What should Providence and Rhode Island focus on in order to make 2016 an urbanist year? I've bolded the decisionmakers to make it clear who should act on these goals.
10. Follow through on promises about snow removal. The Elorza Admin worked with the Statehouse and RIDOT to come up with a snow removal plan, but this morning I found the sidewalks to be in a state that was. . . less than optimal. Let's follow through on the goodwill the city and state have created around this issue, and make sure that schools, parks, bridges, and other public pedestrian infrastructure is clear.
9. Modify RIPTA routes so that they don't go into parking lots. This is an easy goal that RIPTA can achieve without any extra money. RIPTA planning should work with municipalities and RIDOT to figure out how to assure access to the front doors of big boxes for disabled people, without delaying routes in traffic to get there, using multi-use paths. This plan could improve all the major East Providence routes, as well as the 54 to Woonsocket and the 66 to South County, just naming a few routes I've encountered that have too many parking lot stops. The East Main 60 bus also has a minor detour into an apartment complex that I have never seen someone actually get on or off of, but which nonetheless delays the trip. Bike paths have upfront costs, but virtually no operational costs, whereas buses have year-after-year operational costs, so this is a sensible trade.
8. Put in 20 miles of protected bike lanes. I noticed on a recent trip to the West Side that the mayor has followed up on promises to make sure that the Broadway bike lane is completed from Olneyville to downtown, including a spiffy section that is buffered and against the sidewalk near Regency Plaza (No door zone!). This is a nice step, but the mayor also promised that bike routes would be protected. It's time for action on this. During the month of December, we did a #TopTwentyOne blackjack game on Twitter with protected bike lanes, asking people to suggest their top twenty-one miles of infrastructure. It's surprising how comprehensive a system can be with just that amount of bike infrastructure. It's time, Mayor Elorza. Let's get a move on!
7. Finish the bike share, and make sure it includes the South Side. The planned bike share program includes bikes that can be locked anywhere, which is a great improvement since the plan includes very few actual mooring stations. This will really help people coming from a Downtown or East Side location and traveling elsewhere, but won't do much for anyone coming from elsewhere in the city and going to those job centers. The West Side gets short shrift in the bike share plan, with very few mooring stations, and the South Side and Olneyville get nothing. I've heard mixed reports on this from sources in the Elorza Administration. So far, what I've gathered leads me to think that the administration is working to include more neighborhoods than the original Taveras plan had included. This is a great step, if true, and Mayor Elorza should continue in that direction.
6. Pass a parking tax, and lower property taxes. I've written a lot on the parking tax. Providence should pass a tax on parking lots which can then be used to reduce property taxes. In Pittsburgh, which has the highest parking tax in the country, more revenue is raised off of parking than from the city income tax. In Pittsburgh, the rate is set at 40%. Why not start more modestly here, since we haven't passed a parking tax yet? A rate even of 10%, with a concomitant reduction in property taxes, would mean infill and growth, and would also help produce a city that is affordable to live in. Affordable housing, not parking should be the key to our city. The parking tax could even be made part of efforts to create a permanent, standard TSA system--charging for parking would mean that tax stabilization wouldn't have to be on the backs of our school children, since other revenue would be made available.
A parking tax could be construed as requiring state approval, but inside sources tell me that a lot could be done at the city level by Mayor Elorza and City Council to modify the evaluation of what parking lots are worth.
5. Elongate car-free festivals on Thayer Street. Thayer Street has had very successful festivities that shut down the street. As a location that I think should eventually be pedestrianized like Burlington, VT's Church Street, Thayer would be a great place to continue to do temporary pedestrianized events. Let's elongate those events--not just a day at a time, but perhaps over a weekend, or even during a whole week, we should eliminate cars from Thayer Street. This is a goal that Brown University, the Thayer Street Merchants' Association, and other groups could take on.
4. The pedestrian bridge--where is it? RIDOT needs to finish it. Get 'er done!
3. Pass RhodeWorks. The truck tolls are the most just and sustainable (financially and in the environmental sense of that word) that we can fund our road system. The Statehouse should come together and support Governor Raimondo on RhodeWorks.
2. Pee Alley The "Pee Alley" was closed (alongside the Superman Building and the next adjoining one). This, no doubt, means that there's less of a stench walking along Fulton St. or Westminster. But there's still nowhere to pee in downtown during many hours of the day and night. The RIPTA hut closes very early in the evening, and even when it's open, some of the toilets are missing toilet seats, there's no soap in the bathrooms, and so on. City Hall is available but not very well advertised, and has better bathroom accommodations, but also closes early. I have found that Small Point Cafe is very gracious in allowing me to go to the bathroom in their facilities, even though I am not always a customer, but this is really an unfair thing to ask of just one business. The business community, the city, and whatever other state or local stakeholders, should get involved and make sanitary, pleasant public restrooms available. This is a major concern for anyone using transit or walking, and it would benefit everyone. I think this is a job for Frank LaTorre!
1. Tear out the 6/10 Connector, and replace it with a boulevard. Of course, the #1 thing we can do is make sure that the 6/10 Connector never darkens the doorway of the city again. Support the Moving Together movement, and call your state and local officials to make sure they do too. This is a job for the City of Providence, the City of Cranston, the Statehouse, RIDOT, and the Governor to come together on.