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Notes from the Bike League Meeting


Everything you need to know about the League of American Bicyclists' meeting with Providence Planning and the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission is right here.

Right On, Mayor Elorza, About the Idaho Stop

Hooray! We should be really thankful that our new mayor appears to be doing some of his homework about bike policy. The participants on the mayor's bike ride came into the meeting at 444 Westminster reporting that the mayor thinks Providence should get an Idaho Stop Law, which improves safety and makes biking more welcoming. 

What is an Idaho Stop, you say?

Sigh. . . 

The Chair of the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, Eric Weis, reportedly put the kibosh on the Idaho Stop Law idea. Participants in the room said he told the mayor that it would miseducate bicyclists (the Bike League representative had somewhat softer, but similar worries, saying that Idaho Stop Laws can be good, but being unwilling to commit that Providence should or shouldn't have one). I usually have mostly nice things to say about Eric, but throughout the meeting today he used his voice to mostly quell good ideas out of fear that they might not work. He was acting as a liberal stumbling block.

The organized voices of biking in Rhode Island are heavily represented on the BPAC, and those folks continue to advocate for safety training and "education" as a major component of cyclist safety, which is why the Idaho Stop Law sounds so worrisome despite its firm record of improving safety. But it's time for us to stop following a false rubric for change. The Dutch break every safety rule that American cyclists love to teach, and come out safer because they have the right infrastructure and the right expectations for drivers to operate their vehicles.

Pass an Idaho Stop Law.

No More Sharrows, But Let's Leave the Paint at Home Too

Hooray! 

Bob Azar of Providence Planning said he came away from the meeting with the Bike League ready to look at some more serious pieces of bike infrastructure than sharrows, which were previously the most common intervention by the city. In the ensuing conversation, proposals for Fox Point came forward that show that Providence Planning still has to move not just beyond sharrows, but beyond lame paint-only solutions, and recognize that its task is to fix major arterials to make them bikeable instead of focusing on backstreets to nowhere.

Sigh. . . 

The preliminary vision to improve Fox Point was just to put a painted lane on Ives Street. 

Ives is a lovely mixed-use street. The problem is that Ives doesn't cross the highway and is cut off to the north at Angell Street. Gano Street is the most appropriate street for bike infrastructure because it's an arterial. The entrance to the new bike bridge to the East Bay is on Gano Street.

Not putting protected bike lanes on Gano is the wrong choice for our city, period. We've got plenty of room. I've written about this already.

Two Steps Forward and Three Steps Back on Broadway

Hooray! There was discussion about being more creative on Broadway.

Sigh. . . The discussion wasn't very creative though.

The proposal discussed on Broadway was an intervention that allows for wider bike lanes that are permeable to cars--drivers can go into the bike lane. The treatment has been tried in Minneapolis, where it showed safety success. My beef with this is that Midwestern American roads suck even more than ours do, so virtually any modest change is going to be an improvement over the existing setup. We're Providence. We're a four hundred year old city on the East Coast. We can do better than Minneapolis. We're just not trying yet.

We didn't organize a temporary protected bike lane on Broadway so that the city could implement some crappy half-sharrow half-bike lane nonsense from flyover country. Julian of Julian's restaurant came out and spoke to me that day, and I was nervous because I didn't know him and wasn't sure what he'd think. He said that our protected bike lane was "proof that something good can be done with this street." That's despite the fact that Mayor Taveras allowed Paolino and Company to park in the damn thing all day long.

Let's recognize who we are, and do things that are up to our standard of excellence. We ain't no fuckin' Midwestahhhnahhs.

Special Bike Signaling is Expensive, But We Don't Need Signals Many Places

Hooray! The Bike League representative emphasized the importance of protected bike lanes to building a world-class biking city.

Sigh. . . The sales pitch for protected bike lanes was pretty lackluster, nonetheless. The Bike League emphasized the high cost of specialized signaling and other preparations for two-way protected bike lanes, which are the most likely standard for Providence to use. He also scared the bejeezus out of the planners by emphasizing a death that happened in Minneapolis when a protected bike lane was poorly designed.


In the Netherlands, on very wide arterials similar to our N. Main there are specialized signals to control bikes and cars crossing each other. But on many moderate-sized streets, cars and trolleys are allowed to cross the protected bike lanes uncontrolled (see the section on chaotic biking). That's not only many hundreds of thousands of dollars per signal cheaper, but it's also safer. People pay attention to one another. As long as there are only two lanes in each direction, there's no need for signals.

I've proposed that the city make all the signals on Hope Street blinking red and turn one of the parking lanes into a two-way protected bike lane the whole way. Working on protected intersections to make turning radii more right angled at the crossings would help a lot with safety at intersections, would be good for pedestrians and bus riders, and would also be a hell-ton cheaper than trying to put in new bike signals. We need to act. The waiting game is over.

By the way, this type of intervention makes sense for lots of other streets too. Broadway and Westminster St. on the West Side are narrow enough to get this kind of treatment, with the only caveats being the intersections with the services roads (which themselves should come down to one lane in each direction eventually). So be bold, Mayor!

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