The biggest obstacle to being a pedestrian or a bicyclist in Pawtucket/Central Falls is the S-curve, which divides up what might otherwise be contiguous neighborhoods in several directions. Pawtucket and Central Falls have a lot less industry than they did in the past, but I still see large trucks around loading and unloading, and keeping good access for those trucks is a bare minimum for supporting the economy of the area. So then the question is, where can we sacrifice truck access in order to create really great pedestrian and bike crossings? And where can we make smaller improvements to make being a pedestrian or bike something semi-tolerable, without ruining that truck access?
Pawtucket has a surprisingly large number of crossings over I-95, each on a spectrum of moderately okay to cross to completely horrible and deadly (most swing towards the latter end of the spectrum). There are no crossings that are great.
The most appropriate thing to do in Pawtucket is to take routes that are somewhat bearable and make them much better, like an urban triage.
The best way to cross I-95 from the south to the north is to go under it on the sharrow route through Providence. The cars on this route go way too fast passing me on the way to work, because this route hasn't really been designed with biking in mind. But the level of traffic is extremely low compared to other routes, and most of the route is pretty aesthetically nice.
I think it's unlikely that we can make the bike route car-free, but I think we can make this route Autoluwe, or what the Dutch call "almost car-free". Through traffic should be made difficult for cars on this route, with the idea of giving preference to bikes. Where that isn't possible, sections of this route should get protected bike lanes to allow bikers to ride completely separate from cars. Traffic calming should also be in place to make sure that cars do not speed around corners.
- From Blackstone Blvd. to the bridge should get protected bike lanes (yellow).
- Under the bridge (green) should get a car blockade, allowing pedestrian and bike access. Beautification options could be considered as well, although this is a nice place already, and has activity due to people fishing (people could still park their cars to fish, but the Autoluwe design wouldn't allow this to be used as a through route).
- On the other side of the bridge is Roosevelt Avenue, which is an important through route for cars. It should get protected bike lanes (this should be easy, because the road width is too wide, and because there is almost no parking, except for around the RIPTA station for buses). The sharrow route is currently against the curb through much of this section, meaning this could be accomplished by just adding some bollards.
- I think Pawtucket should consider having the buses stop right in traffic, with the protected bike lane against the curb, but if this isn't possible, having a small mixed-traffic area would be a compromise that could work, especially if incorporated with other traffic calming. In particular, I think intersections in the downtown need bump-outs or protected intersections, and signals should be put to blinking red to encourage slower negotiation of intersections.
- Through traffic for cars has a lot of alternate routes here, and at the moment, there aren't a lot of cars going this way anyway (as I said, the ones that do pass go too fast). The city of Pawtucket should not worry about NIMBY complaints, because this is a change that is going to make homes along this area more valuable and enjoyable to live in, whether people drive or not.
I think Cross Street/Central Avenue is a good candidate for an east-west route. Like the north-south route, I think blocking car access at places is necessary, but this can be accomplished using the Autoluwe techniques described above.
|This section of Cross Street should become Autoluwe.|
Cross Street itself is too narrow to get proper protected bike lanes, but is a great candidate for Autoluwe, because there are many alternative routes for cars and trucks. I suspect that this route is hard to make turns onto for trucks already, and that other, wider routes take more of that type of traffic. As you can see above, Cross Street is also really beautiful. One of the things that urban designer Jeff Speck identifies as important for a biking or walking route is that the route be visually interesting. This has a good "street-wall" that makes people feel comfortable. This block here could get blockaded to all but bikes and pedestrians, allowing access to local traffic for cars. Traffic speeds should be brought to 15 mph.
When Cross Street turns to Central Avenue, it becomes much wider. Here I would suggest adding protected bike lanes, and allowing car and truck through traffic.
|Yellow represents protected bike lanes, while green represents the Autoluwe portion of this route.|
These changes are modest, and would cost very little. Activists in Seattle were able to put in bollards in the street overnight as a protest tactic that was eventually adopted permanently by the city to the route they were concerned with. The city of Pawtucket should take the necessary steps to create east-west and north-south routes for bikes right now, with an eye towards getting this implemented at the very latest by spring (doing it now, during the winter, would be even better).