Featured Post

Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Day of the Dead: A Call for Submissions

This event has been postponed until spring. Please join us for one of our preparation days.

Celebrate All Saints Day/Day of the Dead!


On November 1st, Transport Providence and local marching band Extraordinary Rendition will be co-organizing an All Saints Day/Dia de los Muertos funeral march for the 6/10 Connector. If you've been following, you may know that talks with RIDOT and Providence City Hall have already proceeded for some months, and RIDOT has said it is not financially interested in replacing the highway with another highway, but will instead pursue some kind of boulevard. There's still a lot of organizing to do to make sure that that boulevard is people-oriented instead of just another stroad. This is an open call for submissions of moveable art, puppets, music, dancing, or any other creative endeavors to help the march. We want to build community excitement around the idea of a new Providence that values non-car transportation options.

The march will start at 12 noon at the Statehouse, and proceed behind the mall and along Harris Avenue to Olneyville Square. It will take the style of a New Orleans funeral march. 

Tag line: "We'll miss you, 6/10. Um, but not that much."



~~~~


Venga Celebrar El Día de los Muertos!



1 Noviembre, el blog Transport Providence y el grupo musical "Extraordinary Rendition" va a organizar una camina funeral por la autopista "6/10 Connector". Quizás usted ha visto, un discurso entre el Departimiento de Transportación del Estado Rhode Island (RIDOT), la ciudad de Providence, y la communidad ha resultado en una decisión que la autopista se convertirse en un tipo de bulevar. Hay muchos activismo para crear un bulevar que es orientado a communidades y el ambiente en vez de el traffico, entonces la lucha no ha finido. Pedimos presentaciones de la communidad (la arte, las marionetas, la música, los baille, y otros) para la camina. Queremos crear entusiasmo entre la communidad para la idea de un nuevo Providence que valora opciones de transportación en vez de conducir alrededor.



La camina comenzará al mediodía de 1 Noviembre 2015 al Statehouse, y continuará a Olneyville via Harris Avenue. Este es una obra en el estilo de una camina funeral de New Orleans.

Nuestra consigna: Te echarámos de menos, 6/10, pero no mucho.

P.S. If you speak better Spanish than I do, then correct any grammatical errors or spelling errors you see. I do apologize in advance to speakers of Spanish for probably butchering your beautiful language, but I'm trying to make an increased effort to reach out to the entire community instead of just my (probably?) largely English-speaking readership.

Jazzing Up Newport Biking

Bari Freeman, executive director of Bike Newport, and Valerie Larkin, a technology specialist with the Navy and volunteer for Bike Newport, explain why so few bikes come to Newport Jazz Fest compared with the Folk Fest that happens each year the week before.

The Folk Fest is notably bike-oriented, and the Jazz Fest does all of the same encouragements that the Folk Fest does, but to less impressive results. Because the demographics of the audiences are different, the results are different. 

But there's a way to fix that. . . 


Thank you to Bari Freeman and Valerie Larkin for their time, and to Rachel Playe for help in editing this.

~~~~

Define Robust.

RI Bike has posted the full letter from the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission addressing Mayor Elorza's administration with its priorities for improved bike and ped mobility in Providence. All of the goals are well thought out, and you can check out the full text either at RI Bike's website or at GCPVD.

I want to draw attention to one section on biking:

Focus on near-term improvements to four key areas that have emerged as clear priorities for improved bicycle infrastructure: 
a better connection between Downtown and the Washington Secondary bike path in Cranston; 
improvements to North Main Street, Canal Street, Olney Street, and Doyle Avenue to better connect the east side of Providence and Pawtucket to Downtown; 
more robust bicycle infrastructure on Elmwood Avenue, Broad Street, and Prairie Avenue to better connect South Providence to Downtown and Roger Williams Park; 
and improvements to Pleasant Valley Parkway, Oakland Avenue, and Dean Street to improve this important connection between the north-west sector of the city and the existing bike lanes on Broadway.
One word in particular stands out: robust. The BPAC is asking for connections from many parts of the city to Downtown, and the commissioners certainly have a clear idea of what they mean by that. The term "robust" though, is intentionally or unintentionally a kind of dog-whistle, though. Previous administrations at the state and city level have chosen to deal with biking through ineffective tools like signage, sharrows, or door-zone bike lanes. Each of these failed tools should be considered out-of-date and sub-par. It's clear that the BPAC's letter is attempting to usher in a new way, but one thing we don't want to allow is for the word "robust" to become watered down because of a lack of clarity about what it means upfront. 


