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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...

Crash at Kennedy Plaza Should Teach Us Something.

A person is in critical condition after being hit by a bus at Washington Street, near Kennedy Plaza. This is very close to where the planned "bike-bus lanes" are intended to be on Exchange Street. Although this accident is not caused by that design, it's a reminder of the dangers of buses to pedestrians, and a good reason to remember that we should try to separate uses as much as possible. I tweeted that I think the accident serves as a reminder that buses are dangerous, and that mixing bike/pedestrian areas with bus lanes is a mistake. 



Now, you might say, "Why you pickin' on this guy?" My comment that Bill DiSantis' design for Exchange Street is a death trap, and that if an accident resulted in it he would blame it on human error rather than see the design flaw, is not a baseless personal attack but a statement of policy. I realized after I said it though that not everyone might have the context to know why it's true. So here's more from what Bill DiSantis had to say about the Exchange design in his email via RIPTA to me*:

Most bike fatalities are the result of car/bike crashes but it is true that many crashes involving bikes and large vehicles such as trucks and buses usually involve severe injury or death for the cyclist. However most of those crashes result from the cyclist entering the truck/bus driver’s blind spot and colliding with a turning truck/bus. (my italics) The usual scenario is a “right-hook” collision at an intersection where a straight-thru cyclist collides with a right-turning vehicle. In some crashes the truck/bus passes the cyclist and misjudging the cyclist’s speed turns in front of the cyclist. But in many crashes, the cyclist actually comes up behind the truck/bus and enters into the driver’s blind spot. The driver turns not knowing there is a cyclist there because he simply cannot see the cyclist. In some cases, the truck/bus driver doesn’t even realize there has been a collision. This was the case in the last 2 bike fatalities in Boston, truck drivers left the scene not knowing there had been a crash.
So encouraging cyclists to move away from the right edge of the roadway and into a center-of-the-lane position where they are fully visible to the truck/bus drivers avoids the cyclist getting lost in the driver’s blind spot. A cyclist trailing a bus in the center-of-the-lane would be out of the bus’ turning track and if far enough back within the drive’s vision. A cyclist in a frontal center-of-the-lane position would be fully visible to the driver and given the relatively short length of the Exchange Street bus/bike lane would unduly delay the bus’s progress.


In this scenario a bus traveling at 20 to 25 mph (a reasonable speed in urban condition) passes a slowing moving cyclist traveling at 10-15 mph (again a reasonable speed in an urban condition). The cyclist then “catches” the bus when it stops to pickup/drop off passengers. The process then repeats itself-cyclist passes bus, bus passes cyclist, cyclist catches and passes bus. This is a common scenario when a cyclist travels along a roadway that is a designated bus route. Many experienced urban cyclists soon learn to avoid this by taking parallel roadways and avoiding bus routes when possible. During the Bike Providence Plan, we found that the results of the actual routes submitted by local cyclists via the VHB Bikeways mobile app showed many cyclists currently use adjacent and parallel side roads move about the City. (I personally avoid Hope St on my weekly bike-to-work rides opting to take a slightly longer but less congested parallel routes. But I still encounter some leap frog with RIPTA buses as I come down South Main and Canal Streets). This is the reason when we did the Providence Plan that we tried to avoid as much as posbile designating the R Bus route roadways as on-road bikeways.
Instead of recognizing that people are killed due to predictable patterns of behavior, and designing a road accordingly to make those behavioral patterns moot, Bill's analysis puts all the onus on individuals to make the right decisions with bad infrastructure. This is backwards. Bill has stated at other times that he feels that bicyclists are mostly to blame for their own accidents, rather than contributing positively to designs that make bicycling safe. This is just one of many examples.

I believe that Bill DiSantis is sincere in his views, but I think he arrogantly ignores safety data that has saved lives in other countries, and by putting himself in the way of good design, I think he puts Providence behind where it should be on developing a good bike plan. Bill has stated that he thinks 20 mph and 15 mph slow zones are too slow for cities, even though cities like Paris and New York are moving to make them default speeds. Bill has erroneously stated that protected bike lanes cause accidents--while poorly designed models caused conflicts at intersections, modern versions have made countries and cities that adopt them greatly safer for cyclists, and indeed, for all users of the road. Bill's ideas are wrong, and because he's a traffic engineer, he has the power to implement his wrong ideas. So while I wish him no ill, and can understand why constantly having to put pressure on an individual may seem distasteful, I think it's necessary. He's the one with the responsibility to design a good system, and he hasn't. He has to be held accountable to that.


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*Here is the entire text of the email:

Bike/bus conflicts:

Most bike fatalities are the result of car/bike crashes but it is true that many crashes involving bikes and large vehicles such as trucks and buses usually involve severe injury or death for the cyclist.  However most of those crashes result from the cyclist entering the truck/bus driver’s blind spot and colliding with a turning truck/bus.   The usual scenario is a “right-hook” collision at an intersection where a straight-thru cyclist collides with a right-turning vehicle.  In some crashes the truck/bus passes the cyclist and  misjudging the cyclist’s speed  turns in front of the cyclist.  But in many crashes, the cyclist actually comes up behind the truck/bus and enters into the driver’s blind spot.  The driver turns not knowing there is a cyclist there because he simply cannot see the cyclist.  In some cases, the truck/bus driver doesn’t even realize there has been a collision.  This was the case in the last 2 bike fatalities in Boston, truck drivers left the scene not knowing there had been a crash.

