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#EntranceRampRI: S. Water Street

S. Water Street is a mess. 

I ride my bike here often, in order to take advantage of the fabled "P-wiggle". S. Water Street is a best-of-bad-options place to ride your bike, because the double one-way configuration, wide lanes, and back-facing buildings ensure that motorists see this as a cut-through. But it should be the doorstep of the city--right next to the river and within walking distance of both downtown and Brown/RISD. It's a vital connection for anyone seeking jobs from other neighborhoods.
Two badly-designed bike features have been added to this street. The first is an ambiguous path which is more like a sidewalk. I was pretty sure that the wide sidewalk next to the water wasn't intended to be a path at all, until recently. Then, it appears that RIDOT continued to pave an asphalt strip in the middle of the sidewalk, which wiggles across the intersection with Point Street and on to the "path" to India Point Park.

The Non-Path Path
I hate this non-path "path" because it appears out of nowhere, with no meaningful transition to get cyclists to it from Memorial. It puts cars on a fast pace rushing through intersections, whether with Memorial or Point Street, instead of using proper design and putting cyclists at a priority. I especially hate the wiggle-through at the Point St. intersection, because it's reminiscent of the L-shaped crosswalks that already are the norm for pedestrians at many intersections--instead of being able to cross from anywhere to anywhere, pedestrians have to wait two cycles to cross, and the same now for bicyclists. The appropriate way to move bicycles through a complex intersection is to stop all car traffic and have an all-green signal, but this configuration requires cyclists to cross two light cycles, all while paying attention for turning vehicles. 


EntranceRampRI is a hashtag for missed connections to great paths in Rhode Island: "like a highway without an entrance ramp". S. Water Street is one such missed connection to downtown, to the East Side, and to the East Bay Bike Path.


It's garbage. I want to flip my shit when I see it. It's just garbage. It especially angers me because the agency that does much of the work for RIDOT statewide, VHB, spent a bunch of its time lobbying against real infrastructure when it wrote the Providence Bike Master Plan, and the central argument of their engineer was that protected bike lanes would cause crashes at intersections, and yet here you, right out in front, a piece of infrastructure poorly designed for intersections (I did not try to research whether VHB worked on this particular project).

The Door-Zone Death Trap
As if to raise doubts again about the status of this path (is it a badly designed sidewalk, a badly designed path?) either RIDOT or the city has recently added a door-zone bike lane to the street on the right side of the double one-way. Door-zone bike lanes are not my fave, but this one is narrower than usual, so as to maximize dooring. Perhaps we're not being told to bike on the sidewalk after all, but we might as well be getting that message.

Get on the Fucking Sidewalk!
No lie, when I go down S. Water, it is a 90% likelihood that someone will yell either "get on the fucking sidewalk" or "get out of the fucking street" by the time I reach the back of Wild Colonial Tavern (I can go, "One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-And-- "Go-Fuck-Yerself-Bicyclist!"). I think the timing is not a coincidence. The little curve keeps me on par with the cars for just a second, and as soon as the drivers get past that obstacle, they ready themselves for multi-tasking: rolling down the window and yelling at people they don't know. From there it's a straight-shot, and the drivers might as well be on the Autobahn (although, without trying too hard, I've caught many a driver at the light, which is as good an argument as any to redesign this stroad--drivers aren't even getting places at the fast pace they think they are). 

No Congestion, No Excuses
Because there is no congestion on S. Water, but lots of delays at lights, the solution ought to be to lower the speed limit to 20 mph, take a travel lane away, make a two-way protected bike lane, and over time, decorate the edge of that protected bike lane with greenery as budgeting allows. The protected bike lane itself should just be a weekend project for DPW or RIDOT. I'm at a point where I feel strongly that it's the mayor's job to call RIDOT publicly out on these things. As I've said before, mayors have nothing to lose in making this an open fight.



  1. You missed: the invisible steps at the north end of the path/sidewalk by the bridge that links to Memorial, the non-alignment of the path to continue north along the official, designated, bicycle route and the double hairpin needed to get to the ramp beside the building Hemenways (The Packet Building?) is in. S. Water could be a candidate for a parking sheltered installation on the right side as part of a lane reduction. Totally agreed about that intersection. On a positive note, at least they didn't install a bike lane/pedestrian lane down the median beween S. Main and S. Water on Wickenden as the original plan had in it.

    1. Yes! The stairs are ridiculous!

      Wouldn't it be great if Canal St. got a protected bike lane, and Waterplace Park was fixed so that it didn't have so many ups and downs, and the bikeway just continued straight through that part of the park to S. Water St.? I think there would still have to be some alternative ways to get between them, because sometimes that park is very crowded with pedestrians, but that would be one intervention that would work.

      Also, in line with my on-going hatred of New England's changing street names too often, Canal St. should either be called N. Water Street, or S. Water St. should be called S. Canal St. People can't be attached to the stupid name changing--when I talk to Providence natives about this, sometimes the biggest hurtle is explaining to them what street I mean, because no one knows what the street names are. That's nothing to hold onto.

  2. If you can imagine South Water Street being even worse, I'll tell you about Mister Mayor's South Water Street Bike Path.

    Buddy thought he was doing the bicycling world a big favor. He put in this 2 foot wide asphalt path with intricate curves, running all the way from downtown to the wide, high speed entrance ramp onto the old route 195 Eastbound. Yes you had to cross that whizzing on-ramp to access the path.

    Buddy's contractor wasn't that good. In no time a six foot gap opened up in Buddy's bike path. The soil underneath the bike path apparently was washed into the Providence River. As a result, anyone wanting to run or walk on this bike path couldn't. It was also too narrow, too noisy and too high speed to use as a linear park.

    Yours off Hope,
    Paul Klinkman