflation, gas tax revenues and such.  They assume no further help in debt service reduction.   There is also the question of "OPEB" (Other post employment benefits, presumably mostly health care) which if included in the budget, the deficit is also included below.  I could find nothing in the budget that gives Ripta anything from gas tax increases, a 1 cent increase is anticipated for July 1, 2015- (which has gotten some anti-tax zealots to fulminate!) However, 3.5 cents of the gas tax is to be diverted to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority to maintain their four bridges without Sakonnet tolls.

Fiscal year           Projected additional              Ripta estimated deficit   Deficit if OPEB included

                                 budget revenue         

2015                         $0                                                     $2.6 million                        $8.6 million
2016                         $2.5 million                                    $6.9 million                        $12.3 million
2017                         $3.8 million                                    $ 8.9 million                      $13.6 million
2018                         $4.4 million                                   $11.4 million                       $15.5 million
2019                         $4.4 million                                   $13.9 million                       $17.2 million

The deficit would grow to about $16.2 million in FY 2019 (19.7 million with OPEB) if the additional hubs were to be built and operated.

While it is a great triumph to get any additional revenue for RIPTA in this budget climate, it seems clear the amount is far from adequate to maintain service, nevermind grow it, and we'll have to be back to the Assembly for another fight, without the leverage of the tolls to help get some to the table.  


Elorza & Smiley: Part 3: Transit

Our candidate debate continues with Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza. This section is on transit.

A disclosure: Up until this point we've been writing as impartial onlookers. Sometime this week Transport Providence will be meeting with the Solomon campaign to discuss ideas and possibly write part (or more) of a plan for them. Of course, opening meetings don't necessarily equate good end results--we've met with politicians and towns, etc., before without seeing positive outcomes from our advice, and we would encourage voters to keep a sharp eye out on all the candidates to make sure that they are accountable to whatever promises they make after the election as well. But it's fair to say that if we get to write the policy positions for the Solomon campaign the way we'd like--and that's a huge question mark--those positions would obviously instantly become our favored ones. With that in mind, we don't know what Solomon's positions are yet, or whether and how much he'll rely on us to help shape those in the coming weeks, so we're going to continue to criticize (and sometimes praise) the Elorza and Smiley campaigns according to our sense of what's best for the city. But it's only fair for people to know that our relationship to the campaigns has at least broadened slightly. We'll update readers as this develops.


If you haven't checked out the policy positions of Elorza and Smiley on parking and biking yet, you should. The Smiley campaign has done quite well at giving detailed answers, and has shown itself to be administratively capable, being the earliest campaign to submit a questionnaire. The Elorza positions on some issues have been undeveloped compared to some of Smiley's--but on other positions, especially land use and parking, the Elorza campaign has come out with better positions--and on some positions the details of Smiley's campaign have been complete, but not necessarily good. Neither campaign has said exactly where it wants protected bike lanes, but both have agreed in principle that they're a good thing. We hope votes will continue to bug all the campaigns to commit to specifics, because in our experience very few Rhode Island politicians are outright against bikes or transit, but they often wiggle out of being accountable to putting teeth behind nice statements.

We'll be receiving some form of answer from Michael Solomon to our questionnaire soon, alongside his other co-candidate Lorne Adrain. Solomon and Adrain did not make the deadline for timely submission as Elorza and Smiley did, and we've offered the two punctual campaigns the ability to rebut the Solomon and Adrain positions (and each other's) without further rebuttal from the latecomers--if we end up contributing at all to the Solomon position, that will still be the case.


Smiley is first this time.

Smiley B-

Name three corridors that could benefit from transit-only lanes in the city. 

Providence’s streets are narrow and generally ill fitted for bus-only lanes. In addition, with the roll out of the city’s new bike plan, it will become even more difficult to identify streets that can 

be closed off to all bike and car traffic. That said, RIPTA is in the process of rolling out the first of what will eventually become five rapid bus lines. Rapid routes include shelters and well-located stops that are spaced further apart to increase speed and reduce travel time. Rapid transit is a cost-effective strategy for encouraging development and increasing ridership. 

While transit-only lanes may not be feasible, we do need increased transit options on a southbound corridor (perhaps Broad Street) and a westbound corridor (perhaps Broadway). 

Some of Providence's streets are two narrow for bus lanes, but some of them would be the perfect size for them. In fact, Providence developed almost all of its neighborhoods on trolley routes, and some of those in fact had their own lanes. Certainly the #1 place we should try transit-only lanes would be the R-line route.

In general, the "narrow streets" argument irks us especially deeply as applied to either bikes or transit, because users of this argument generally ignore their options to remove or restrict car space as part of the process of making bike or bus rights-of-way. It's these space issues that can often be the make-or-break for bikes especially, but they also improve access for transit significantly. Consider this--buses with their own rights-of-way in Bogota, Columbia improved their speeds from an average of 5 mph in mixed traffic to 25-30 mph--which is very fast for a bus route when accounting for stops. That speed not only makes individual trips faster, but it compounds the number of trips that can be made on a fixed labor budget--we don't pay bus drivers by the mile, we pay them by the hour. 

So this is an important question. Big points docked for this answer.

What would your administration do to better connect pedestrians in the small corridor between the train station and Kennedy Plaza? 

The City of Providence recently received a major grant to improve the pedestrian environment between Kennedy Plaza and the train station. With this money, we can improve signage and lighting on the street and transform Kennedy Plaza into a booming city center. My administration would also coordinate closely with the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy to improve and enliven Kennedy Plaza. 

Good answer.

Just to be devil's advocate--we support the planned improvements to Kennedy Plaza overall, but has the campaign met with Barry Schiller yet to discuss his concerns about Washington Street remaining a car-dominated street in what's supposed to be a pedestrian space? And also, let's think about long-term maintenance. We bugged the RIPTA staff to clean a bubbler in the hallway of Kennedy Plaza which had been covered with mold, and when they finally did it was still stained. What does it cost to provide a new top to the bubbler, a few bucks? But it's these little maintenance issues that make or break whether Kennedy Plaza feels comfortable. A new thing we're bugging the RIPTA folks to do is to put soap dispensers in the bathroom--not soap, soap dispensers--there aren't any. And things like keeping Kennedy Plaza open until midnight would make a lot of sense--they'd probably cost money, but it might be worth more to RIPTA riders to be able to go to the bathroom or stand outside of the rain late at night than to have trendy upgrades.

