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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...

Dealing with the S-Curve

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.

Low-hanging Fruit
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.

This Google Streetview is from before the bike lanes were striped. Much of this route, which goes from Blackstone Blvd. along the river and up to Roosevelt Ave. does not have bike lanes, though, but sharrows. None of it has truly segregated bike facilities. This area should become Autoluwe.
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).



  1. I'n glad that an experienced bicyclist is thinkig about central Pawtucket. There are several opportunites for follow-up.
    One is the city's plan to relocate the RIPTA bus hub which is supposed to have public meetings coming up. Integrating bicycling with the new bus routes presents an opportunity and a challenge.
    There will also be public meetings about the proposed Pawtucket commuter rail stop, obviously good bike access to the station needs to be part of the planning.
    Finally Congress did designate a Blackstone Valley National Historic Park (thank you Senator Reed) including the Slater Mill site. The Blackstone Bikeway links the various park sites, we need to bring it to central Pawtucket (the city even had a largely off-road concept for that) and Slater Mill.
    As a next step, perhaps there should be an organized bike ride to check out James' suggestions, the bus hub, the commuter rail area, and bikeway connections. This should be of interest not just to the bike community but also to city planners, the Blackstone tourism folks, Ripta Riders, the RI Assoc of Rail Passengers and the environment community.

  2. The photo you have here of Taft St seems wrong --- is this the view North under the freeway?

    I believe Pawtucket already had a RIPTA meeting regarding the hub change --- and I think it was just to inform the public that they were going to do something. Maybe someone could locate the meeting minutes from the October 28 Department of Planning meeting? I tried to find them on the city website unsuccessfully.

    My short list of complaints about the Blackstone route: Pleasant St Sharrow, Taft St Paint Job, Roosevelt Ave. Mind you, I only ride the marked Blackstone River Bikeway/East Coast Green Way route through Pawtucket-Central Falls, so my main beef is all along this route. I have words about the route (East Coast Green Way showcasing the East Coast and you route it through INDUSTRIAL-PRISON [Pawtucket] and REFUSE COLLECTION [Woonsocket]? No one will want to visit your city!), but I'll try to stick to road conditions.

    The whole stretch of Blackstone River Bikeway from Central Falls through Pawtucket to Providence is wide enough along nearly the entire route for painted bike lanes -- ESPECIALLY Roosevelt Ave. Sharrows are a cruel joke on these roads. I've ridden through here during business hours and rarely see the streets full of parked cars. Pawt-CF could eliminate street parking on one side of all the streets and put in bike lanes and people would hardly notice the "loss" of parking spaces. The obscene wealth of parking lots (*free*) along the route serves to amplify how useless street parking availability is in Pawtucket-Central Falls. Considering that there are already parking lots, I would opt to see street parking removed and bike lanes added over other land use ideas.

    Taft St desperately needs a new paint job. Whoever painted the bike lane seems to think cars are 6' wide --- go check out the "parking" on this street and LOLz as you run into the van in the bike lane. You'll totally know what van I'm talking about when you ride through.

    Banning traffic on Taft under the freeway is largely unnecessary. People already avoid this route. Taft doesn't access any locations any faster than Pleasant, etc. It's actually a nuisance to use it to go places: stop signs, left turns are not protected, and Pleasant already mirrors the route and is a more direct route to anywhere - including locations along Taft. Provided Pawtucket doesn't make the location more attractive, I don't see any reason to push anything here beyond someone with a brain repainting this stretch. I suppose it wouldn't hurt, either, to add Taft St to the street sweeping list.

    I've had the opportunity to hear what residents on Pleasant street think of the sharrow (spoiler alert: they *hate* it.) The people on this street would rather park their cars in the road than see a sharrow, let alone a bike lane. Pleasant is pretty narrow --- I don't see how Pawtucket can put in a Real Bike Lane (TM) here. Best of luck getting the residents on board.

    South of the freeway, there are no river crossings until you get to Henderson Bridge. If there were improvements made along this route, I would like to see Pawtucket do something over the river at Division to make it safer for bikes to cross. The sign about walking bikes on the boardwalk isn't a solution and the drivers on the streets parallel to the freeway are crazy. It's not like they lack the space, either, to make the bridge wider --- for *bike* lanes, of course! RIDOT proposal?


  3. This is the view along the sharrow/bike lane route that starts at Blackstone Blvd., but it's before changes were made to lane striping, so it may look a bit off. In terms of making things less confusing, I would also like to see that whole street renamed Roosevelt to make wayfinding clearer (I'm a real hater of the New England "tradition" of constantly renaming streets every few blocks. I think it really reduces people's willingness to explore an area, which is a major part of the social safety that people need to get out on a bike or on foot.

    I definitely think blocking through-traffic is one of the major features of making this a genuine bike route, since there is a parallel route for cars. But of course, residents would still have slow-speed access. See David Hembrow's writing on this (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/08/pragmatism-when-campaigners-and.html).

    I left the northern part of the bike route (near the prison, etc.) out because I intend to make a specific post about that. Not only is the route unwelcoming, and have low "social safety" because of its location, but it's also cut off from much of Pawtucket and Central Falls, making it a route to nowhere. Definitely agreed.

    I hope that you're wrong about the residents, but we need to get used to saying that this is not a democracy, in the 50%+1 sense. We have to provide decent access for all types of transportation. We currently have too much access for cars, and not enough for the other modes.


  4. Both speed and scenery are important when biking, and the ideal bike route has both. But often it is not possible to combine these in one route, and then the second best option is to have two different routes; one that is fast, another one with nice scenery. That is why I am suggesting two separate bike routes to connect the south and north sides of Pawtucket. The route under 95 (Taft to Roosevelt) has nice scenery, but it is also hilly. Furthermore, because it runs next to the bay, it can only be accessed from one side. For all the above reasons, this is not a quick route to cross 95. For most bikers it will be easier and quicker to take West Avenue (that runs parallel to Pawtucket Avenue) and Pine street, when going northbound, and, when going southbound, to take West Avenue. Take a closer look at West Avenue; I consider that street as a hidden gem for a good north-south bike route. Together with South main--which,one day, will have a protected bike lane-- West Avenue makes for one of the least hilly and fastest routes to bike between downtown Providence and downtown Central Falls.

    1. Thanks for your comment (and your email). I'm really glad we have you pushing for better things in Pawtucket and Providence.

      I agree that we should give bikers the most direct route. I think the route you suggest on West Avenue is a good idea, although I'd like to see treatments given to Main and Pawtucket Ave. as well, at least on the southern portion, since there's no other way to approach West Avenue but to use those for at least part of the journey. Pine is a great idea too. Strictly speaking, there's absolutely no reason we can't do something there really quickly too, and we should, but I think getting the existing bike route to be better is lower hanging fruit at the moment. I think the truth is that it's just not direct from that part of town, but it is fairly direct from Providence (I'd like to see Hope Street/East Avenue get protected bike lanes, too, which I think for many purposes would be the most direct route too, but East Ave. terminates at the highway, so from the perspective of crossing the highway it's not so great).

      I don't think the existing route is that hilly though. I'm only aware of one hill, and it's not very big or very steep.

      But yes, definitely West Ave. It's way too wide, already is low traffic, and if we can get some decent connections from the other arterials, it would be a good location.