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Options for S. Main St.

This Wednesday I will meet with Dep. Dir. Peter Garino of RIDOT to discuss S. Main St (please thank RIDOT's new leadership for reconsidering level of service as the most important metric for S. Main St.). Here are some options we have.

The Whole Shebang

A huge intersection at Benefit & N. Main allows for a different design.
Option 1 would be to put a protected bike lane from Wickenden St. to N. Main & Olney. This would be the "reach" option (at least in terms of pilot projects). The length of this route is 1.3 miles. At $30,000 per mile cost (which is high, according to this report), bollards for this route would run about $40,000 (if you think that sounds like a lot of money, consider what the alternatives are--this is cheap!).

Connecting this corridor would be a big boost to biking. Olney is a low-grade hill, and has lots of room in its own right to get protected bike lanes. As we expand from one pilot project to another, connections are key.

A "pop-up" or temporary protected bike lane in Burlington, VT. Check out the
video here. Protected bike lanes are more appropriate for arterials like S. Main
because there is the expectation that all modes should have through-access.
A key issue would be working out the confluence of Benefit, N. Main St., and Olney, which come together in a free-for-all. There's a significant buffer of space at the intersection that could be taken to make this possible. Width reduction at this intersection would surely make driving and walking along here safer as well. I find this intersection to be one of the worst in the city for walking.

The protected bike lane option would retain parking as is, but would reduce a two-lane street to one lane. 


We can go "halfsies" on the project, by connecting S. Main St. by bike only up to College St. As a north-south route for city use, this clearly cuts the utility of the bike route, but it does a great deal to address connections from the East Bay Bike Path to Downcity, and also addresses the key concerns of merchants on S. Main St., who want to stop speeding.

This route is 0.6 miles, so a bollard-style protected bike lane would cost $18,000, according to my high-end estimate. This option would be the same as the first in all but its length.

The Benefits of Benefit St.

Bike boulevards block through-access for cars, while still 
leaving local access unimpeded.
The third option is to go for Autoluwe design--in Dutch this means "almost car free"--but use Benefit St. The idea behind Autoluwe streets is to allow full access to cars for local access, but to bar through-travel (Autoluwe is also called "filtered permeability" and can be referred to as a "bike boulevard" too--it's common on the West Coast). This cuts the volume and speed of traffic drastically, but accommodates a lot of driver fears (where am I going to park? No worries. The same place that you always did).

A couple benefits exist to the Benefit St. option. Providence is already used to periodic closures of the block behind the RISD Museum, and so having a permanent "filtered permeability" system in place would not be foreign. Benefit St. has a gentle slope, and as said in item #1, intersections with Olney St., so this would also work well for north-south journeys. 

Bike boulevards often add green space to neighborhoods.
The cost of doing such a project varies depending on how it's done. Portland cyclists have occasionally upped the ante on existing bike boulevards, adding their own infrastructure without authorization. I would advocate that we go for nicer infrastructure than would be put in by activists. The NACTO guide suggests a cost of $5,000 to $45,000 for landscaped traffic islands or traffic circles, and a cost of $15,000-$30,000 per 100 feet of concrete barrier. 

The advantages to this type of project are that it keeps access to local drivers very much the same, and adds an aesthetic element that might be absent from an initial protected bike lane. The disadvantage is that (especially for the first time) blocking part of a street might seem like a bigger step than putting in a protected bike lane. 

S. Water St.

S. Water St. is home to speeding. Pluses for this location are
the river. Minuses are putting cyclists at the backside of buildings
that largely face S. Main St. Bikes mean business.
S. Water St. should be considered as part of any plan. S. Main and S. Water are opposing double one-way streets. This design causes speeding on both streets, but isn't necessarily optimal for drivers in an overall getting around sense. Whether we reduce S. Main to one lane, or make Benefit a bike boulevard, S. Water could be used to pick up the slack. Making S. Water a two-way is a smart idea, and the street is wide enough that it too could get bike infrastructure while maintaining two-lane traffic.

My Take

My take on this is that the easiest thing to implement immediately is a protected bike lane. I love the bike boulevard design and have advocated for it here as the future of Benefit St., but having access to businesses on S. Main is important to cyclists, and our first real bike route probably should be a connection to downtown. I vote for option #1.

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