What are your criticisms & praise for the current streetcar plan? How might your administration improve it?

As it currently stands, the streetcar plan is underdeveloped. For example, there is no map that details how the streetcar routes will be integrated into the existing RIPTA system. There is also no projection that demonstrates how an extension of the route past the hospitals, up Dudley, and to Prairie Avenue will increase overall ridership. In addition, this route was shortened to Point Street due to reduced available funding from TIGER II. At this point in time, there is no projected future federal funding possibility. The current streetcar plan does not serve the top three transport destinations, namely the mall, which serves nearly 10 million people a year, the train station, which serves 1.25 million, and the Civic/Convention Center, which serves more than 750,000. 

I would like to see a viable streetcar plan that connects more than just the East Side to the hospital – one that provides access to multiple communities in our city and that could serve customers for both work and nightlife. Any streetcar plan’s viability will be contingent on appropriate federal funding. 

The streetcar is a delicate matter in Providence, because there's some vague truth to the idea that people have extra enthusiasm for rail over buses, and some transit advocates consider it important. But overall, the streetcar. . . sucks. . . It's extremely infrequent for a route of its length--12 minutes at peak sounds good, but when the 2 mile length of the route is taken into account, walking is competitive with it if one has just missed a streetcar, and 20 minute spacing on off-peak is even worse. It's going to cost a lot--certainly a better investment than highways, parking garages, or other day-to-day norms of transportation waste, for sure, but not a terribly effective use of funds. It's not going to have a right-of-way for most of its route. Its route is also kind of odd and confusing, and coupled with bad land use planning from the I-195 Commission, we're very concerned about the viability of this route. 

But of course we'd like to see a good streetcar, and we hope that the poor land use, poor frequency, lack of a right-of-way, lack of route legibility and so on can be addressed. But still, it's hard to see how we're winning all that much from the route being on rails--what people like about rail is the expectation of a good service, and there is some correlation between rail and good service in many cities because of it having these other factors. But what people are going to get is more like a toy--not quite as awful as the Detroit People-Mover, but certainly something too mediocre to meet our city's needs.

Those are our criticisms, but we're impressed by some of the other answers you bring forth on this.

Currently Providence mostly has a transit system that meets at one hub. Many cities have systems where multiple hubs give an "everywhere to everywhere" opportunity to travel. What are some corridors that could get additional transit routes in order to make this possible? What kind of design factors do you think might come into play in making these routes successful? 

I strongly support Governor Chafee’s proposal for a dual hub at the Garrahy Complex and the train station, and I intend to campaign for its passage. After passing the bond issues, we still must establish a proper funding formula for RIPTA (as mentioned above). 

It's important to note that Smiley also supports spending $43 Million in state money for a parking garage above this hub--which we think is a waste of money, and will make the hub useless to transit riders. We call for the I-195 Commission and the various mayoral campaigns to develop a bus hub with apartments or commercial space above it--by "develop" we simply mean "allow to be developed"--the city and state can work out whether they want to subsidize new development in the "Link", but above all no subsidy should go to parking. Instead let's hope for something like Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, Cincinnati's Findlay Market, or San Francisco's Embarcadero park. These successful places are about creating places, not parking spots.

Do you see a horizon for the transit tunnel through the East Side, either for buses, a streetcar line, or bikes? 

When Governor Chafee led community leaders through the bus tunnel, it ignited the imagination of the whole city. The excitement showed that people really do care about creative, new solutions. While properly funding RIPTA is a top priority, eventually a tunnel could be considered, possibly even as a business development opportunity. Providence’s vibrant arts and cultural community could utilize the tunnel as a venue for public art and it could become a fixture on the Gallery Night circuit, for example. 

 Good answer. 

What can RIPTA's role in preventing drunk driving be, considering the recent expansion of T service in Boston on weekends until 2:30 to combat drunk driving? 

Public transportation can be a public safety tool in combating drunk driving. We should be working with RIPTA in exploring new opportunities for late night bus service. As mentioned above, any streetcar should grant easy access to Providence’s booming nightlife scene so that riding the streetcar is accessible to anyone coming home from a night out.

Passable answer, although the streetcar is going to run on 20 minute off-peak timing on a route that's only 2 miles long, so during the greatest drinking periods it won't be of much use to anyone. One can walk--or perhaps, stumble drunkly--faster than the streetcar can travel from downtown to either end of its route if one has just missed a streetcar by a minute. Frequency matters (See also, Jarrett Walker).

Elorza C-

Elorza did not answer point-for-point on our survey, but did offer these bullet points.

• Explore alternative fuel options and expand access to electric vehicle charging stations to reduce pollution and dependence fossil fuels.

While we gather that the candidate has probably offered this in genuine enthusiasm for the environment, government support for electric cars is a really bad idea. If run on non-wind/sun sources, electric cars are essentially fossil-fuel cars by a different name. Numerous studies have found them to be no more efficient than regular cars, when their life-cycle costs are taken into account. Electric cars also do nothing to solve the space issues that cars present, the safety issues, or the road maintenance problems of private cars. And they're expensive and regressive--the owner of an electric car is likely to be wealthy, and their vehicle is likely to cost an arm and a leg--meaning that investment in this option takes valuable money away from transit or bikes, which are more cost efficient, and actually green.

There's a lot of misguided enthusiasm for electric cars among some environmentalists, but they're wrong. Please change your position. We're docking serious points for this, but if the position changes, we might find ourselves impressed by the flexibility of your campaign to new information.

• Advocate for the Mayor of Providence to be represented on the board of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

We admit to not having thought of this. This sounds like a good idea.

