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West Avenue Bikeway in Pawtucket


I've spent some time on West Avenue going to the winter farmers' market, but the idea for a bikeway there came from Hugo Bruggemann. Hugo lives in Pawtucket and uses it already to get between the area around the farmers' market to downtown Pawtucket. I think this is a perfect route for community groups to use tactical urbanism to affect. We don't need to ask for permission. We just need to act. I don't necessarily have the personal resources to pull off every idea that comes my way, but what I can do is publish these ideas and hope that some others will act on them.

Just this week: Portland activists planted some diverters in Clinton Street, a street that was already designated as a bike boulevard. They were later removed by police, but we should keep our eyes peeled to see if they go back in later.
There are a lot of problems with this route, but they can be solved really easily. On this map I've labeled things green for Autoluwe areas, yellow for areas with higher traffic and protected bike lanes, and red for areas that just need wayfinding changes.


Autoluwe is like "car lite", allowing drivers full access as residents or workers, but not allowing through traffic. These are also called 'bicycle boulevards" in some areas of the West Coast. The green parts of West Avenue and Pine Street, including the bridge over I-95, would get this treatment. On West Avenue this would just mean diverting traffic to Pawtucket Avenue or Main Street every few blocks. Autoluwe is the drivers' friend: what people look for in the suburbs are isolated cul-de-sacs where there is little traffic. Bike boulevard/Autoluwe design adopts the good things about this (very little car traffic) without the bad things (no pedestrian/bike connectivity). Even if you drive, you should hope someone comes along to your street to do this.

Here's an example of Bike Boulevards in action in Berkeley, California.




Activists in Portland, Oregon recently added more diverters to a street that already had some, making the street a much nicer place to bike on. West Ave. can get them too if someone wants to step up and do it.

Protected bike lanes are sort of self-explanatory. I chose them for the yellow northern part of Pine Street into Goff/Exchange* because the street is wider (very wide on Goff/Exchange, especially) and has higher traffic. In the Netherlands and Denmark, streets with traffic over 20 mph get protected bike lanes. West Avenue should be below 20 mph, so it's okay to mix traffic, but Goff/Exchange are going to be at least 25 mph, and probably more like 30 mph in practice, with a lot more trucks and buses. In Copenhagen, North Americans learned the distinctions between high-traffic and low-traffic areas by visiting and seeing it themselves.



The highway bridge over I-95 on Pine Street should be closed to cars completely, as part of the Autoluwe design. Pine Street would also become a two-way street for bikes/pedestrians (Garden St., one block-over, would also become two-way, but for car traffic** alongside car crossover access on Main Street and Pawtucket Avenue/George Street). The bridge is a perfect place for diverting through traffic because there are a number of other bridge options for crossing in a car, and because the bridge itself has no "places" that drivers might want to visit (i.e., the only reason you drive on the bridge is if you're through-traffic). 

In addition to permeable barriers (bikes can pass, cars can't) this bridge should also get beautification. The fences could get mural panels, potted plants could be put against the sidewalk since less width is needed, and the asphalt could get painted a special color, like brick-red, to signify that this is not an area for cars.
Pine St. would become two-way, but no direct car access would exist from the highway (cars coming off of Pawtucket Avenue and other streets could access it, leaving only bike through-traffic).

Regular readers may wonder why I favor a car-lite design over protected bike lanes in many of these locations. The truth is that I'd eventually like to see both. West Avenue parallels Main Street and Pawtucket Avenue pretty well--and without hills--so it's much more practical to seek off-arterial side routes like this here than it is in Providence***. But eventually both arterials should get protected bike lanes at least on one side. The reason I think Autoluwe/Bike Boulevard design makes a lot of sense to talk about here is that it can be done by community groups with minimal (or no) permission/oversight by RIDOT/Pawtucket. On a small budget, someone could drop some barrels of plants in the road at odd places along West Ave., spray chalk some directional signs at its intersection with Brown Street, and obstruct the Pine Street Bridge, demonstrating improved design all at once. Protected bike lanes will come to this area after people have started to push aggressively towards change.

The West Avenue, Pine Street, and Goff/Exchange route is not perfectly direct, but it is as direct as the highway allows, and provides some of the most beautiful sights in Pawtucket, from some of the older mills, to churches, corner stores, and nice homes. This is a major route that I hope some dark, shadowy force will improve soon (of course, without my involvement).


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*By the way, small thing, but can we please just call this one thing or the other? There's no reason for this street to have two names, other than to confuse visitors. Personal pet peeve.
**Garden Street would benefit from it's two-way car traffic just as Pine Street would benefit from lighter car traffic. Currently Garden and Pine are a one-way pair, and through-traffic on them goes faster than it should because of this design. Putting cars into a two-way configuration would make crossing the highway 1) less confusing for drivers and non-drivers alike, and 2) cut down speeding.
***Providence's Hope Street, for instance, has gridded streets on either side, but going up them and connecting at the last minute requires going uphill, which is a major downside.

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