So encouraging cyclists to move away from the right edge of the roadway and into a center-of-the-lane position where they are fully visible to the truck/bus drivers avoids the cyclist getting lost in the driver’s blind spot.  A cyclist trailing a bus in the center-of-the-lane would be out of the bus’ turning track and if far enough back within the drive’s vision.  A cyclist in a frontal center-of-the-lane position would be fully visible to the driver and given the relatively short length of the Exchange Street bus/bike lane would unduly delay the bus’s progress.

Bike/Bus “leap frog”:

In this scenario a bus traveling at 20 to 25 mph (a reasonable speed in urban condition) passes a slowing moving cyclist traveling at 10-15 mph (again a reasonable speed in an urban condition).  The cyclist then “catches” the bus when it stops to pickup/drop off passengers.  The process then repeats itself-cyclist passes bus, bus passes cyclist, cyclist catches and passes bus.  This is a common scenario when a cyclist travels along a roadway that is a designated bus route.  Many experienced urban cyclists soon learn to avoid this by taking parallel roadways and avoiding bus routes when possible.  During the Bike Providence Plan, we found that the results of the actual routes submitted by local cyclists via the VHB Bikeways mobile app showed many cyclists  currently use adjacent and parallel side roads move about the City.  (I personally avoid Hope St on my weekly bike-to-work rides opting to take a slightly longer but less congested parallel routes.  But I still encounter some leap frog with RIPTA buses as I come down South Main and Canal Streets).  This is the reason when we did the Providence Plan that we tried to avoid as much as posbile designating the R Bus route roadways as on-road bikeways.

On a relatively short run such as the length of Exchange Street from Memorial Blvd to the Park ROW west, the leap frog scenario just doesn’t happen because the distance is so short and one end of the bike/bus lane is controlled by a traffic signal.
Another advantage to cyclists in a bike/bus lane is that during the gaps between the bus headway, the lane is just a bike lane with no other traffic.  This does require an enforcement component after construction and we recommend RIPTA work with the City to implement a vigorous enforcement campaign post construction.

Bike/Bus lane case studies:

Obviously a fully separated bicycle facility would be the preferred bicycle accommodation but the existing site conditions preclude anything other than a shared facility.  We note that the City has recently restriped Exchange St from Memorial Blvd to park Row  West to reduce the number of travel lanes thus  making way for the proposed improvements.  Bike/bus lane designs have been installed in a number of locations throughout the US.  Attached is a case study from the FHWA publicationBIKESAFE: Bicycle Countermeasure Selection System detailing evaluation and results of the operation of a bike/bus lane in Tucson, AZ over a 20 year period.  Also attached is a copy of a Florida DOT report  A Summary of Design, Policies and Operational Characteristics for Shared Bicycle/Bus Lanes.  The lessons learned from these to publications were incorporated into the proposed Exchange Street project.

Based on the results of these actual installations, it is more than reasonable to expect the proposed Exchange Street bike/bus lane will operate  in a similar fashion and will be added benefit to the bicycle network in the City of Providence.

The Phoenix's Tour de Rhode Island

It's gratifying to find Rachel and me in the Phoenix's bike edition not once, but twice. It included a piece I wrote exploring some of the myths that structure the idea that Rhode Island can't learn from the Netherlands, and instead has to copy from pedestrian death-traps like Florida. But it was a surprise to me to open up the pages and find another piece by contributor Zach Green asking whether Providence's bike plan is really good enough. Quoting at length here:


Of the five “E’s,” engineering gets the most focus, as the plan stresses the need to “expand the existing bicycle infrastructure for every level of cyclist.” But a striking aspect of the report is how little infrastructure there seems to be to improve upon. A 2012 inventory found a total of 38.1 miles of existing bikeways in the city, the majority of which are identified as “Phase 1 Routes,” which include “shared lanes, marked shared lanes, and paved shoulders.” Bike Providence’s own definitions help us parse those phrases. The term “shared lane” is somewhat of a misnomer, as it refers to any street where bicycles can legally be operated — basically any road other than a highway. A “paved shoulder” is simply a road where the shoulder — that’s the strip of road outside the normal travel lane — is paved, allowing for travel by bicycle, but also for parking by car. In urban transportation parlance, a “marked shared lane” is generally known as a “sharrow,” and refers to roads painted with the familiar bicycle and double-chevron icon, designed to indicate that a street is frequented by bicyclists. 
These options are the most basic of urban bicycling engineering ideas, and for better or worse, they represent the predominant proposals of Bike Providence. The plan suggests repaving roads, adding street signals and signage, and other ambiguous small-scale improvements like “street furnishings,” and often fails to describe how these solutions will improve Providence’s bicycling environment. At times Bike Providence seems willfully uncreative and uninspired, even as it notes that “experience in the US has shown that most bicyclists prefer riding on separated bikeways such as bike lanes, cycle tracks, or off-road, shared-use paths.” 
So why don’t we see more of those in the proposal? The plan suggests it is a question of money: “Major transportation and/or redevelopment projects in the city can provide the opportunity to make large scale improvements to the cycling infrastructure, such as off-road shared-use paths, bike lanes or cycle tracks, but these major projects are usually very expensive and take years of permitting and approvals before construction can begin.” 
The plan’s architects have said that Bike Providence is designed to be a “living document” that’s continually open and subject to change. The Providence Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Commission, a group appointed by Mayor Taveras, has regularly taken comment on Bike Providence. And local residents James Kennedy and Rachel Playe have written thoughtfully and extensively about the present and future of bicycling in our city on Transport Providence(transportprovidence.blogspot.com), arguing, for example, that the sharrows proposed by Bike Providence fail to realistically address the needs of bicyclists in the city. “Sharrows represent shared space, and shared space is only appropriate in low-volume, slow-pace areas,” they write. “There’s nothing wrong with taking small steps forward, but it is wrong to tell people that you’re taking steps forward when you’re treading water.” 
When the plan was released last November, an accompanying press release from Mayor Angel Taveras stated, “The master plan will continue to be evaluated as it is implemented and can be updated periodically as conditions and funding sources evolve,” which neither reads as a full endorsement of, nor inspires a lot of confidence in, the commissioned plan. If Providence is ready and able to become a great bicycling city, then what are the conditions necessary to make that happen? Is it a lack of funds, or a deficit of vision, holding us back?
I'm grateful to Zach for giving Rachel shared credit in the work of the blog, since most often the immediate face of the blog is me. Rachel did equal if not greater work than me on Park(ing) Day last year, which I still think is our crowning achievement, and Rachel took the lead in pushing me to actually follow up on the work I wanted to do. Rachel has only infrequently contributed directly to the writing here, and her photos, though amazing, only come from time to time. But the truth is that we discuss the articles together ad nauseum, and she contributes editorial and strategic suggestions to virtually everything I do. Rachel directed the editing of our recent short on the Blackstone Boulevard slow zone proposal. Rachel also is the largest breadwinner in our household, so while I've held some Americorps positions or done seasonal and part-time non-profit work, or written freelance articles for small checks, or spent time giving free advice to towns in Rhode Island, Rachel does most of the bill-paying. I think if she had the choice, she'd love to be doing the glory work that gets attention, but she's too busy being a responsible adult. 

It truly makes me sad when people don't realize how much she contributes to our work, and from time to time I do make an effort to correct people, but it's hard to get past the societal urge to give the most credit to the flashy stuff and give less credit to the grunt work behind the flash--and when you're an extroverted, pushy type-A personality like me, the quieter person next to you just doesn't get the credit they deserve. I really do thank The Phoenix, again for recognizing Rachel's achievements, and I hope that these will be better recognized in the future by other advocates.

How can you contribute to a group that does mostly volunteer work to advocate for biking in Providence and around the state? We've been fundraising, and we're asking you to find us a parking spot. You can send your checks to Rachel Playe or James Kennedy at 149 Doyle Street, Providence, RI 02906 (sorry, West Side--we'll be moving there officially in the next couple days). Please do not make checks out to "Transport Providence", as the bank does not recognize that to mean us.

We're working on getting a paypal account together, which really should have been done by now, but we've just been very busy. Soon!

Thanks! Ride on!

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Nice Try, But No.

I appreciate the thought behind posting a speed gun on Service Road 7 to remind motorists both of the legal speed limit, and inform them of their actual speed. So far, my observations of the effect this has on motorists haven't been too optimistic, though. The only time when people approach the speed limit is when they're stopping for a red light. The rest of the time their speed is around 40 mph, which is way too fast for a neighborhood.

This video is from Waterfire night, and is taken from in front of the police station--if people speed with impunity there, where won't they speed?



The only way to stop speeding here is to reduce the number of lanes, and reduce lane widths. The service road is not part of the highway, it's part of our neighborhood. If it's designed to make people go fast, they will.

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Pickled Ice Cream: Bus-Bike Combo Lanes Are No Good.

Some things are good separately, and very bad together. Bike lanes are great, as are bus lanes, but bike-bus combination lanes are the pickled ice cream of the transportation world.

RIPTA's plan to have bus-bike combo lanes, as designed by Bill DiSantis of VHB, is a bad idea. Says DiSantis, responding to my criticism of the plan in an email sent on his behalf by RIPTA:

Obviously a fully separated bicycle facility would be the preferred bicycle accommodation but the existing site conditions preclude anything other than a shared facility (my italics). We note that the City has recently restriped Exchange St from Memorial Blvd to park Row West to reduce the number of travel lanes thus making way for the proposed improvements.

Here are the "existing site conditions" that supposedly "preclude anything other than a shared facility":

With the exception of a small length near the Turk's Head south of Fulton Street, the entire length of Exchange Street is four wide lanes.
The road width gives us room to do something like this:
Plenty of room for (separate) bike and bus lanes. There's even room for an island to help transit users and pedestrians cross, and to add shade to the street with trees.
Why would we instead require bikes and buses to share the lane? This is both inconvenient for bus riders, who get caught behind a slow bicyclist, and potentially dangerous to the bicyclist, who is caught in a leap frog situation.