• Work with the Providence City Council to pass a TIF ordinance to support implementation of the streetcar plan.

We're kind of non-plussed with the streetcar, and more on that can be found in our reply to Smiley. 

• Promote an adequate and stable funding source for RIPTA to help expand service hours of operation.

This is a great idea, and would probably address the issues we raised with drunk driving, but is kind of vague.

• Address issues of street maintenance and repair, particularly after heavy snow.

Good idea. Vague.

• Provide bus transportation for all students who live more than 2 miles from their school.

This has been a highlight of the Elorza campaign. Elorza's campaign deserves credit for leading on this issue, and we've given this particular aspect of his campaign a lot of weight in improving what we otherwise think is a vague set of bullet points. A lot of questions unanswered.


When in Providence, Do as the Romans Do.

Rome is a car culture, but a Roman doctor came to Philadelphia, became a bike commuter, and brought what he learned back in spades to his home city. He upped our ante, and now Americans should do the same.
Over the weekend, Andy Cutler posted a great piece to Twitter about the current mayor of Rome. An interesting foible to this story is that the mayor lived for decades in Philadelphia, and it was there that he decided life could be left without a car. Philly's got a lot of problems--I think if I still lived there, I'd complain--but compared to us they're miles ahead on biking infrastructure and transit. Rome, by contrast, is an unusually car-oriented culture. There are 980 cars per 1,000 people in the Eternal City--that's a much higher rate of car ownership than Providence, or even the state of Rhode Island as a whole. Yet the Roman mayor has started to shut down streets that previously carried extremely heavy traffi--like the fascist holdover of the Via dei Fori Imperial--and make them pedestrian plazas. The article highlighted the similarity between New England cities like Providence, Pawtucket, and New Bedford to Rome--they started on the same technological plane of pedestrians and horses than Rome did. It called for these cities to learn from what the Romans are doing, and make their cities shine again too.

We discuss a lot of the things we can do to improve our fuel economy in transportation all the time in this country, but so many of the things we discuss cost a lot of money. We're a Jetson-y culture, the U.S. Most of what would actually work to improve our cities does not require Jetsons technology, or lots of money. It just takes political will to think differently. 

Shutting down a street--or really, "opening" that street to pedestrians, bikes, or transit--saves us money. It costs a minimal amount upfront in either police enforcement or bollards to block the cars, and then after that the nearly cost-neutral change continually accrues savings and growth--the city has been doing admirable things with Cyclovias under Mayor Taveras, but my criticism, borrowed from the folks at Streets.MN has been that these Cyclovias don't so much model a different way of getting around as much as they just look like hyped up block parties--you know, cute, but not real tactical urbanism. We should start to open some sections of street to non-car traffic in a way that's includes transit and bikes as viable travel options instead of directing people to do circles in their appointed fish bowl. 

The Via de Fori Imperiali was a fascist
pipe dream of Benito Mussolini.
Open streets have a lot of advantages: People start shopping more in places they consider pleasant--businesses improve. People starting exercising more, and pollution is reduced--health improves. The street doesn't get pummeled by heavy vehicles everyday--the cost of roads improves. The wide boulevards that once were crammed with vehicles can now carry exponentially more people in either buses or on bikes, without any real infrastructural investment--travel times improve. 

So the question is whether we can be bold enough to do these things, not whether we can afford them, or whether they work. We need to be wise about where we choose to implement these policies--the Westminster pedestrian mall is remembered by some as a failure from the '70s, because after all it was surround on three sides by interstates or stroads, and on the fourth side by the parking expanse that now is the Capital Center district. But lots of places come out of the woodwork as potential successes for this policy. In Rome they took a major car street built by Mussolini in order to "modernize" the city in the 20th Century mold and shut it to cars--akin to closely all of North Main, or Memorial Boulevard. It's been a success. 

Our last article looked at Olney Street, and what's to be done about the dangerous behavior on it, and one of our comments noted that Olney is essentially an on-ramp onto the de facto highway of N. Main.  I would combine this insight with my and many other people's concerns that the R-Line is not bold enough--it doesn't have bus lanes--and with the concern that bikes are being given no access to Main Street as part of the R Line plan. 

I would suggest this, and I've tweeted it already to Angel Taveras and to Sheila Dormody, and will follow up by email today:

On weekends, starting in Spring and following through Fall, we should close the hill from the Charles Street fork past Benefit and up to where N. Main intersections with Olney Street--every weekend, rain or shine, but only in the warmer months to start.

That hill will have two bus lanes, and two bike lanes. We can organize the order of the bus and bike lanes in a variety of ways, but the need to be separate from one another. Delivery trucks should also be allowed to use the bus lanes, but not private cars--this will be an improvement for deliveries. Enforcement of the bike lanes should be easy--put something temporary in the way on part of the lane. Perhaps a flower pot. Perhaps just some cones. The bus lanes may require some enforcement to work until they are widely understood by drivers, and if we decide to go with them long-term we may want to invest in bollards that can be controlled by drivers so that buses or emergency vehicles can open or close the lanes (did we mention? This is an improvement for emergency vehicles).

Cars will have full access to the part of Main Street below and above the closed section, and signs and announcements will make it known that the closures are happening each weekend. Cars will be discouraged by the closure from driving for short distances, though. People who come from out of town on the highway to visit will have, if anything, improved access to wherever they need to go because this will cut down on traffic. And the R Line, improved by its short distance right-of-way, will carry those short trips as part of its ridership. 

I suspect that bicyclists will like access to the lower grade of the N. Main Hill, but I think they will especially find the connection between Benefit and Olney less stressful. They almost touch each other, but there's a complex section of badly designed stroad on N. Main that people have to negotiate in order to get through. If we ever get the S. Main protected bike lane that we and bike advocates across the country have encouraged the state* to introduce, then it should be pushed up to this hill--the city should take an active role in using its bully pulpit to criticize RIDOT if it does not do so. Let's not forget--cities are cut to ribbons by interstate highways because mayors insisted that the federal and state governments let them have them there. Mayors have no right to throw their hands up over state roads when they can take an active role in pushing state DOTs to do the right thing.