So what do we think the word "robust" should mean? Biking solutions should follow one of two major paths:

Protected Bike Lanes are physically separated lanes for bikes, with appropriate treatments at intersections to avoid turning conflicts. These are most appropriate for arterials, and every arterial should have one.




Bike Boulevards are side streets where physical measures have changed the flow of through-traffic. Some streets may use speed bumps, bump outs, chicanes, diagonal diverters, or filtered permeability systems. 





Tweet us photos of a street you ride on, or of a street you'd like to ride on but feel too afraid to use. Tell us which of these you'd like to see applied to it @transportpvd.

~~~~

"Beg Buttons Got to Go" says BPAC Chair, in Mayoral Advisement.

I spoke to Eric Weis, Chair of the Providence Bike and Pedestrian Commission (BPAC), during a bike ride he co-led to the new extension of the Washington Secondary Trail, and asked Weis to comment on the lackluster recommendations that came out in the Olneyville Road Safety Assessment authored by engineering firm VHB. The BPAC offers non-binding advisement to the mayor on issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety, and the RSA touches on many of those issues.
Original image from GCPVD.


Weis said that several of the stakeholders who met with VHB to discuss pedestrian and bike safety improvements were clear to the firm that implementing automatic pedestrian phases into signaling loops was a top priority.

Not only local voices were at the meetings, said Weis. 



"Two individuals from USDOT told VHB that it was standard practice to remove beg buttons." 

Weis, in his role as Chair of the BPAC, also echoed the DOT officials' call at the meeting.

Other concerns that have been raised by community advocates include the reccomendation to increase the number of cars accomodated through Olneyville, a lack of clear vision around transit and biking in a community where nearly 50% of households own no car. While cities around the world have used filtered permeability systems to lower traffic volume, or even declared some central squares car-free, the VHB safety document recommended a move in the opposite direction.

The Trestle Trail, a path through Coventry extending the Washington Secondary
Trail almost to Connecticut, can be reached through Silver Lake or Olneyville,
but only along very dangerous and uncomfortable city streets. Many residents 
in these neighborhoods do not own cars.
Weis' tour Saturday of the new Trestle Trail in West Coventry was joined by approximately thirty people, along a completely car-free right-of-way opened by RIDOT and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The tour began in much less pleasant environs, through Downtown, the West End, and Silver Lake, through heavily trafficked streets.

Weis spoke to me for another 2014 article outlining the challenges to connecting to the bike path, in presenting many of the same concerns with Olneyville traffic safety. Weis said that an orifice at the end of his digestive tract tightened in response to the stress of Olneyville streets due to their proximity to the defunct urban highways, Rt. 6 & 10.

Weis hopes for a new future for Providence under Mayor Elorza, saying he knows the mayor is someone trying to do the right things. 


"The mayor cares about communities" said Weis. 

Asked if he had any recommendations for the mayor, in an email Weis said:



The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission recently sent a letter to Mayor Elorza advising that our city phase out use of pedestrian crossing push buttons (aka beg buttons) citywide, with a special focus on school zones, commercial districts, and the areas around recreation centers. We hope that the Mayor will accept this recommendation, which would override the recommendation made in the Olneyville Road Safety Assessment to continue their use.

Weis was unequivocal. "Beg buttons got to go."

~~~~

Honk! Honk!

