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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...

Transport Providence is Coming Back

It's been since September that I've made a proper post, although I have been actively pushing the Providence parking tax over at RI Future and Eco RI News. 

I've been commuting through Pawtucket and Central Falls recently, and realized that there's a lot of ongoing work that needs to happen in these places that just isn't taking place. In May, Mayor Diossa of Central Falls met with some bike advocates and started in a hopeful direction with a new bike fix-it station in his city, but his administration has so far failed to follow-up on early expectations that that city would put protected bike lanes in. I offered several times to help the city plan and implement a protected bike lane, a project which I think could be completed in 90-days by any serious administration. The administration showed some interest at first, but even after I asked to do the project for free, they didn't follow through.

Pawtucket's planning bodies have been trying to set up a bike & pedestrian advisory commission, but each of the meetings has been cancelled. I am supposed to serve on that body, and I think Pawtucket needs to move more forcefully towards having a bikeable city if it wants people to stop calling it "the Bucket".

I was riding through Pawtucket recently, and realized that there's really very little of the city I've even been able to properly see, because so little of it is accessible by bike or foot. This is a major problem, not some kind of side-show issue that the city can deal with a little at a time. I haven't seen anything of Pawtucket in the triangle west of I-95 and south of Mineral Spring Avenue. For all I know, colonies of French mimes could live there, perfecting their craft speechlessly, but all the while thinking silent French thoughts. But chances are it's probably like the rest of Pawtucket. I just can't really reach it so easily. There are parts of Providence that might as well be foreign countries to me. But Pawtucket actually feels like it could be a fun place to spend time, if it didn't feel like the design of its roads were conspiring to kill me.

Changing this should not take a long time. The only reason it takes a long time is because we have bad priorities. It didn't take long in countries that really wanted to take action. The best of our politicians want to do something about this, but are content to do tiny little things. We need to expect more.

Now tell me, doesn't this look like someplace you'd like to hang out? It does to me. This street is too wide, but that could be fixed with bike lanes.
I take the sharrow route to work, and come to cross streets like Exchange in Pawtucket, and never tun up them, because I worry that if the designated bike route is so mediocre, the non-designated route must be worse. The last few days I went on little side-jaunts on my way home to see if I could edify myself a bit, but found the eastern part of Pawtucket completely confounding to get around in. The elephant in the room is the highway, which needs to be dealt with seriously. 

This is what that same beautiful block looks like a few hundred feet later, next to I-95. Note especially that you can't even take Exchange Street across the highway even if you're daunting enough to go across this. This is part of the reason I have barely scratched the surface of the eastern part of Pawtucket. Let's note how expensive this crappy intersection is: each of those signals, alone, must have cost $100,000. The road is too wide. There are all these complicated and ugly cement fixtures to pretend we care about pedestrians. And there's a vacuum sucking development away from here. Money well spent.

Pawtucket and Central Falls are important to me. My father-in-law, who lives in Central Mass, and whose parents now live in East Providence, grew up jumping around between Central Falls and Providence. For him, "going to the city" meant going to Pawtucket's downtown. I think that Central Falls and Pawtucket are two completely unappreciated areas of Rhode Island, and that they need some serious attention.

The attitude of piecemeal change is really lame. There's no other way to put it. We can't remove I-95 right now (although, hell, let's do it, if we ever get the chance. . . ) but we can certainly could close some of the crossings to cars, put protected bike lanes on others, implement road diets, move parking. The same things that piss me off about Providence continuing to run in place irk me even more deeply about Pawtucket. This is a place that needs bike infrastructure, and good pedestrian infrastructure. This is a place that could be great.

I'm not really sure whether anything I write really matters. Part of what stopped me from blogging for a while was the way that Providence treated Park(ing) Day. On the face of things, the mayor was extremely supportive, issuing praise in his weekly email. Several city departments took part. But on the other hand, the city charged us lots and lots of permitting money for the event, and then never enforced the no-parking zone, even though the parking that we paid for was unmetered. I got short shrift from city officials when I asked for commitments to fix this for future events, eventually cutting off discussion by saying that I wasn't the "official" Park(ing) Day representative, and that I should talk to the "real" Park(ing) Day organizers, and thank you so very much for your concerns. It's this gap between everyone wanting to appear at Bike to Work Day and actually seeing our cities take action to make our streets work that confounds me the most.

I walked away from the second Park(ing) Day feeling really ambivalent, and extremely burnt out. On the one hand, I knew that a lot of people loved what we did, including passing drivers, and businesses on Broadway. On the other hand, it felt to me like just one more example of banging my head against the wall and seeing very piecemeal, extremely slow, extremely tepid change.

I guess I'm back to bang my head against the wall again.


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