Bill DiSantis contends that because this is a straight route, there won't be "right hook" accidents where bicyclists get into the blind spot of the bus and are run over at turns. He also contends that "leap frogging" where the faster bus passes the bicyclist, but is caught at the light, and in turn is passed by the bicyclist, won't happen because of the shortness of the route. While I agree that the problems caused by bus-bike combo lanes would be mitigated by these factors, I don't know why would design a street from scratch to have problems built into its design. There's certainly nothing about the street that makes building appropriate (separate) bus and bike facilities difficult.

DiSantis bases his design on examples from Florida DOT and from the city of Tucson, Arizona. Florida is the leading state for pedestrian and cyclist deaths, so why he would base his plans off of something from that state I can't understand. I haven't heard anything too inspiring from Tucson. 

If we want mass cycling and transit use, then we should design both forms of transportation to operate at their best. That means basing our models on countries with mass cycling like the Netherlands and Denmark. We have more in common with the layouts of places in those countries than we do with stroads in Florida or the Southwest.

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Highways to Nowhere

I don't know this guy, but I hope to meet him.


Read more here, as JWU professor Michael Fein lays out one of the major things wrong with our transportation system (Ahem, Sheldon, it's time to wake up, buddy).

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Courtesy of The Next St. Louis


In other news, RI Future publishes our call to reckon with the fact that Providence is in the top ten for highway miles per capita.

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And Eco RI prints our article interviewing Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn about the planned Garrahy garage (spoiler: he's a big fan).

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Thanks for everyone who was on the Ride of Silence tonight.

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Yukon Ho!

The proposed Garrahy garage is $43 Million. Just how many miles of protected bike lanes could we build for that?

This may be the only time I've ever made a Google Map and the curvature of the Earth needed to be accounted for on the map.


I made a map imagining the cost broken down in a protected bike lane going as-the-bird-flies from Garrahy Judicial Complex. This is of course meant to be taken somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Since flex-posts are usually put on existing streets in a non-linear network riddled with rivers and mountains, and since we would tend to count highways out of that network since they need more advanced infrastructure to accommodate bikes, obviously no one would really plan their network this way. But still, it gives the mind a way of envisioning how expensive parking really is--and just how many miles of bicycling we could get for the same price.

At the liberal end of the spectrum, estimates for flex-post bike lanes cost $15,000 per mile. That would take us to Yukon Territory. At the more conservative end, assuming the protected lanes cost $30,000 per mile, we'd "only" get to North Dakota.

Of course, flex-posts are not the only kind of protected bike lane that cities can build. When we really get serious we can discuss somewhat more expensive projects like what Indianapolis did with the Heritage Trail. At $63 Million, the trail is eight miles long and created a complete linear park. The city was able to raise money for it privately, and as it was built the neighborhoods adjoining it--with many brownfield plots like those in the I-195 lands--started to develop and grow local businesses. And the Heritage Trail created bioswales to control rain runoff and add beauty to the borders of the trail itself.

Or we can build another garage. 



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Washington Bikeway: The Devil's in the Details

Image from Treehugger blog: Groningen Center
(For clarity here, I'm not talking about the Washington Secondary Path, but about Washington Street in Providence, which starts at Knight Street and continues into Downcity until it turns into Waterman).

The WBNA has been meeting with us about the development of protected bike lanes on the West Side, and we're making progress. There's serious reasons why Broadway appears to be the choice to go with. But the WBNA also suggested Washington Street. This is in the Bike Master Plan as an option as well, and I wanted to go into this in more detail.
The Netherlands once had traffic jams, when it tried

In general the fault I find in the Bike Master Plan is that it doesn't ease ridership on major streets at all, but takes the existing (relatively) friendly streets and tells bikers to stay to those. Suggesting Washington as a bike route has this flaw on the West Side, because it does nothing to improve access to Broadway--which has door-zone bike lanes--or to Westminster--which has nothing. And that's to say nothing of Cranston Street, which should also be addressed, since it's the main connection to the Cranston Bike Path and in the midst of a low income neighborhood that deserves premier biking options to support its car-light-by-necessity lifestyle.

But Washington isn't a horrible idea, if it's done well. It won't negate the need for biking infrastructure on these other streets, but we should think about how we can make Washington, Carpenter, and other side streets better to bike on. 

On the West Side, this means using bike boulevards:


The West Side is relatively gridded, so we can cut off some street entries for cars without making streets car-free. Washington terminates at Knight, and Knight street would be a great place to do this.


When I go from the West Side eastbound, I usually take Carpenter to Knight, where I have to do a little wiggle onto Washington to continue. Believe it or not, this little half-block wiggle is one of the more stressful areas.

If people had any common sense at all, they would see that Knight is narrow and that it's meant to be slow. Instead, drivers very frequently get impatient for the fifty feet or so where they're behind me, and try to pass hastily on the left. There's not really room to do this anyway, but it's also stressful because I have to make a left onto Washington to continue, so in addition to any cars coming the other way I have to negotiate with, I also have to worry about the jackass behind me that wants to sideswipe me from behind.

Cutting off this little half-block to car traffic would resolve that. The grid allows cars to come to this place from a variety of directions, it just makes Knight Street a through street only for bikes and pedestrians.

There are also some relatively fast cars on Washington--again, you think, why? People should have common sense--so I suggest having a diagonal diverter at Winter Street. Cars coming off of Hoyle Square would have to turn and go east. Cars coming from the W. Fountain would turn and go up Washington.

