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Waterfire Should Get Bus Lanes


Bus lanes, Chicago.
Regular readers may remember that I asked Waterfire director Barnaby Evans last year if he'd ever consider cordoning off some parts of South Main and Memorial for temporary bike lanes, an idea that came to me when I realized that the traffic congestion of Waterfire made biking very safe but very unpleasant. Waterfire actually supports such an idea, or at least they did the last time I spoke to them. The reason it hasn't happened yet is that the city's emergency services have claimed that this would cause severe traffic jams, and that not moving cars through the area would be dangerous in the case of an emergency.

My response was to point out that wide bike lanes are perfect places for emergency vehicles, since no cars are in their way. And I'm backed up by experiences from the Netherlands, where biking expert David Hembrow has seen the gap between American and Dutch emergency responses. Still, it seems like this hasn't been on its way to happening, public safety be damned.

But how about bus lanes? It occurred to me coming back this weekend on the 60 from Newport that bus service is severed by Waterfire in a number of places, and that the remaining streets are so clogged with cars as to make taking the bus feel like a joke. Considering that the mission of Waterfire is supposed to be communing with the river and its natural beauty, this seems like a problem. Using Waterfire to demonstrate the usefulness of right-of-way transit in a temporary way could be a really great way for the city to advance an idea that is generally misunderstood by the public.

I'd like to propose three things:

1. We need some kind of congestion pricing for Waterfire. It doesn't have to be a huge charge, or even be calculated strictly on what the market cost of driving it. It could be $1 flat fee for the night. If you want to drive in the downtown of Providence, you have to pay $1, in addition to whatever parking fees.

2. We should take one of the two lanes on S. Main, one from S. Water, and one lane in each direction from Memorial to make temporary bus lanes. Of course, I'd like to see some kind of bus lanes emerge in parts of the city in general, particularly on N. Main. But Waterfire is a special situation of unusually high traffic congestion, and in order to make the bus system function, and to help relieve that congestion, we should have bus lanes.

3. The money from the congestion pricing should go to RIPTA to extend some of the statewide bus service. It might not make sense to extend every line, but we should be able to pick a few lines that have the potential to carry more passengers. I think the 60 is a good target, because it really carries quite a lot of people anyway (almost always standing room only). What not double the frequency of the 60 on Waterfire nights, but charge a fee for drivers entering the city? Other candidates for extended bus service could be the 54 from Woonsocket, or the 66 from Narragansett/Kingston (during the school year). For some of these routes, money would be better use to extend the span of service later into the night than to increase frequency, but for the 60, service is already pretty late.

I haven't thought of an exact detailed mechanism for charging people. One idea I have is to just put the fee into parking. We do still have a lot of free parking around downtown, and we could charge at least $1 for people to park in those spots. More likely we should charge much more. This would act as a congestion charge without needing to have tolls set up at all the various entrances to downtown. But if someone has a better idea for how to levy this charge, I'd like to hear it.

Alternatively, if people find that using the fee to extend transit is too much of a stretch, we could just extend the money to Waterfire in reduced charges for set up, ultimately to be passed along to customers in either more Waterfires or cheaper food, etc. I prefer the RIPTA funding route, and think it makes more direct sense (you use a road charge to pay for transportation-related expenditures). But I could go either way.

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