Featured Post

Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

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...

Let's Use the Bridge We Have for City Walk

I'm kind of late to the boat on this one, but I saw this article from earlier this year on City Walk, and this passage caught me:
That’s why improving the Friendship-Clifford Bridge is so important to City Walk partners and the first thing Baudouin said the Providence Foundation will advocate for.
In the short term, the City Walk report calls for small-scale measures to make the bridge more welcoming for pedestrians, such as colorful, patterned surface concrete, varied and creative lighting and large trees planted at the thresholds.
In the longer term and if resources become available, the plan calls for a new dedicated pedestrian- and bicycle-only bridge parallel to the existing one.
I support the City Walk proposal, but I'd just like to tweak it a tiny bit. It seems to me that there's no reason to build a separate bridge. The bridge we have already should be the pedestrian and bike bridge. The assumption that underlies needing to build a new bridge is that car traffic can't handle having some lanes taken away, but the article itself states that the bridge is seldom used (Google Streetview finds it unadorned by cars). 

The proposal should be the reverse: first we will have a complete bike and pedestrian bridge, and only then (if needed) will we add another bridge for cars. 

It could be like the bridge at the tail end of this Streetfilms video. 

It would mean:

  • We could start now with advanced bike infrastructure like a car-free space, instead of just making aesthetic changes to the bridge which will help less.
  • We could close the bridge using planters, which would cost next to nothing, and reopen the bridge if we decided we didn't like it, at little cost.
  • We could also try a middle ground, which would be to close just one lane of the bridge to cars using planters, creating a protected bike lane.

I must say that I tend to think biking comes first, not walking. I know that's heresy--and it's not because I like bikes more, because I do walk a lot of places too. But I think focusing on bike connections over the bridge is more realistic, because aesthetic or social safety issues that are relatively minor and fleeting on a bike (like unpleasant light or gaps in buildings) are deal-breaking problems as a pedestrian. Get people to bike over this bridge first, and then if we have success, let's close the second lane and pretty-it-up for pedestrian traffic.

Closing this bridge is one of the many ideas Rachel and I tried to sell to VHB during the bike plan which never saw the light of day. But we can make it happen now, because the Elorza admin. has indicated that it's serious about taking these issues to the mat. Let's push for a quicker implementation of a bike-ped bridge.



  1. I don't think closing this bridge to vehicular traffic makes sense. That puts us back in the situation of allowing the highway to be the divider of the city. The idea of building a Ped Only bridge seems equally ridiculous, given the expense and the existence of an overbuilt bridge right next door.

    Planters as bollards to close the right hand lane and make a start on softening the pedestrian experience (look at the India Point Park Bridge, or instance, people do hang out on there). There might need to be a change on the service road to only allow the leftmost lane to turn (I think left 2-most are allowed currently). Though the service road is way overbuilt too, unless the broadway offramp from I-95 north is closed, there will likely never be sufficient volume to justify the 3 wide lanes of that road.

    As for what it connects to: Friendship already feels like a neighborhood greenway to me, though it could do with some upgrades to communicate that better, and clifford, when it's done should have dedicated space for bikes. (future property owners won't be able to count on street parking, but if that's the fact on the ground before they purchase, they can figure out how to handle it)

  2. Not sure what you mean by this:

    "I don't think closing this bridge to vehicular traffic makes sense. That puts us back in the situation of allowing the highway to be the divider of the city."

    Designating an existing bridge as a bike-ped space would be more sensible than building a totally new bridge I agree, but would definitely connect the city more, not less. The bridge is not used by cars much, so it wouldn't affect driving capacity a great deal, especially when one considers the huge added bike-ped capacity a no-cars bridge would create.

  3. Here's a cool list of car-free places on Wikipedia. The car-free center of Groningen has 16,000 people living in it. Cars have to go around the outer part of the city to get from one part to another, because none are allowed to pass from quadrant to quadrant.


    A bridge is kind of an easy place to start for car-free areas, because there are no businesses or houses on it, so it creates a barrier to through-traffic rather than to total access by car--kind of like a bike boulevard on the West Coast or an Autoluwe street in the Netherlands.


  4. I always thought the purpose of the friendship street bridge was so that drivers on the east side of the interstate--coming mostly from point street i guess--could easily make a u-turn across the interstate and gain access to the southbound entrance to the interstate. If you eliminate that bridge people would be making this u-turn at the significantly busier bridge at broad street, and I am not sure that bridge could handle the extra load at high traffic times.

    I would guess friendship street bridge is sitting empty most of the time, but I bet during rush hour it gets pretty high volume use.

  5. That's probably true, but we shouldn't design our transportation system to accomodate peak uses like that.

    Rhode Islanders use the highways to go very short distances to my eye as a transplant. The first trips we'd expect to drop out would be these elective short ones, which create a disproportionate amount of traffic.