You might say, why do this? Doesn't this put cars onto the street you're trying to make car-light? I think the pattern in the first week or so before people know what's going on might look like this. But people naturally adjust their driving pattern to the way roads are designed over time--pretty quickly--so through traffic will dissipate. The people who are visiting actual places on this strip will still come in their cars if they choose, but they'll just do what they'd do if there had been a cul-de-sac: they'll come the other way.



Beyond the West Side, into Downtown, Washington is no longer a side street. It's an important route. So I would allow through traffic by cars as far as Kennedy Plaza, with protected bike lanes in the parking lanes (there are several empty garages in this area, so there's plenty of parking). The service roads would get two lanes instead of three, to slow traffic. Again, the issue here is that people are using the service roads as if they themselves are part of the highway. People are also using the highway as if it's a local road (which could be resolved by removing some exit and entrance ramps). So this is an improvement for cars. The people who use the highway to get to Cranston or Pawtucket and beyond will benefit, while it will probably reduce the number of people who decide to use I-95 to go from the West Side to North Main. Those people will use local roads to drive, will take the highway during non-peak times, or will use some other way of getting where they want to go within the city. 

At Kennedy Plaza, Fulton and Washington would be car free. This has been suggested by Jef Nickerson and Barry Schiller, among others. It's not my idea, but it's a great one. It would benefit cars by removing a lot of local trips by car from the road. The national average for trips under two miles is 40% of total car volume, so that's 40% of cars in this area off the road. The people who will continue to drive to this area are the people who we purport to be trying to attract--visitors from out of town, long-distance commuters, etc. Those folks don't need to drive a lot when they get here. Let's use the cars for what they're used for.

A car-free Kennedy Plaza is in keeping with the idea that Groningen, Netherlands used to grow its biking rate to 50% citywide, and 60% of trips in downtown. Groningen is 50% larger in area than Providence and 2/3 its density. In Groningen, you have many shared spaces where cars are allowed to go, but they cut the city into quarters in order to make crossing from one quarter to the other in car directly impossible. You can take the ring road around the center of the city to get from one quarter to another, which means you tend to do it only if you have a real reason to drive. But that has greatly reduced traffic while causing a boom in business, so much so that Clarence Eckerson, Jr. of Streetfilms talks about being able to stand in the street for minutes at a time without seeing a car.

Like I said, this does not negate the need to do some protected bike lanes on Broadway, and perhaps as well on Westminster and Cranston Street. But I would welcome this idea as a compliment to it. And I'm sure the residents would as well. In the Netherlands, the word for this is Autoluwe. It means "almost car-free". Residents advertise their houses as being in Autoluwe areas when they sell them, because people like pleasant places to be. It allows cars to be in the space, but keeps speeding down and encourages non-car travel.

A great idea.

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Butt Dialed

Editor's Note: Jenna LeGault works at Brown University and participated in our Jane's Walk (Bike). Jenna sent a New York Times piece about a pedestrian who had been hit by a car and the aftermath of that incident, and mentioned that many people she knew in Providence had been hit by cars. I asked her to write some of her experiences, which are below.

There's a raging battle (or maybe more of a tempest in a teapot, I'm not sure) between different cycling advocates as to how much the danger of bicycling (or walking, for that matter) should be emphasized in a culture which still regards biking as unusual. Some biking advocates feel that to talk about the dangers of biking is to place an unpleasant idea in the minds of non-bikers, and thus seal their fate as never joining the cause. I disagree. You can try to swim against the current, but you won't get many people to bike by sweet-talking them on biking. What will really make a difference is biking infrastructure, and any diversion from that is energy wasted not doing what's effective.

I make it a point to note that biking is more safe than not biking--you are twenty times more likely to extend your life due to the exercise, mental health benefits, and other positives of biking than you are to be killed by a car. I think it is important to be balanced in talking about the dangers. But although deaths due to cars have decreased in the past several decades, bicyclists and pedestrians still fare the worst, and U.S. deaths even for motorists themselves have declined much less than in countries that have reformed their road designs, like Scandinavian countries.

Deaths really aren't the standard of excellence anyway. No one has died in Providence for two years on a bike--I get this statistic pushed in my face when I call for good infrastructure--but many people have been injured. And many more have just decided not to participate in biking and walking, because they see the risks and think that it's not worth it. People are emotional creatures, not robots, and though the avid cyclist often approaches the closest thing to a robot that people are capable of being, we shouldn't assume that others are willing to do the same just because we do. I really thank Jenna for sharing this.

Jenna's account follows. 
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Last April, I was butt-dialed by a bag thrown on the ground. The thirteen minute voicemail documented a muffled conversation between a cyclist who had been struck by a car and the EMT who was trying to administer a roadside morphine drip. Even through distorted audio, it was easy to glean that some 'part' was obviously and gruesomely broken through the cyclist's hyperventilating and screaming.   


The fallen bike commuter was one of my students, who was heading downtown from College Hill.  She was crossing Memorial Boulevard at College/Westminster on green, wearing flashing personal safety lights (in other words: doing everything right to be safe).  The driver who hit her was trying to beat oncoming traffic and rushing a left-hand turn.  He broke her leg with his car.  She had two surgeries to implant a steel rod in her femur and pins that attached to an external brace, blood transfusions, and later an infection. 