It's a good reminder sometimes that the reason drivers are so out of line in Providence is not that they're evil, but because they're on poorly designed streets. Hell if anyone ever stops like this for me on S. Water St., but they probably don't see me as well as a whole line of Canadian Geese.

To that end, I have a technology recommendation, which is unusual for me (where can you find the "coolest clipless shoes" or the "finest carbon fiber" reviews? Not here. I hate that shit. . . ). I have these battery-lit LED Christmas lights strung up on my bike, and they've proven a great improvement for my mental health. I suggest you get some (they're like $20 for a two-wheel set) and go riding at night. It'll make a true believer of you about how street design rather than people's personalities is the fontline of all driving mistakes.

I was riding home along S. Water St. the other night, from Waterfire no less, and the lights gave me a great thing. Here's what was said to me out the car windows:

Driver 1 (whizzing by too fast): Great lights!
Driver 2 (also whizzing by too fast, then speeding up even more): Get on the fucking sidewalk! 
Driver 3 (yep, too fast): Your bike is awesome!
Driver 4 Yeah!

What do we learn here (mind you, with a very anecdotal sample size)? 3 out of 4 drivers like bikes on the road and will hang out their window in order to say so if there's a good reason. The last 25% are aggressive, awful people. The actual numbers are probably different, you know, but let's just say that this proves the wisdom that most people are nice. At minimum it also shows that no amount of being nice will make you behave on a road that makes you feel like you're not speeding when you are. And here's why I say you should get some lights (or perhaps a Canadian goose) to tie onto your bike: you will be a lot happier as a person knowing that the struggle in life is changing how the road is built than you will be if you think your struggle is with people.

Until we have roads that constrict bad driving, good drivers will go way too fast, and bad drivers will act like they own the road. It just takes that one person yelling out the window to ruin a whole ride, and for most people that will be the last they ever get on a bicycle. But on S. Water St. I encounter someone yelling at me 100% of the time. At least one person out of that line of people always yells. It's just that usually it's during the day so I don't get the positive reinforcement along with it (I do get the universal speeding).

