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Revisiting Hope Street

Last year I had some really productive meetings with people on the East Side about how Hope Street could be made bike-friendly. I'd like to revisit Hope St., update some of my thinking on how to redesign it, and encourage the city to take active steps toward implementing the improvements this year. Hope St. deserves a better design than it currently has.

Lose Parking Some Places, Add It Back in Others

My original discussion with Hope St. Merchants' Association talked about losing parking from both sides of Hope St. except between (roughly) Langham St. (near the library) and Fifth St. (just north of Seven Stars). There, the plan was to have bikes merge with cars and buses, but with greatly reduced lane widths (the protected bike lanes would reemerge on the other side of the business district). The Hope Street Merchants were refreshingly aware at how much need there was for biking relative to parking on most of the street, but it's understandable that they wished to keep some kind of parking arrangement out front of their businesses.

Even at the time, I didn't love the plan completely. Merging the bikes in and out of shared space felt complicated, and I'm still not convinced that people who bike on a protected and separated piece of infrastructure will embrace suddenly being cast into traffic. But I also felt like building community support was worth some compromise. I still am open to something less than what I'm proposing below, but would like to give my best argument for it and see if it flies.

The more I look at the neighborhood on Google Maps and walking or biking through it, the more I feel like the number of parking spots we're talking about is pretty small. Losing parking on just one side of the street the whole way , feels like a much better option than losing it on two sides most of the way and then not at all around the Rochambeau business district. It's definitely much better for cycling, but moreover, it saves a lot more parking for the business district, just in a different arrangement than people are used to.

The business district, from Langham to Fifth St., is about 0.3 of a mile long. In that space, there are already five street crossings on the west side of the street, several driveways, and two bus stops. So the impression that there is a lot of parking here is kind of misleading. Not having a confusing configuration with protected bike lanes on both sides and then no bike lanes at all means that some of that lost parking can be put right on the other side of the street. The two or three blocks south of Langham and north of Fifth St. would likely see greater parking occupancy, and people would just walk the extra two- or three-hundred feet to their destinations. There's also a lot of side-street, and back parking lot parking on some of the properties, which could perhaps be made shared metered parking.

And, the other plus side is that the neighborhood would get a constant in-flow of bikes. I think for a very small number of parking spots the business district would get a huge number of new customers, none of whom would need a parking spot.

The head of the Hope St. Merchants Association, Asher Schoefield, lives in Warren (famous for its bike path), is on the board of the Sierra Club, and is just an all-around joy to talk to about these things, because he totally understands the benefit that good bike infrastructure can have for a street's businesses (he's also a big donor to our Bike-to-School efforts in Central Falls, and you should check out his great store, Frog & Toad--a donation of $1 to our fundraiser gives you a shot at winning $100 in credit there). I've met a couple of other people with businesses on Hope through Asher, and they also seem wise to the importance of biking. I'm hoping the overall opinion of businesses is as positive towards this idea as I expect Asher and company would be. I'm looking forward to public input.

Blinking Red at Most Intersections
Most intersections of Hope Street are two-lane meets two-lane. Turning off the traffic signals, or making them blinking red, will make traffic flow more smoothly, but at a slower peak speed (i.e., slow and steady wins the race). 

There was discussion at the League of American Bicyclists' meeting with Providence Planning about a death that occurred in Minneapolis on a poorly designed protected bike lane. The question in the air was what had caused this death. I investigated this over the weekend with people from Minnesota (isn't the internet amazing? I mean, really. . .) and found out that the issue was that the protected bike lane in question, which was parking-protected, had had poor sight-lines around intersections (the parked cars had been allowed to park too close to the intersection, and turning cars and trucks could "right hook" cyclists). 

In the Netherlands, as I pointed out at the meeting, and in articles, moderate-traffic streets like Hope St. would be allowed to have little or no signaling at intersections, and this works well for safety. I would suggest narrowing lanes approaching intersections for twenty-five feet or so, perhaps at first just with bright green paint, to alert drivers to be aware and to slow down. Over time the city could invest in cobblestones or bricks like in the crosswalks at Kennedy Plaza to give an added push for cars to slow down.

At Hope & Lloyd, Use a Small-Radius Traffic Circle and Divert Bikes to Thayer Street

Albion, RI (part of Lincoln).
The original plan went only as far as Thayer Street, and then left further changes to the imagination. I've been looking at the area beyond that intersection, and thinking of how to make the whole fit together.

Thayer St. should be car-free, two-way, with sections marked out for pedestrians to walk in the street and for bikes to be. Bikes coming south off of Hope would just keep going onto Thayer. Coming north off of Thayer, bikes would merge into the protected bike lanes on Hope St. by making a left off of Barnes St. (editor's note: this didn't make sense because the protected bike lanes would all be on one side of the street. Going north the bikes would just double back the same way they came).Delivery trucks would still be allowed onto Thayer Street, but private cars would be banned. 