In the hospital, a 14 inch scab came loose in the doctor's hand and she felt nothing. 

Then more surgeries.  

She was in a wheelchair, then a walker, and had to find first floor accommodations with a shower stool and somehow managed to graduate that semester.  In photos from commencement, she's the only one seated, her fiercely hairy and mottled leg in an internal/external brace and pin cast structure.  

This was the second one of my students to be hit by a car that year. The first had not butt-dialed me, but I still understood her situation first-hand.  She was knocked off her bike by a driver passing too close to her on Benefit Street. The driver didn't stop.  She told me she felt the heat of the car's engine at her back and then along her right side and then she felt nothing.  

Her arm was bent in a way arms don't bend.  The car crash sprained her ankle and gave her facial road rash and bruises.  It was very easy to image what she described about the heat of an engine barreling down.  I've been uncomfortably close to a hot car, myself and I imagine many people riding bikes have.


In pedestrian vs. auto accidents, the auto always wins. It's never not serious if a car hits your body, even if death doesn't result.  My search for injury data yielded more personal injury lawyers in RI than facts about the scale and scope of pedestrian vs car injuries. I am surprised at how difficult it is to find good public data, not just on fatalities, but on the impact of pedestrian vs. auto injuries.  The CDC reports "In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 70,000 pedestrians were injured". 70,000!  The closest thing to Rhode Island specific statistics was also from 2010, from the US Department of Transportation, reporting that there were 8 pedestrian fatalities in Rhode Island that year.

The DOT reports fatality rates optimistically--"only" 8--but I'd venture that there are many, many more than those eight fatalities who've been seriously hurt, who've most certainly lost in the auto vs. pedestrian battle and whose experiences aren't captured.  Still being able to speak, we owe it to other pedestrians to tell our harrowing stories, develop public awareness, push for better police reporting, and accountability from lawmakers and city planners.  I just read an article in the NY Times  "struck on the street: four survivors" featuring first hand accounts: "that 'bump' was me." And just like my students, these four pedestrians were doing everything right.  "In a 2010 report on traffic accidents, the city found that among the 6,784 pedestrians who were seriously injured by motor vehicles from 2002 to 2006, about three-quarters, or about 5,000, were in accidents at intersections, and over half of them, or more than 3,500 of the total, were crossing legally. In this, my colleagues and I were typical."   


I was hit by a car last December.  I was in a busy crosswalk on the Brown campus, more than halfway across the street, and a woman with children in her car turned fast into the intersection ("that 'bump' was me").  I was lucky, according to many (a frustrating thing to hear. "Lucky" is crossing a street without incident.), but brightly (!) the only thing this woman's car did was mess up my spine.  

The bone tunnel around the spinal cord is now tightening so I can only move in certain directions without pain. The acceptable planes my tight spinal column prefers do not include sitting or standing.  Two lumbar discs ruptured and relieved themselves slowly of their spinal fluids. Five painful months later, I'm writing this while foggy-minded from anesthesia because I just had a second epidural steroid procedure.  Graciously, my husband has to both put on and pull off my pants, like I'm a baby or in assisted living. But I'm neither.  I am an ashamed and angry adult who is now markedley less independent. But I can walk, more or less, and I'm not disfigured or outwardly corporeally harmed.  Is this one of the milder pedestrian vs auto outcomes?  How would I begin to know?


After reading that article in the Times and looking for data, I did review the police report from my own pedestrian vs. auto accident.  I think that report is part of the problem. Let me paraphrase:

Vehicle 1: Head on collision. 
Vehicle 2:  Errr... Ok, pardon, let me find option ...option 18...   

(a pedestrian is item 18 of 21--19, bicyclist; 20, witness; 21, 'other')

Vehicle 1 Damage:  Fingerprints on hood and roof check or 'none'. 

Vehicle 2 Damage:  Oh, that's right. You're not a vehicle.  Well, we can put here that you were transported by an ambulance with suspected injury and we note you don't wear a helmet to walk.

Again, paraphrasing, but not exaggerating too much. 

Reports like this can't capture what it means to be struck by a car. They don't include categories like arms, legs, and spines.

Much like going up against a car, I feel like I will always lose if I suggest alternatives to policing, but there are grassroots possibilities here.  If you have been hurt by a car and lived to tell the tale, I incite you to tell it in gory or boring medical detail. Personal accounts may be the only state data we can produce and, anecdotally, I fear that Rhode Island pedestrians could produce these stories in great volume. Stories of being really hurt are humanizing, if gross and disturbing and the collected memories of "the struck" can easily make their way to the forefront of planning and policy discussion, of public discourse.  

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Transport Providence is Looking for a Parking Spot




Transport Providence is fundraising!

Please chip in for the blog. Our goal is to raise the cost of an average parking spot in the United States: $15,000. If we double that, we'll have raised what the I-195 Commission expects the state to give it for just one Garrahy parking spot--or the basic cost of 1-2 miles of protected bike lanes.

Why should you give us your money?

Transport Providence is a volunteer effort. We have the occasional $50 or $100 check for photos or writing published elsewhere, but our writing on this blog and much of the writing or work we've done elsewhere is unpaid. The Narragansett Bay Wheelmen very graciously funded $1,100 of material costs. We spent a tiny percentage of that money so far and organized a successful Jane's Walk (Bike) event which drew participants, including the Statehouse Chair of Environment, Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) to see the folly of spending money on parking while less expensive and more useful projects like protected bike lanes go unmet in the city. With your money we hope to expand our efforts.