Honk! Honk! Protected bike lanes! Build 'em!

~~~~

Olneyville Road Safety Assessment

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition has an update on the "Road Safety Assessment" or "RSA" (not to be confused with the "Royal Society of the Arts" RSA).

Here is the report, quoted in full, with my thoughts in bold. I have a Twitter update from RI Bike saying that they are trying to find a way to put up the full report, which is a large PDF. Obviously my thoughts are conditional and are subject to change as I see more detail, but I'm interpreting this as best I can with what's here.

On April 2nd and 3rd 2015, a Pedestrian and Bicycle Roadway Safety Assessment (RSA) was performed by engineering firm VHB in conjunction with a multidisciplinary team comprised of safety, traffic, and highway engineers, local enforcement, and local community organizations. The objective of the RSA was to identify issues and potential near and longer term solutions focusing on pedestrian and bicycle safety. Below are the recommendations VHB put forward based on the assessment.
VHB is the author of the Bike Master Plan, of which we have been critical. Several of the engineers at VHB are cyclists, but they tend to push "vehicular cycling" which is an outdated and dangerous way of dealing with cycling. I am also suspicious of the control that VHB continues to get over bike projects because of the fact that VHB is in a "third party" auditing position for the state over contracts, when in fact many of the contracts go to VHB. Not to put too florid of a point on it, but the parading that VHB does as a bike-oriented planning group really bothers me, because nothing they've planned so far has ever been very bike- (or pedestrian- or transit-) oriented.

Immediately (within the next 6 months)
  • Pedestrian – Provide signing and striping enhancements, coupled with an educational campaign  and additional enforcement, to encourage use of crosswalks and push buttons . Review the pedestrian signal wiring and equipment so they are working properly. 
Since re-wiring is to happen anyway as part of this plan, Mayor Elorza should push to have this plan modified so that push buttons are removed from the intersections entirely, as promised in his mayoral campaign. 

  • Bicycles – Improve area signage and pavement striping related to bicycle use and partner with community groups to develop a plan to raise safety awareness for bicyclists. 
You cannot "raise safety awareness" around bicycling. You can only improve safety and comfort in a meaningful way with infrastructure and enforcement changes. 

There is no bike striping in Olneyville Square, so I would like to know what this refers to. Signage does not work, and should be rejected by the city.

  • Autos – Implement signal retiming and restriping to improve capacity and progression throughout the corridor. 
Translation of "Improve capacity and progression through the corridor": Increase speed and volume of traffic. This is at direct odds with any goals related to bikes, transit, or walking.  Cities in America that are serious about pedestrian and bike safety have timed signals not for vehicle throughput, but for modest speeds. Philadelphia makes a point to set many of its signals to 20 mph on major corridors like Chestnut or Walnut Street.

  • Transit – Restripe to provide bus pull-offs/lanes.
This is not a transit improvement, but an improvement to aid throughput of cars.

In the Near Term (between 6 months and 2 years)
  • Pedestrians – Provide minor infrastructure improvements and pedestrian crossing technologies to better define pedestrian crossings for both pedestrians and vehicles.
Because this is vague I am going to withhold comment.

  • Bicycles – Provide on-street bicycle facilities within Olneyville Square including connections to the Broadway bike lanes, East Coast Greenway, and Woonasquatucket River Greenway.
This is also vague, though hopeful. The only facilities that are appropriate for a high-volume (and sometimes high speed) area like Olneyville Square are protected bike lanes. The other thing to add is that the buffered bike lane on Broadway leading into the square, though overall a good improvement, still has the parking signs next to it, and does not have any bollards to keep vehicles out, so our blog has received many community complaints about the bike lanes being blocked by cars. Adding bollards needs to be part of this plan.

  • Autos – Provide minor infrastructure improvements to improve capacity and progression throughout the corridor.
This is vague, but again, "improve capacity and progression throughout the corridor" means increase the number of vehicles that can move through the corridor. This is not a goal we support, but it is typical of VHB's work.

  • Transit – Implement modifications to transit facilities to match up with pedestrian activity.
This is extremely vague. 

In the Long Term (beyond 2 years)
  • Pedestrians – Provide transportation options for vehicles to travel through and around the square, offering an opportunity to incorporate “complete streets” to benefit the diversity of users including bicycles, pedestrians, motorists, and transit riders.
This is vague. One option that needs to be strongly explored is removing cars completely from the square itself, and using a 6/10 Boulevard to allow cars to bypass the area. The key here is that allowing cars to bypass does not mean setting up bypass roads for high volume traffic, as American planners tend to do. The most important ways to enter and exit Olneyville Square should be without a car, but Olneyville Square itself should be considered for a car-free zone.

I would bet money that this is not what the above passage in VHB's report means, but that's what it should mean if we're being serious. Jef Nickerson did a lot of imaginings on a "Re-Booted" Olneyville Square, and people should look to that for inspiration, as well as following the 6/10 Boulevard plans as they unfold.

  • Bicycles – Provide off-road bicycle facilities within Olneyville Square including connections to the Broadway bike lanes, East Coast Greenway, and Woonasquatucket River Greenway. 
This is great. My caution here is that people should not interpret this as meaning that there's a new energy to put extra bike routes in until specifically shown that that's what this means. There is an on-going plan to put some kind of a protected bike lane along the Woonasquatucket River behind the Mall. That should not stand in for real access to Olneyville Square from other directions.

  • Autos – Provide transportation options for vehicles to travel through and around the square through enhanced circulation within the corridor for local traffic as well as offering additional freeway connections for transient vehicle to by-pass the square.
Translation of "enhanced circulation": moving more vehicles. We should abandon any notion of moving more vehicles, and should instead be constricting the capacity for private vehicles, in line with everything we know about induced demand. Just a reminder that Olneyville is a neighborhood where nearly half the households own no car at all, and another quarter or so of households are one-car households. So there is no community-oriented reason to see cars as the central way of getting to the square.

  • Transit – Consider providing separated right-of ways or technologies to allow transit to by-pass congestion in the square.
I support separated bus lanes, and I would like to see more emphasis on this. The 6/10 Boulevard makes sense as one of the corridors for this to happen.

A key detail to keep in mind is that bus routes are not like magic lines on a map. The length of a line can be deceiving, as Jarrett Walker points out on Human Transit quite often. The frequency of the route and the pedestrian interface, as well as a stern commitment to not trying to increase road capacity for cars, and continuing to reform land use to reduce parking craters are all central to making sure that a bus route is successful. So let's continue planning rights-of-way for buses, looking at an MBTA stop in Olneyville, and making sure that we're not just overlaying bus lanes onto a pedestrian-unfriendly corridor full of parking lots.