Over time, as we demonstrate how popular this is, we can expand. Maybe at first we can include some winter months. Or we can add a Friday. Soon people will ask for more, and eventually it will be understood that the hill is for buses and bikes only. Drivers will like it because when they do use a car it will improve traffic, and because many of them will bike or use the bus in other times to take advantage of the new policy.

When in Providence, do as the Romans do.


Olney Street: Unsafe Because of VHB Bike Plan

I came the closest I've ever felt to being killed on a bike today, and the blame lays at the feet of the city and the VHB planning firm for putting bad infrastructure on Olney Street. The Providence Police Dept. deserves a healthy helping of blame too.

I was going down the hill with the sharrows, and I heard a loud motor behind me, and a police car passed me on my left going what I would estimate to be 45 mph. The police car gave me about 1 foot of space in passing, when the appropriate thing to do would have been to go my speed in the sharrows and respect that I had the right-of-way, and even the most liberal interpretation of the law would only allow the car to pass at a minimum of three feet.

But then as the police car passed, things got worse, because--egged on by the example of the police-a private motorist decided to kick on his motor and revv behind me. I was just approaching a gap in the parked cars, so I decided to get out of his way and pull to the right, but he had already decided to pull to the right in order to pass me (any driver knows passing on the right is illegal). So I looked over my shoulder and saw him almost hit me, but he swerved back in time to go around on my left. As he passed he yelled "Get the fuck out of the road, you fucking idiot! Get on the sidewalk!"

Thank you Providence Police Dept. for leading the way by example.

Sharrows belong only on streets where the speed limit is 15 mph--by the street's design, and by police enforcement. We failed in the first test because of VHB and the Taveras administration, which have failed in their responsibility to provide safe places to bike. I'm sorry, I appreciate that Mayor Taveras has been far more open to biking than other past mayors, but his administration needs to answer for its poor bike plan. We failed in the second because police in this city apparently feel they can drive as fast as they want in non-emergency situations without lights or sirens. Just yesterday at my new apartment on Doyle Ave. I watched a police car come up the street just as fast without sirens or lights. It ran the light at the top of the street.

The bike plan says it wants to "debunk" the notion that cycling has dangers. Debunking the dangers of cars to bicyclists is like "debunking" the danger of guns--it's a "cars don't kill people, people kill people" attitude. But the actual facts are apparent. While bicycling is more likely to be beneficial to one's health than harmful due to the effects of exercise and the relative rarity of serious crashes overall, the safety ranking of pedestrians, bicyclists, and car drivers are exactly opposite of what VHB cites. Pedestrians are at the greatest risk, bicyclists second-most, and drivers least. Contrary to the "vehicular" school of bike advocacy--act like a vehicle, and you'll be treated as one--the League of American Bicyclists--which originally popularized vehicular cycling through their 1970s president, John Forrester--found that 40% of crashes Correction: As pointed out by RI Bike Coalition president Matt Moritz, the statistic is 40% of fatalities, not 40% of all crashes.* happen when cyclists are hit from behind. Being hit from behind is the leading cause of accidents. But biking and walking aren't what's dangerous--cars are what's dangerous. Any approach to fixing this problem that doesn't rein in that problem will fail.

Despite the U.S.' singularly depressing problem with gun deaths, there's no good reason not to go on living your life. People who walk or take transit should realize this most of all. I've had more than a few strangers give me unsolicited advice to stay out of this or that neighborhood because the people are dangerous and will harm me, but in very few cases has their advice borne out. We recognize that guns are a problem, but we live our lives. Yet, you hear people in the biking community say that we shouldn't talk about the dangers of biking. It makes it "weird", it makes us "stand out". There is a problem with dangerous driving, and there is a problem with bad engineering, and the public needs to know that and demand action. That's not the same thing as crawling into a hole and not walking or biking until the change comes. My experience is that many drivers are courteous, and that biking as a whole feels safe to me, and statistics support that conclusion in some ways. But instances like this should make us stop and think--do we really want to stand idle and allow crappy planning to rule our lives?


*Nonetheless, as I said in the comments, 40% of fatalities being hit from behind underlines the same point as 40% of crashes in total being from behind--it perhaps emphasizes and strengthens my point. If 8% of crashes are cars hitting bikes from behind, but 40% of fatalities are represented by that number, some simple math tells us that that type of crash is five times as likely to be fatal as the baseline for other types of crashes. It's important to note that a more detailed reading of the report puts these types of crashes as more common in non-urban settings--perhaps what weekend warriors on rural roads should worry most about--and that makes sense given that those roads are faster and may have blinder curves, leading to truly "accidental" crashes. But just anecdotally, I can say that the scariest near-crashes (so far) that I've had have all involved from-behind situations in urban settings, because in all those anecdotal cases I've been using the vehicular advice to "take the lane" and had a driver not appreciate my right to do that. Drivers have many times--many, many, many times--revved at me, laid on the horn, cursed, and even sped up and stopped short over and over as if trying to run me off the road when I've followed the vehicular school of "taking the lane". What I find most naive about the educational role that so many bike advocates push for is that telling motorists that we have the right to be on the street seems unlikely to me to affect the behavior of people who are willing to risk vehicular homicide in order to get their way on the road. It's like teaching a shark to be a vegetarian. Only institutional change--different roads, very strong enforcement policies on drivers, etc.--will change this.

I've tried to balance the statement that biking is a healthful activity with the reality that it is far more dangerous than it should be--the best summary I can make is that for biking advocates to adopt the statement that "biking is safe, period" as their mantra is to signal to politicians that there isn't much left to do. How can we blame them if they respond accordingly?

Mayoral Debates: Part Two

If you missed part one of our mayoral debate between Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza on parking, you should check it out. Parking is one of the most important land use issues in cities, and affects biking, walking, and transit very heavily. 

