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A Highway with No Entrance Ramps

I have an unexpected day off due to a fire near Calcutt Middle School. Please consider donating to our efforts for Bike-to-School Day at Calcutt.

We have a raffle for a $100 credit available to Dash Bicycles for top donors, and another $100 credit at Frog & Toad open to all donors of a $1 or more.

How can we make the Blackstone Bikeway more useful for transportation? This will be part of a series where we explore how the existing bike paths can be better connected to people.

The Netherlands has "bike highways" which act as extensions to its urban bike routes. These were an afterthought there, put in as a way of building off of the huge success of shorter routes. The bike highways--often fifteen miles long, connecting outer suburbs to the core cities--get pretty strong usage, though not the kind of numbers that 2 or 3 mile journeys get. 

By contrast, Rhode Island has all its major bike highways built, but has forgotten to put in the exit and entrance ramps.

The map to the left is outdated, because the South Kingstown bike trail is missing, but this is a close approximation of the major bike routes in the state. A lot of times, the reason that urban areas lack completed bike trails is that the property rights issues are complex, or there's a need to build a bunch of expensive bridges to get over multiple waterways. Instead of extending our bike paths at great expense, what we should be looking closely at is how we can connect those paths to populated spaces. Often the gaps are very small and would require almost no money to fix.

Valley Falls

Valley Falls: people like biking, but don't
necessarily do much of it for transportation.
Valley Falls is the first village north of Central Falls (the two get their names from each other--"Central" Falls being located at the waterfall between Pawtucket and Valley Falls). There's a lot of latent demand for biking in Valley Falls because of its location next to the Blackstone Bike Path, but the town isn't really built to take full advantage of it.

Valley Falls should:
  • Work with Central Falls to establish protected bike lanes on Broad Street, which is the main thoroughfare through both of them.
  • Take advantage of bottlenecks at small bridges to make bike and pedestrian-only spaces.
  • Connect the Bike Trail to its core by re-evaluating space on some of its streets.

The Blackstone Trail crossing, done just like it says, "the wrong way". The blinking red is a great idea, but the lane widths approaching this crossing should be narrowed significantly to reduce speeds at the crossing.
Dense housing makes Valley Falls a potential hotspot for biking. This street is all of a block and a half from the bike path, but is not a comfortable place for biking. Note the huge width even of the parking lanes.

All of these houses have driveways, and the parking lane here should become a protected bike lane from the Blackstone Trail to Broadway, a block up from here.
Church Street bridge: This sign isn't even technically following Rhode Island law, where bicycles are considered full vehicles with the right to bike in the street and take lanes. But this narrow bridge would be better suited to bikes only, with the sidewalks reserved for pedestrians, instead of dismounted cyclists.

There are several other crossings from one side to the other of the railroad, and those could be left to car traffic.

Central Falls

Central Falls is the densest location in Rhode Island, just 1.3 miles square, with 20,000 inhabitants. It has low incomes that make car ownership a financial stress, but the city doesn't have any bike infrastructure at all. It has a "bike route" made of sharrows that takes people away from central locations in the town and isolates them on the other side of the railroad tracks, often through areas that feel socially unsafe.

People already bike in Central Falls, but are forced onto the sidewalks.

Central Falls should:
  • Put protected bike lanes on major north-south routes, with Broadway as its first goal. 
  • Dexter Street should follow close behind Broadway as a location for protected bike lanes.
  • Use its bridges carefully: Central Falls has seven bridges crossing the railroad, and one very close across the Pawtucket border. Two to three of these should be reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, while others should be put to use for cars and pedestrians.
  • Work with RIPTA to reform the 72 bus so that it's frequent, direct transit, and put bike parking near bus stops to allow multimodal use. With the new train station to open in Pawtucket, it might eventually make even more sense to have the 72 go back and forth just to Pawtucket, but on a hyper-frequent schedule.
  • Put the Blackstone Bike Path extension through Central Falls on the back burner. It's taking forever, is going to be expensive, and it largely means drawing people through Central Falls on bikes without having them actually experience the city. 
One bridge that would make perfect sense to convert to bicycle use would be the Sacred Heart Ave. bridge. The bridge, which is two-way, empties onto a one-way eastbound street, so the bridge's westbound traffic lane should be taken away and made bike-only. 

Westbound traffic off the bridge is currently taken up Wood St. and then Fales (the latter which is a double one-way). Fales should lose one of its lanes for protected bike lanes, but stay a one-way street. Wood Street, pictured above, should get bollards to allow only local car traffic and deliveries, like in the Netherlands.


Check out more stories as they unfold at the hashtag #EntranceRampRI.


  1. Yes, all bike paths need feeder routes.

    Feeder routes to local schools are nice. Kids who bike or walk to school (if they don't get run over) perform better than kids who breathe fumes in buses.

    I was just out visiting a Hadley, MA bike path. At one road crossing, cyclists/pedestrians push a button and strobe lights instantly flash to warn cars that somebody wants to cross. This makes more sense than cyclists waiting for the light to turn red.

    I'm waiting for a private foundation or a "friends of the bike path" association to step up and pay for a plow truck to cruise up and down the main bike paths after every snowstorm. We can wait until daylight for the plowing. Why hasn't it occurred to anybody that dedicated walkers, runners and cyclists don't watch TV all winter and halfway into spring? We tried the East Bay Bike Path in late March and found it to be quite snowy.

    --Paul Klinkman

  2. Thanks, Paul (and sorry for the slow response).

    Where buttons exist, I like the idea of buttons that immediately stop car traffic and give bikes the right-of-way. But in a lot of cases I think having a blinking red or a stop sign is a better solution. I just wish in this case that the very wide intersection was made narrower. The crossing is about a block from dense housing, and I don't think it's long before the road curves into another section of housing and commercial space again, so I'm not even sure why RIDOT thinks it's so important for drivers to gain speed here. Luckily the width should allow for protected bike lanes in no time if we keep the organized heat on the state and cities/towns to do so.

    Plowing the bike paths is a must. And if we have to pay for it by leaving a couple of roads less clear, I'm for it. I've observed that on local streets that are flat, it feels safer to me as a pedestrian when the street is plowed but remains unsalted--slower drivers. The salting budget for Providence is millions of dollars, and if we were more careful about where we salted (focusing on steep hills and faster roads) we could help keep speeds down on the remainder.

    I was very frustrated when I spoke to some folks in S. Kingstown about salting. The Kingston/Wakefield/Peacedale bike path is one of the few that is partly plowed, but not salted at all. When the freeze/thaw cycle is a week in, the plowed part is covered in re-frozen ice. The S. Kingstown officials I spoke to said that they don't salt out of concern for the wetlands near the path, but as far as I'm concerned this is nonsense since the town and RIDOT obviously salt much wider roads all around the bike path, all of which also dump their much greater salt content into the wetlands. Other paths in the state are not plowed or salted at all.