I met last week with the Deputy Director of RIDOT, Peter Garino. Garino's last job was at New Jersey Transit, and--I know it's odd to hear me say this, yes--I feel pretty confident that he "gets" a lot of transit and bike issues. There are disagreements, for sure. But overall, I'm happy with where his mind is at.
Head-on crash on Benefit Street typifies the kind of dangerous
conditions along this corridor. Check out my proposals.
That said, we have a lot of work to do to bring the niceties of saying the right things forward to where those things are actually being done. This is a problem on RIDOT's end, and as you'll see below, it's also a City of Providence problem.
I brought S. Main Street to Dep. Dir. Garino as an example of a street that could be quickly updated with protected bike lanes. Under different leadership, RIDOT's engineers told the bike & ped advisory commission that S. Main St. could not get protected bike lanes because it would violate the "level of service" needs of the street.
Garino said, in fact, that RIDOT does not control S. Main Street, and that Providence city government is free to do with it what it likes. Garino said he thought the idea of protected bike lanes was splendid, but that it's not his role within RIDOT to tell the city what to do (the reason RIDOT-contracted engineers were working on the street in the past is that sometimes the state takes projects on behalf of cities or towns).
Fair enough. For what it's worth, I actually agree with Garino that the city should have more autonomy to do as it needs.
Providence Planning Speaks
So I wrote to my contact in Providence Planning Department. Today I got a response back:
I've been told by our DPW that construction of the South Main Street ADA project will be at least two years out, so we should still have time to adjust the striping of the road as needed. We will be revisiting the configuration of South Main and many other streets throughout the City during our bike plan update, which will begin in early winter.
The reason I'm not giving the name of the contact at Planning is that I feel that s/he was being genuinely helpful within the constraints of his/her power. I don't want to put someone's name out there and have people give a negative response that really isn't personally deserved by this fine, upstanding member of society.
But that said, I think this proposed time table totally unacceptable. It should not take two years to put protected bike lanes in. Those protected bike lanes were due like two decades ago, not two years from now.
The S. Main St. project requires the moving of parking away from the curb and into one of the travel lanes (i.e., the amount of parking would stay the same, but the location would change by ten feet). This is not something that needs "construction" as we would normally think of that term. The most that has to be done is some paint, and bollards. Both of these can be done by volunteers, if need be. There's nothing to plan, really, because if the whole thing were to hypothetically backfire, it would take volunteers a few hours to turn the whole thing around.
A view that RIDOT Dep. Director Garino expressed during my meeting with him was that the city government should be putting together a proper bike plan that outlines what the city's priorities are, so that the bike lane projects we get aren't piecemeal, as they have been in the past. I agree with this as far as it goes. We need an overall plan. But I also think that having a greater plan that covers the whole city should not interrupt our responsibility to move forward on completable projects today. Longterm planning might be appropriate in neighborhoods that have not expressed overt desire for bike infrastructure (say, perhaps, in the North End, or some similarly suburban enclave). But S. Main Street's merchant association came to meetings to ask for protected bike lanes. This is a project that should just go into the ground as fast as possible, especially given that this corridor is vitally important to getting people from Downcity to the East Side without having to climb ridiculous hills or endure high-speed aggressive drivers on S. Water Street.
Call the Mayor (Here)
It's time for Mayor Elorza to step up. His office should name some projects that are shovel-ready (though, like I said, there really isn't any shovel needed) and move. It's not really possible for people in the Planning Department to do this. This is an area where mayoral leadership is needed.