Today we focus on bike infrastructure. Basic verdict: neither Brett Smiley or Jorge Elorza have well enough developed campaign plans for bicycling. (Michael Solomon will be sharing his candidate statement to our questionnaire soon. He did not make the deadline for submission, but we'll be publishing whatever he sends when it comes. Candidates Dan Harrop and Lorne Adrain did not participate in the questionnaire.)

We're lucky in the city of Providence that there is a basic consensus around the importance of bikes, but that baseline support means it's even more important for us to push for details. In Elorza's case, more details are needed. In Smiley's case, many details have been laid out--some are good, some are bad, and some are just plain confusing. Both campaigns need to get their hustle on to show that they're worthy of the biking vote.


(Regular typeface is the candidate response. Green italics represent our response.) 

• Expand the bicycle network through improving bicycle parking and routes and • Create protected bike lanes.• Aggressively pursue making streets in all neighborhoods more walkable and providing education about bicycle safety and bike sharing programs bike-friendly, particularly by prioritizing the creation of more ‘Complete Streets’.
• Ensure that the 195 land is redeveloped in accordance with the city’s priorities for more pedestrian and bike friendly streets.
Elorza's positions need more detail, but voters should be aware that Elorza was an early signer to our petition for protected bike lanes on Westminster Street, and his positions on parking in section one of the debate give us some hope that he's willing to balance the interests of bike lanes against parking lanes. Nonetheless, we'd like to see proposals for which streets are on the table---this is a detail that neither campaign provided. A really imaginative way for a campaign to win our gaze would be to trouble-shoot which groups might oppose protected bike lanes to protect parking, etc, and come up with creative solutions to how to meet those community groups' needs.

We're intrigued by the reference to I-195, because it goes along with Elorza's previous commitment to oppose funding for the Garrahy garage, and suggests that Elorza wants to hold the commission accountable. As a "dog whistle" it's great, but like many of Elorza's proposals, it does need some more detail, and we look forward to hearing more.

Expanding bike parking sounds fine, but how? With public funding? Through zoning? How much bike parking? Where? How will that fit into questions around car parking (although we should say, Elorza did commit to ending parking minimums and imposing some unspecified parking maximums). The same for creating routes. Which ones? Where? Etc. 

Verdict: Elorza gets a C+. What brings this from failing to passing is mostly from residual credit he's earned on parking--parking is a major component of implementing protected bike lanes, and we have faith that Elorza has the right views in that realm, but otherwise, this bike plan is extremely threadbare to the point of having very little detail at all.


What are the good and bad points of the current Providence bike plan? How can your administration build on what exists, and how can it improve the plan in the coming years? 

The bike plan is a good framework for our city and was compiled with input from many different stakeholders. Now we need to focus on implementation. For this plan to be successful, we also need general upgrades to city management, including better snow removal, community policing, and improved bus operations. 

We think the bike plan is almost entirely irredeemable crap, but we can't quarrel too much with this response, since it's par for the course for a political leader to try to speak kindly of existing plans. Snow removal improvements are a good idea. For community policing, who is being policed? Kind of a passive voice answer. . . What needs to be improved about the bus operations? Also pretty vague.

A constituent says that adding bike lanes is too expensive. How do you respond? 

From both an economic and environmental perspective, the benefits of encouraging biking drastically outweigh any costs associated with it. While signage in the short terms and management and operational costs in the long term do require resources, making it easier for people to bike around Providence contributes dramatically to the livability of the city. I envision a Providence in which no household needs more than a single car, and encouraging bike lanes is an important step towards getting there. 

This was a good answer, but here's what Smiley had to say when confronted with an actual protected bike lane proposal, where a constituent group, the WBNA, opposed the protected bike lane:
I am a staunch supporter of efforts to make Providence an easier place to walk, run, and bike, and I know firsthand how hard it is to be a pedestrian here. I’m an avid runner and I lived for years in Providence without a car...
...We also need to always balance the needs of pedestrians, bikers and drivers with those of residents and neighborhood businesses. In this case, it is not clear that Westminster Street is the best location.
The residential and commercial transformation that has happened on Westminster Street over the last 15 years has been incredible. Yet despite clear growth, the success of many businesses is still fragile, and we need to be doing everything to support the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. Removing one – or likely even two – lanes of parking to accommodate a protected bike lane has the potential to seriously harm the businesses along Westminster Street.... 
A bit of a flip-flop? The loss of parking lanes to provide for efficient biking or transit absolutely has to be on the table in Providence, because many of our streets are not wide enough to provide for these things without balancing one goal against another. In general, we don't encounter anyone in Providence who opposes bike infrastructure until when it gets to talking about how parking would be affected, so support for a vague protected bike lane without consideration of how to fight parking NIMBYism is an empty promise.

A neighborhood has an arterial that is 40 feet wide. Give us a taste of what your administration would propose for that 40 feet. Give an idea of how much should be used  for parking, mixed-use lanes, transit lanes, bike lanes, and protected bike lanes. 

All of these uses are valuable, and how to balance them is entirely dependent on the specific neighborhood – residential or commercial, high density or low density, etc. 

Hedging a bit? Definitely nothing objectionable here, but nothing inspiring either. Even in broad strokes, a good candidate should be able to lay out a plan for what percentage of street area in general should put put to different uses--even if they can't commit to which streets yet. This is an opportunity to be imaginative.

 What does your administration plan to do about protected bike lanes throughout the city? 

My vision for Providence includes a protected bike lane that connects Olneyville to Downtown. I 
look forward to working with Transport Providence, the City Planning Department, environmental groups, public transit advocates, WBNA, and most importantly, the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission to find the appropriate roads for protected bike lanes that will connect these neighborhoods. There is already a well-traveled bike lane on Broadway, though additional improvements should be made to fully connect these two neighborhoods. 

It should be said that discussions with the WBNA about protected bike lanes are going much better than they ever had, but in general I think a community group should not have veto power over protected bike lanes. The idea that neighbors should be voting on what uses the street gets appeals to us in general, but that input needs to be a some kind of framework with separation of powers. We don't allow neighbors to veto sidewalks for instance. The "complete streets" law we have at the state level is pretty toothless since it only asks for options to be "considered" and allows streets to be exempted for a variety of reasons.