Dutch practices at roundabouts

At Hope, Brook & Lloyd, I think the intersection should get a traffic circle. Traffic circles are great for congestion management at confusing intersections, and promote safety for drivers and pedestrians, but are not great for bikes (hence the bike diversion onto Thayer, following Dutch practice of using traffic circles but diverting bikes away from them).

A lot of traffic circles you see have fairly large radii, sometimes with grassy areas in the middle. I know that someone is going to say that the Hope & Lloyd intersection just isn't big enough for a traffic circle/rotary, especially with the need to move buses. My thought for this intersection is just to have a very small turning radius. I've seen this done in Albion, and it works very nicely. The center of the traffic circle is more like a reminder to slow down than a physical impediment. Again, lane narrowings approaching the intersection could also be used to signal a slower zone.

Using this design should promote bicycling on Hope & Thayer, allow for better traffic flow for cars and buses, and preserve parking for businesses up and down the street. I encourage Providence Planning to find a way to implement these ideas so that Hope St. can start to be a truly complete street.

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5 comments:

  1. This is a great idea. I think there's a clear benefit to a cycle track on hope. When I used to live in Providence and was biking to Pawtucket, I would often take Blackstone just to avoid the traffic on Hope, even though Hope is a much more direct route. And north hope has so few people parking on it as it is, that honestly not that much parking would be lost. Furthermore, up in the business district, there are so many side streets that I really can't imagine it's difficult to find parking unless you truly expect it to be directly outside of the business you're visiting.

    All that being said, as good an idea as it is, I don't have high hopes of it changing any time soon. If Providence seriously feels like they have to debate the effectiveness of protected bike lanes, something that has been widely applied and widely successful, there may be no limit to the Rhode Island insularity.

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  2. We're not just insular to outside ideas. We don't like ideas from other parts of Rhode Island! :-D

    When I lived in South County, the locals would say they nevah went nahth of the Towahh (at the top of Tower Hill Road).

    It'd be funny if we couldn't get a roundabout to fly since I showed an example from Rhode Island (I had another, more beautiful one with a statue in the middle of it from Block Island, but I didn't use it because it had a slightly bigger base).

    I have faith that our new mayor understands biking better than our old mayor, and he's on record as supporting protected bike lanes. I also have faith in the Merchants Association. And Hope St. is a Providence-controlled street, so there's no RIDOT to worry about. But the real test will be bureaucracy. How quickly can we turn this around? In Pittsburgh, Mayor Peduto took a city that was way behind in bike infrastructure and started it on a path to be a leader. I'm convinced we can kick Pittsburgh's ass (the Philly native in me says we must, because f--- western Pennsylvania). :-) ;-)

    So we'll see!

    ---James

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  3. I understand the engineers' reasoning for building bump-outs at Hope and Fourth Streets, but they tend to push cyclists a bit farther into the travel lanes. I have knobby tires, but most cyclists will take a sideways fall if they hit the curb obliquely.

    A certain driver who will go unnamed has trouble taking a right turn at the bump-outs and regularly goes over the sidewalk. It's bumpy and bad for the tires but at least this driver doesn't hit oncoming traffic in the left lane. Taking the curb feels just like driving down the middle of Lauriston Street.

    The intersection at Fourth and Hope, next to Seven Stars Bakery, is always parked up despite the faint yellow painted on the curb and the hole where the no parking to corner sign used to be. The aforementioned driver turned onto Fourth one day and had an accident because an illegally parked SUV hid the driver's view of an oncoming car.

    --Paul Klinkman

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  4. My biggest issue with Providence bump-outs is that they don't actually make the lanes narrow. I believe the widths of Hope Street's travel lanes are still twelve feet. It's possible they're eleven. But they're definitely still too wide. On parts of Hope without traffic--basically anywhere away from a light--people go at least 30 mph. Even in the Rochambeau business district, people are supposedly restrained from going to fast, but I don't find the bump-outs to bring me well enough into the vision of drivers when I'm a pedestrian.

    I've had quite a few nasty incidents in and near Hope St. when I've taken the lane on my bike and drivers have forcefully disapproved, but that's pretty much what you have do where you're on the part of the street where the parked cars are---or else risk getting hit first by a car, and then by the 1 bus.

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  5. I typed a longer comment that was lost, so I'll just say that I think Hope'd be a great place for a protected lane (lots of businesses people want to go to; I business owners would see a clear benefit from the lanes and cyclists would really appreciate them). I'd love to see Angell get a lane from the bridge (losing a lane of traffic), ideally extending all the way to Thayer (though I think a couple blocks would have to lose parking West of Hope), and I'd like to see Elmgrove signed as an alternate route to the Summit neighborhood (because it's much shorter from East Prov/Wayland), possibly with bike lanes even though it's already pretty comfortable to cycle just because it's excessively wide and slowing traffic would be great for the people living in those neighborhoods (lots of peds, kiddos playing, etc.). A street like Savoy could be signed as a 1.5 block bike blvd. to link cyclists back up with the Hope protected lanes.

    How far south would you see Thayer as car-free, and where would people go farther south? I would like to see a tie all the way to Wickenden, since that seems like the clear route *from* downtown for me (for most riders who can't comfortably climb College Hill).

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