Transport Providence has been cross published in The Projo, The Phoenix, EcoRI, Rhode Island's Future, Greater City Providence, the Urbanophile, and Streetsblog, with pending publications for the Rhode Island AIA newsletter. 

We've done work for the City of East Providence to advise them to take on protected bike lanes, slow zones, bike boulevards, and even some car-free areas in order to promote biking. We have work pending with the City of Central Falls, and hope to help that city get its bike on.

With the American Institute of Architects of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Society of Landscape Architects, Transport Providence co-organized the first ever Park(ing) Day in Providence, which drew more than thirty participants. We are part of the board to organize next year's Park(ing) Day. Providence's level of participation was at a level commensurate to a much larger city, and while people we spoke to mostly didn't know what a parklet was when we began, several businesses, including Park(ing) Day participant The Grange, are applying with the city for permanent parklets on our streets.

Transport Providence has pushed the Bike & Pedestrian Advisory Commission, whose goals largely focused around sharrows when we started blogging. That body now advocates for protected bike lanes on many streets. Our protected bike lane campaigns have also pushed organizations like the I-195 Commission and the West Broadway Neighborhood Association to change priorities around streets, and this has resulted in front page Projo coverage and City Council attention.

Transport Providence worked with Birchwood Design Group to envision a Harris Avenue bikeway, and plans from that vision have been highlighted in the Providence Business News. Birchwood also worked with us alongside a variety of local and national groups, to come up with a vision to remove Routes 6 & 10 and replace them with a multimodal boulevard. 

Over 35,000 of you have viewed our site in the last year, and more than 600 of you follow us on Twitter. Whether you have change for the meter, or a full parking spot to donate, we need your help funding our efforts.

Please make checks out to Rachel Playe or James Kennedy and mail to 149 Doyle Street, Providence, RI, 02906.

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Getting Closer to Protected Bike Lanes on the West Side

I'm happy to report that talks are continuing with the WBNA, city officials, and Transport Providence about how to resolve the need for upgraded bike infrastructure on the West Side. We're getting closer, but we're really still not there yet. After we got some feedback in the comments section of the blog, we decided to push a concept with double protected bike lanes on Broadway rather than protected bike lanes all on Westminster or split between Westminster and Broadway. I like this idea much more, but honestly thought it was less politically feasible than the Westminster ideas. In actual fact, the Broadway idea is getting past a lot of barriers that we faced on Westminster, so it may end up being easier to implement.*

I think the WBNA is acting as a sincere negotiating partner at this point, but I still have problems with their proposal, and I hope that people on the West Side will take the time to express their views about protected bike lanes and parking policy, since the major crux is that the WBNA does not yet accept the need to balance parking against other uses of the street.

Broadway: Two Options


Protected bike lanes, each one either side (there's actually 2' less than I thought, since the lanes are already at 11', so these bike lanes would go to 6' each instead of 7').


There are two options for Broadway. One is to have a protected bike lane on each side of the street. The other is to have them together. Either option requires the loss of one parking lane, because you need 5 feet from each of the existing painted bike lanes plus some width for the buffers. I'm told that RIPTA buses are 10.5 feet, and the existing travel lanes are 11 feet, so there's no room to take from anywhere but one of the parking lanes.

Either Broadway option has some advantages:

*Broadway would be better than Westminster because it proceeds more easily from Olneyville to the West Side and from the West Side to Downtown than Westminster does, as many cyclists have pointed out in the comments of our piece on the Westminster proposal.

*Broadway is not a state road, and therefore changes can be made to it with only city approval. (That's a huge advantage).

Broadway One-Side Two-Way Advantages



One-side, two-way bikeway on Broadway (there's the same spacial error in this one: each bike lane would be 6', not 7'.)
*Having both bike lanes on one side together makes the bikeway more than wide enough for emergency services like ambulances or fire trucks to get through, and that improves safety on the street over any other design--a fire truck has to sit in traffic now, but that will never again be true! Bikes can just get up on the sidewalk when needed to!

*Double bike lanes also make for easier passing. 12' is a little less space than the standard Dutch treatment, but it's close, and that means that disabled people and the elderly can use the smooth surface of the road for assisted movement devices. When you're talking about win-win situations, this can't be emphasized enough. RIPTA passengers would also now have a direct berth to get off and on the bus from.

*12' is more than enough space for ordinary snow plows, meaning no investment needed in special smaller snow plows. Big win from a city services point of view.

*I also prefer the one-side, two-way approach because it turns two 2' buffers into one 4' buffer, and that gives us the option of putting street trees in for beauty and shade (if we don't have the budget to do this now, we can wait until we do, but the city does have a street tree program where it matches investments by neighbors--as we've pointed out in our Thanksgivika article about the tear-up of the Statehouse lawn for a parking lot.

Okay, So There Is That Small Matter. . . 