So this also feels like hedging.

What's the plan for the bike share program? 

There is a proposal that has been vetted with several groups already. The challenge, as you might expect, is how to fund the program. I am confident that we can find a way to implement bike share in Providence, following the example of other cities that have successfully instituted similar programs. In fact, in an environmental plan I have already released, I committed to finding the funding necessary to implement this program. 

What do you think the role of temporary infrastructure can be in helping neighborhoods imagine transportation change? Give us some examples from other cities or from Providence. 

Instituting a temporary proof or test of a concept before full implementation makes sense. One recent example is the closure of the “free” left-hand turn from Empire onto Fountain Street. Guided by plastic jersey barriers and cones, vehicles are now required to drive up to the traffic signal at the intersection. This allows both drivers and officials to test the concept and leads to an informed reconfiguration of this and related intersections, such as Empire and Sabin Street. 

This is a good starter answer, and we're happy to say that complaining from our blog and from GCPVD got that intersection to have a jersey barrier rather than just cones. We'd like to hear more about what can be done to implement protected bike lanes on an ad hoc basis throughout the year, in order to speed to process of implementing real bike infrastructure in Providence.

Pedestrian bump outs have been a major boon to walkers, but prevent the implementation of bike lanes. How might your administration approach meeting the needs of both groups? 

Pedestrian bump outs greatly improve pedestrian safety by making drivers more aware of their presence and prompting drivers to slow down when approaching the intersection. Bump outs also encourage pedestrians to cross in designated areas, and bump outs are critical to the disabled, especially those in wheelchairs. It will be important to review the specifics of the bike plan and the number of instances in which the construction of lanes is impeded by bump outs. We must only then look to see where the city’s bike plan and bump outs are in conflict, and then either draw alternatives to the bike plan or decide to eliminate plans for a bump out based on the overwhelming need of that area.

This is hedging, because even the good part of this answer--where the candidate indicates that he knows the value of bump-outs to pedestrians--is contained in the question. This offers nothing of value as to how biking infrastructure will be fit into creating narrower crosswalks for pedestrians.

On some streets, like Hope, there is very little parking and high speed traffic, so riding a bike in the parking lane as a de facto bike lane can help, except where a stray car gets in the way. But the pedestrian bump-outs can force cyclists back into traffic. This is also a major problem on Manton Avenue in Olneyville, and a number of other streets in the city. Cities with good bike infrastructure like New York approach this problem by creating a protected bike lane with a pedestrian island. The island acts as a bump-out, but allows bicyclists to pass through it. The bike lane can sometimes be raised in order to created a slow intersection.

Routes 6 & 10 are probably with us for some time, but they currently create a lot of problems. They cut a number of neighborhoods off from one another. They also get extremely congested. Drivers use them for short trips in the city instead of as highways. What can your administration do to fix these problems, both in the short-term in low-cost ways, in looking to the future when more thoroughgoing changes can be made to these routes? 

In the short term, modest modifications such as lane striping can be made to allow bikes and pedestrians a safer, more accessible passage on Routes 6 and 10. The bike plan may make it possible to implement some of these short-term solutions. In the long-term, RIDOT has identified the ramps between Federal Hill and Olneyville as well as the bridges carrying Route 6 and 10 traffic as structures in need of repair. This project is quite extensive, and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to complete. Their redesign should follow the new RIDOT mandates.

This answer is extremely confusing. Is the candidate saying we should put painted bike lanes on Routes 6 & 10? I'm also disappointed to see that there's no thought into removal of the routes, although the Elorza campaign offered nothing about this. Check out our plan to remove Routes 6 & 10 for more information. "RIDOT mandates" are probably the last thing the city needs.

Verdict: C-. Mostly what brings this from a failing position to a passing one is that Smiley was the only candidate who answered our questions point-for-point, but that's a pretty depressing way to win a debate--and the candidate still doesn't win! The 6 & 10 response was confusing, and we hope for more evolution on this issue from both candidates.


Again, the prose of Smiley chief-of-staff Josh Block is beautiful, but much of it is used to explain away bad positions, or to equivocate on issues. We're glad to hear that protected bike lanes are on the table, but while Elorza spends few words explaining where his would go, Smiley's campaign spends many words saying about the same. And we can't help but carry over some parking points from yesterday--if you can't deal with parking, you won't affect biking in Providence.

Neither candidate is strong enough yet. 


Clear Distinction Between Elorza and Smiley on Parking

Two candidates, Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza, sent their mayoral questionnaires in before the June 1st deadline. A third candidate, Michael Solomon, will be sending one shortly. In an email, Solomon's campaign apologized for missing the deadline, saying that the questionnaire was not seen because we had sent it to the candidate's city council email--campaign rules dictate that city staff cannot process or forward campaign materials. We expect to publish that candidate's responses as soon as they are received.

The Smiley and Elorza campaigns showed very different views on parking policy. Parking policy is extremely important for Providence's development, so we're highlighting it.

When presenting the questionnaire, it was a real challenge to think of how to highlight the differences we thought were important without favoring any candidate. We will be posting the full responses to the questionnaire soon, but first we wanted to make a specific post about parking, because on that issue the candidates show distinctly different positions, and because we consider parking to be among the issues that it is hardest to get municipal officials to understand or commit to good policies on--you often hear even progressive candidates say that they want to support transit or bikes, for instance, but hear the same candidates be unwilling to take parking lanes as transit or bike lanes.

Smiley's campaign submitted their questionnaire much earlier than Elorza's, and answered point-by-point in great detail what their positions were. Although Elorza's campaign had no knowledge of the other candidate's responses, he did have the benefit of another month of hammering from our blog on the issue of parking--Smiley's poor showing on this issue deserves at least the benefit of the doubt given his early participation in the questionnaire. While we find Smiley's positions on parking unacceptable at present, it's noteworthy that the candidate has shown such extreme openness and accountability, and that its positions have been so detailed, and this places candidate Smiley ahead of other contenders.

