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Central Falls Bikeway: "A Good Compromise"?

One of our commenters, Matt Moritz, who (until recently) has been the president of the RI Bicycle Coalition, said that the Central Falls bike route was "an okay compromise". I don't want to unduly pick on Matt personally, since he's a nice and upstanding person and an excellent asset to the community, but I do find very frequently that his comments take this form ("x thing that James thinks is inexcusable is actually as good as we can do, realistically" with a real emphasis on the "realistically" part). I find, in fact, that it's not just Matt who says things like this, but that this is the kind of thing that is said in organized bike culture in general. It made me crazy to hear some people in the organized biking community fawn over the new sharrows when they were unveiled in Providence, as if they were totally unaware of how ineffective and insulting they were.

I think this is the reason Rhode Island doesn't have better biking. We are shooting ourselves in the foot by not demanding more.

Compare and Contrast

I've arranged some Google Streetview photos of the Central Falls bike route, and some of Broad Street. I'd like readers to decide whether they think Central Falls made "an okay compromise" when they decided on their routing.

Now, as I said, there are some small sections of this route that are decent looking, like this block (although, again, though nice looking, I wouldn't say that this is anything special to bike on. Just a normal street--Note that this block has not been traffic calmed in any way):

But then pretty quickly, the route starts to look like this:

And this:

Oh yeah, that's what I like:

Bring me that 1970s orange. You know I like my surface parking lots. . . 

Mm mmm. . . 

Nothing like a creepy tunnel under the Amtrak train with a razor-wired jail facility on the other side to say Visit the Beautiful Blackstone Valley.

Central Falls is actually a really beautiful city. There's plenty that people could see of it if the designated East Coast Greenway route didn't roll people past the city's backside. And CF residents, the vast majority of which live out of range of this route, would be better served by one that goes on a major thoroughfare, like Broad Street or Dexter Street (probably both).

Is there even a contest between which of these two routes shows the world what is so amazing about Central Falls?

The best way for CF to address this is to put protected bike lanes right on Broad Street.

*These pictures are from Google Streetview, and are not necessarily in linear order of how they'd be approached on a bike trip, but you can also go to Google Maps and check out some of the visuals for yourself. It's about a half-mile long route.


  1. I believe you missed the bulk of my point. broad street may be more interesting and less "wasteland", but it is also a high-traffic corridor all the way from I-95 through to Cumberland. Not necessarily a better place to be putting unprepared people who principally ride on paths. (though honestly, most path-only riders probably wouldn't even attempt this section, despite all the new signage and sharrows to link EBBP and BVBP).

    In the absence of a plan or money to spend on changing anything about the roadway a decision was made to make high street the official route and having ridden both, I'd say it wasn't a horrible choice. That decision was certainly short-sighted and development plans should have included plans for developing a better route through all 3 cities.

    I also already said I agreed that if Broad Street were improved with traffic calming/etc. that it would be a good change. While I didn't say it specifically, I actually think it's possible that it could happen, though it will not happen quickly. Putting bike lanes on Broad is going to require removing parking, in a business district. This already has the hallmarks of a long, slow process, unless the Mayor/City Council are on board and use the bully pulpit to get it done.

    And in defense of realism: Why should I spend my energy, or ask other's to do the same on behalf of RIBIKE or any organization for something that I don't believe CAN be changed given the experiences I've had with attempting to get change? I believe we can do better, but I want something to be done, not an endless parade of ideas that never go anywhere.

    I think you'll find other advocates have similar thoughts. Of course, we also occasionally need the reminder that we've fallen down the well of mediocrity, which you do provide on a somewhat regular basis...8)

    Oh, and I'm not ex-president until next year....8)

  2. Do you know the book, "Don't Think of an Elephant?" If you tell people, "I support changing Broad Street, but all the businesses are going to hate this idea" it's a self-fulfilling prophesy. I'm not saying that there's no challenge at all, but people are supportive of things that are explained to them as great things that will improve their lives. They are not supportive of things that are explained as being highly contentious. I realize in theory you support having these changes, but you more or less said that they're not going to happen, which I don't think is the case.

    I support being realistic, but I think we can set our realism high enough that it does something. The most realistic thing, in my mind, is that human beings will arrogantly outstrip their resources, abuse each other in our final desperate throes of acquisition, and fall into a much less hopeful future full of chaos, violence, and want. But along the bell curve of what I'd like to happen in order to avoid that, the current bike route is realistic, but does nothing to help avoid the chaos and want (everyone is still going to drive with this in place, even if you and I might tough it out from time to time). An idealistic proposal would call for Broad Street to get full funding so that what's built is a fully-vegetated addition to the street, adding garden-like beauty and pride for the community to behold. My proposal is that we remove some parking from a street where it's not in high demand/use, and install some plastic bollards. My proposal is realistic, not ideal--but does something.

    Here's how we explain this to Central Falls:

    "Hey, would you like to have great infrastructure like Barrington, Warren or Bristol? Yes, of course you would. We're going to help you get that."


    By the way, point of fact, Broad Street does not cross I-95. It crosses the train tracks, near the soon-to-be-reopened train station. The bike route that is currently set out does not do that. Although, there are I-95 signs on Charles Street, part of the existing bike route.

    Presenting how unwelcoming Broad Street is without improvements as a response to a call for improvements is ridiculous. That's the same bait-and-switch that VHB used when I criticized their plan for Providence (obviously paraphrasing):

    Me: People would like to be able to bike on Hope Street, Broad Street, Cranston St., etc.

    Bill DiSantis: Our data shows that people don't like biking there.

    Me: Yes, it's currently uncomfortable. We should change that.

    Bill DiSantis: People enjoy biking on side streets.

    Me: People bike on side streets because they have to.

    Bill DiSantis: You shouldn't try to force people to bike on Hope Street! Think about the inexperienced rider.

    Me: Face. Palm.

    Remember how I used to write with disdain about the BPAC? It's because it wasn't doing anything. Sometimes I want to write the same thing about RI Bike. We can get money together for this. It's not too expensive. We raised $2,000 for the temporary bike lane on Broadway in what? Fifteen days? We can raise money for this. Not doing so is continuing to support environmental racism in Central Falls.