Overcoming ADA issues, fire safety, state-city jurisdictional disputes, and snow plowing all in one leap is huge, especially if it adds trees to a neighborhood with fewer than the city average, but it does still leave that issue about parking. Unfortunately this is the issue that the WBNA still considers a worry. In order to try to skirt the loss of a parking lane, they've proposed a different model, which I call the Broadway Double Door-Zone Bike Lanes. These would not be an improvement, though I think they're offered as a sincere step forward in the negotiations.  My hope is that we've gone through denial, anger, and sadness about the loss of a parking lane, and now we're just onto bargaining before we finally accept the need to repurpose some space on our streets.

Broadway Double Door-Zone Bike Lanes (WBNA)
Why Doesn't This Work?

As I say, I think this is a small step forward for us all, because we now are on the same page about the need for protected infrastructure and agreed about what street should get it. Attempting to hold onto parking here won't work for a number of reasons, though.

The issue with the existing painted bike lanes is dooring. Dooring is a major cause of bike accidents, and happens with cars swing their doors open into the bike lane. There have been attempts to educate people about this problem, and to get drivers and cyclists to watch out for it, but in the Netherlands, they resolve the problem by simply not building infrastructure this way. The WBNA proposal just switches around which side of the car people will be doored on.

The 5' bike lanes also won't work for the people getting out of the cars. It sucks to be the bicyclist being tossed over someone's car door, but I daresay being the passenger who opens up that door also feels unsafe.

It's important to design protected bike lanes according to standards that we know work. Critics of protected bike lanes showed that the earliest versions of that infrastructure sometimes increased crashes with cars at intersections, because drivers turned unwittingly across them without looking. Updates to infrastructure have made protected bike lanes extremely safe and have resulted in countries like the Netherlands having far fewer crashes and almost no bicycling deaths nationwide--a safety record that has improved much faster than the U.S. one for all users.

While I think the WBNA proposal is made sincerely, it won't work. There are engineering reasons for it that are well laid out and well tested. 

There's No Parking Crisis (Except This One)

You may recall the reason I focused on Westminster at first was that I found its parking lanes to consistently be nearly empty at peak times of day, saw and experienced myself the relative comfort of biking in them to trying to "take the lane" on a fast road, and thought the city could adopt better infrastructure there more easily than Broadway, where there was higher parking occupancy. But even on Broadway, parking is rarely completely full. Doing actual counts over time is something that's pending for me, but I have made an effort to eye the situation as I've taken walks over the past several weeks, and my preliminary guess is that parking on Broadway is 50-60% occupied. At the low end of this, removing a parking lane would not remove any (actually used) parking at all. At the upper end, only 10% of the total current available parking would be removed.

Westminster, with its 10% parking rate, has plenty of parking for anyone who spills over, as does every single side street.

And if that's not enough, let's see what Google has to offer us in terms of a survey of parking lots that exist beside or behind buildings:


One of the things you can't help but note (although maybe you'll have to make this image bigger to see it) is that at whatever randomly appointed daytime period when Google took its satellite image, none of the lots were more than half full either. They're all fairly empty in fact--just a couple cars at a time usually.

The WBNA makes a rather strange claim, which is that they are concerned that people will knock down buildings to create more parking lots in order satisfy the need for parking that will be taken away for a protected bike lane pair. I know that Providence had a recent history of banning parking on the street in order to make speedways, and there are legitimate urbanist grounds to value on-street parking as a buffer between pedestrians and cars, or to create an illusion of a narrow street to slow drivers. But taking parking away from a street in order to provide a more effective way for people not to drive is not the same thing. If there's an example of a community as healthy as the West Side tearing down perfectly good buildings for parking while at the same time putting in advanced Dutch biking infrastructure, I'd certainly like to see it. I've never heard of such a thing--but I have heard of places, even in the suburbs, that have introduced more density and car alternatives and reduced the demand for parking while growing business.

Several Broadway businesses took part in Park(ing) Day, including The Grange, Cluck!, and Analog Underground. The Grange is now in fact moving towards having a permanent parklet. I certainly think that if someone does an independent count of parking occupancy, especially if that's coupled with the existing lots and Westminster spillover parking, that there will be more than enough spaces to convince West Siders to go along with this improvement.

Donald Shoup showed the success of proper parking reform over a decade ago in Pasadena, California. If Southern California, a place known for its obsession with cars, can figure out a way to manage its parking supply, then we certainly should be able to figure it out. Businesses are taxed too high, and parking reform would help to put money back into their pockets, while also reducing pollution and giving drivers and non-drivers more convenience.

Protected bike lanes have improved every place that's gotten them. It's time for the West Side to join those other places.




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*A second alternative exists to use Washington Street, and I'll address that briefly as well. While on the West Side, using Washington would more or less involve shuttling people to bike on side streets, the way I suggested that this idea could get some teeth and be more meaningful would be to take significant street space from the downtown side of Washington to create protected infrastructure, culminating in the block of Washington and Fulton in front of Kennedy Plaza being car-free. This idea follows the example of Groningen, which cut itself into four quarters, which allowed drivers to go anywhere, but never directly between any of the quarters. This greatly reduced driving. I like this idea and may write something separately about it soon, but in a lot of ways I think it faces the exact same obstacles politically as the Broadway proposal--maybe even steeper ones. Like the Broadway proposal, the things that drivers might reflexively oppose would actually make driving more convenient and better, but again, it's a matter of explaining that to people.