Elorza for his part should not be forgotten by voters--as we said, parking instigates a kind of animal ferocity in people which clouds their judgment and makes them territorial, and his willingness to commit without waffling on parking issues is a home run.

Since we are less interested in who wins the campaign than in what policies get enacted, we wonder whether the other candidates will learn from Elorza's campaign and quickly change their positions on parking minimums, parking maximums, the use of parking lanes to benefit transit or biking, as well as on subsidized garages like Garrahy. Smiley, who at least anecdotally has been at every biking event we have participated in, has shown himself to be a candidate deeply interested in urbanism, but he needs to play catch-up to Elorza if we wants to votes of bikers, transit-users, and land use advocates.

On some issues, simple answers work extremely well, and in the realm of parking, this is especially the case. It doesn't take a political scientist to work out complex answers to whether or not we should subsidize a garage--the answer is yes or no. For other areas, however, having finely tuned answers may be the make-or-break between a good and a great candidate. This is one reason we hold out interest in Smiley. Again, on parking, his positions are at present completely unacceptable. But while Elorza's campaign committed to a variety of other good positions on things like transit funding or bike infrastructure--which we will go into on the next post--his campaign"s answers were less detailed (e.g., what funding sources will we use to fund transit? Where will the protected bike lanes be?) Elorza's campaign will benefit from efforts to fill in the gaps on details around the implementation of those positions so that voters can commit themselves more fully to his campaign.

We would certainly value a candidate with the detail of Smiley and the instincts of Elorza.

Candidate Statements: Parking (Bold are our prompts. Regular typeface is the candidate's response to the prompt. Green Italics are our responses to the candidates' positions.)
Brett Smiley

Agree/Disagree: Free parking is a necessary evil because it encourages business growth. 

We want a thriving business environment in Providence, and the ability for customers to get to commercial areas easily is important. Parking needs to be in the equation, but so does pedestrian, bike and public transportation access. First, it’s important to distinguish between lots and on-street parking. When it comes to the former, someone always pays, whether it’s customers who pay to use the lot or merchants in areas like Wayland Square who own lots for their customers. For on-street parking, it’s essential to ensure that we are maximizing what is available, since on-street parking is a limited resource. Time limitations in neighborhoods without meters and meters in more dense retail areas like Thayer Street make sense. And in commercial districts with sufficient density, pedestrian and bike access should be considered as alternatives to increased parking.

Some real positives here: "bikes should be considered as an alternative to increased parking". The focus here on on-street parking is also not without merits. Providence has a past of banning overnight on-street parking, and this can have a lot of bad effects--it widens roads to allow speeding, and encourages the development of surface lots and driveways. We've encountered some resistance at times to using even poorly-occupied on-street parking as protected bike lanes because of people's residual fears from those policies. So the candidate is right to point this out.

The recognition that someone pays for parking--whether customers or merchants, or event taxpayers, is a good observation. 

Agree/Disagree: Public financial support for parking garages can help to alleviate the
amount of surface parking in downtown.


While parking lots are not expensive either to build or to operate, garages are expensive. Since the 1960s, every public parking garage built in Downtown Providence with only one exception (Pine Street) has been built with one or more public funding sources, including city, state and federal money. Building a garage is a costly investment for the city, yet it can be worthwhile as it allows for more productive development of real estate by decreasing demand for surface lot parking.

This position needs to change. Transport Providence considers taxpayer-funded parking to be a major litmus test issue of a good or bad urban planning position--especially in a city like Providence where there's some rhetorical agreement across the candidate spectrum, even at the state level, for support of transit and biking, parking can often be the distinguishing characteristic of someone who "gets it" versus someone who does not.

The research here impresses us, though. To be honest, we were not aware of the talking point that each of the garages had been tax-funded since the '60s, although we understood that that was a trend for the country as a whole, and might have expected as much. This is a good sign from candidate Smiley, that his campaign does excellent, detailed research on issues. We think he takes the research to the wrong conclusion--it may be true that since the '60s we did a certain thing, but the better question should then be, "How's that working out for us?" We think not so well.

A garage itself can be a good use of land if privately developed, and the city can enact zoning with teeth to make it illegal to put surface parking in the downtown, so that what parking does exist is put into garages--much of downtown already is a no-surface parking zone by zoning, but we've seen how even the state government ignores the zoning code, as in the case of the Statehouse lawn. We recall good leadership from Smiley's campaign on surface lots when a historic building was torn down on Atwells Street a few months ago. The candidate issued a press release calling for a tougher stance to prevent this from happening, and showed interest in our recommendation that Providence make demolitions pay the up-front cost of maintaining a park on vacant land, since many buildings escape the ban on surface parking by intentionally allowing their buildings to go derelict until they have to be torn down for public safety reasons--in Salt Lake City, when such a demolition happens, the derelict landlord has to plant trees or put in grass and whatnot to keep the area from being a lot.

Agree/Disagree: There's already too much parking in Providence.

In the long term, we need to decrease the demand for parking. Blue Cross Blue Shield is a great example. When they moved into Capital Center, the company subsidized RIPTA passes, as opposed to parking, for its employees. Other companies like Textron, and organizations like the Rhode Island Foundation also subsidize RIPTA passes. The more we can decrease demand for parking and increase usage of a more efficient RIPTA, the better. As Mayor, I will explore providing public transit passes as opposed to parking passes for city employees.

In the short term, and in a struggling economy, we need to do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for people to work, recreate and shop in Providence. Parking is a piece of that puzzle, and more parking benefits city businesses as we explore viable, long-term solutions.

This short-term/long-term distinction, we feel, is a hedge. Consider the Garrahy garage, for instance. How does one build a garage as a "short-term" solution? The way that the garage becomes solvent over time is by attracting cars to park in it for money. If the state puts money towards a garage, it is committing itself either to wasting its money, or to making the money back by attracting cars. So we would encourage Smiley to stop thinking in this short-term/long-term dichotomy as it affects parking. The future is today. We need to take action now, especially given the great expense of the parking garages.

Agree/Disagree: Park & Rides are a tool in the fight for higher transit ridership.

Agree. See above – park & rides are a logical way of dealing with demand for parking while encouraging RIPTA ridership.

The candidate explained in sending his responses that they spent quite a lot of time talking to experts in RIPTA, RIDOT, Providence Planning, etc., etc., about each of their responses to the prompts, and this response strikes us as what we'd expect RIPTA to say about this. So our response to this is as much a criticism of RIPTA as it is of Smiley. The national trend is towards a recognition that lots for people to park in are less useful than development hubs with buildings that people can take the bus from. Having lived in South County, we've taken the long bus ride on the 66 past several park & rides whose only access point is driving on nasty, overbuilt roads. Those park & rides are sometimes next to useful things like grocery stores or clothing outlets, but those, in turn, are built with lots of parking. Baking sun on pavement and dangerous roads make it unlikely that anyone would walk from the bus stop to those locations, buy things, and go back to the bus. The Wickford Junction stop of the T, just down the road from a RIPTA park & ride for the 66, has struggled to get ridership, whereas it might have been more productively developed as parking-free or parking-lite apartments and workplaces that could have drawn bi-directional transit use. So we recognize that the candidate is doing his due diligence is reflecting what leaders in RIPTA or RIDOT most likely said, but we still think this position is wrong.

Agree/Disagree: Parking minimums must be eliminated from the entire city.

While it’s too broad to claim that minimums must be eliminated from the entire city, I do believe they should be eliminated from commercial areas that are served by transit, including RIPTA buses, MBTA and Amtrak.

We strongly disagree. Parking minimums are a tax on business to encourage driving. The baseline for Providence zoning should be no parking minimums at all, anywhere in the city. We feel this should go statewide as well. Anyone who wants parking can certainly build it, so why require it? 

Agree/Disagree: Targeted areas of the city might benefit from parking maximums, especially in downtown or around transit-hubs.

Parking maximums can be effective, but only with a properly funded public transit system and a concerted, coordinated effort to increase affordable housing options in commercial areas.

Unfortunately, RIPTA does not currently have the funding this would require, and while Providence is working on creating residential property at the requisite scale, there is still a long way to go.

Boston has been required to enforce parking maximums for decades by a federal pollution reduction order, which has worked because, during the same time, MBTA service expanded and increased and more people moved to the core areas the MBTA serves. With those factors working together in Providence, this could be a successful strategy here as well.

Some cities would be happy with candidates who say the above. We feel Providence can do better. We commend the candidate for being willing to consider parking maximums, but as in other areas of his parking policy, he procrastinates rather than taking action. We recommend a reading of Donald Shoup. His original UCLA paper on the subject showed that even in San Francisco--which at the time had the highest development subsidy towards transit in the country--parking requirements undercut transit by a 5-to-1 ratio, if each dollar was considered. Providence has a much lower transit subsidy, and we encourage candidates to look at how to better fund transit. But well-funded transit with poor land use will not work. 

The parking maximums currently proposed in places like North Main Street are too timid. A lot of 150 spaces would be allowed in "transit-oriented development" along the R-line. 150 spaces may be fine in a non-transit-oriented-development area, but the hubs where we focus on transit should be more tightly controlled. Simply banning parking within 100 feet of transit stops would be a good step, with allowances (but not requirements!) for slightly more parking at 100-foot intervals, until we approach a point where there is just the baseline policy of no parking minimum with no parking maximum.

How much does one parking spot average in the United States? How much is the cost of one parking spot in Providence? What are the factors in the price?

A well-designed parking garage in the Greater Downtown area (Capital Center to the Jewelry District) will cost in excess of $30,000 per space. Besides basic material and labor costs, which are not much cheaper in Providence than they are in Boston, similar factors affect parking construction in both: sub-surface soil (structural) premiums, design requirements, lot configurations, property costs, property taxes paid on the land, and improvements later on.

Correct. And we would add that at $43 Million, the total cost of the garage is more than the $35 Million renovation of Nathan Bishop Middle School was. Certainly food for thought.

Providence just had a very successful Park(ing) Day. What can the city do to grow this festival more? What can the city do to implement permanent parklets?

Pop-Up parklets are a wonderful idea. As Mayor, I will continue this and other similar creative ideas. In the past, it has taken enormous time and effort. I would love to see these made a part of the permanent fabric of our city, but we would first need commitments for sufficient human resources and financial resources to properly operate and manage them. This is exactly the type of challenge that would be addressed by the Office of Strategic Partnerships I proposed (SmileyForMayor.com/jobs) to find new, creative ways to bridge the public and private sectors in order to fund projects such as these.

We're proud to see that our candidates understand the importance of Park(ing) Day.



As stated above, Elorza's campaign offered a shorter synopsis of their positions, and we have taken the parking-related ones and put them below.

• Implement permanent parklets and promote Park(ing) Day.

• Streamline parking payment options and create more solar-powered parking


• Include parking requirements for bicycles in new development projects.

• Remove parking minimums and establish parking maximums.

• Do not provide public support for parking garages.

Also as stated above, some of these positions require more detail over time, and we look forward to seeing them fleshed out. The most notable thing here is a clear and unequivocal support for removal of parking minimums and opposition to public funding for parking garages. But as we've picked apart Smiley's positions on parking maximums, for instance, and criticized Providence Planning for not going far enough in the Re: Zoning process, we have to call for a count from candidate Elorza--how stringent do you propose your parking maximums to be? Where should they go? How big should they be? 

For support of Park(ing) Day: how should we support it as a city? Through funding? Through better procedures around reservation of parking spots? What will the city do under Elorza to support permanent parklets? Will these be funded publicly, or will there be an easier way for businesses to sign up for them than currently? Will there be a requirement of a certain number per neighborhood?--Amsteerdam, for instance, sets a goal of removing 2-3% of its parking per year, and parklets can be a part of that strategy.

We look forward to hearing more, but well done on opposing Garrahy funding and on removing parking minimums!