~~~~

Please Support Our 6/10 Boulevard Efforts

We are proud to be organizing a speakers' panel and bike ride on the 6/10 Boulevard, and would like your support. Because we're still exploring venues, we have not set an exact date, but it will occur some time in late October or early November of this year.

Donate Here: Make Olneyville "Second Downtown" Again.

Expected Speakers


Norman Garrick

Prof. Garrick teaches at U Conn and you may know him from his appearances in Streetfilms videos about parking policy, as well as exploring Zurich Switzerland.


Veronica Vanterpool

Veronica Vanterpool is executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a member group of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance which has been advocating for the conversion of the Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx into developable land, green space and safe connections to nearby parks and resources. This has been one of the most interesting highway-to-boulevard conversion cases in the country.


The panel will consist of two or three other organizations' speakers from local communities in Providence, and we hope to announce more of those individuals as we have the details.

Support Great Businesses that Support a 6/10 Boulevard!


We are proud to have the support of the West Side's premiere farm store, Cluck!, run by Drake Patten. She has very generously offered support, and we hope you'll visit her store at 399 Broadway.

We also have to thank Cleverhoods, which has donated several cool bike fenders to be given to lucky winners in a donor drawing. Do you Cleverhood?

Dash Bicycles has generously offered $100 in store credit to a lucky drawing winner who donates at least $50 to our efforts.

If you are a business that would like to support our event, please reach out to us, or donate directly to our Indiegogo page.


~~~~


Stormwater Management Should Take Urban Design Into Account

Stormwater pollution is a huge problem that we have to do something about, but sometimes when people who specialize in that field approach city planning, they miss the forest for the trees. We have to distinguish between parking and roads (which are liabilities to be limited) and buildings (which are opportunities to be grown) when we talk about stormwater overflow.

A Cooling Anecdote for a Hot Summer Day
I once wrote the S. Kingstown local government to ask that the bike path there be plowed and salted to make it safe for winter passage. The email I got was very polite, explaining that the town could not salt the path lest the runoff harm the nearby wetlands. To be sure, though, all of the roads in the entire watershed area are salted, despite being much wider, and despite the fact that other types of pollution emanate from them. To be fair to the town of South Kingstown, they are the only Rhode Island town that I'm aware of that plows paths at all, though they choose to plow only half of the path, and only after all the car routes have been plowed. The result, unfortunately, is that a lot is melted and re-frozen to the path before anything's removed in the first place, and it only gets worse over time as the half of the path that is un-plowed melts and freezes some more.

Anyway, you can gather that this is a pet peeve of mine. I definitely think we should protect our wetlands, but I also think that we would do so more efficiently if we focused less energy on car infrastructure and more on transit and biking options.

Sea Level Rise Has to be Fought with Density
Enter a mostly great story in Eco RI News about a related issue: sea level rise, and how to deal with the huge amount of water that might soon inundate the I-195 land and other locations throughout the state. The article makes a whole bunch of a great points, but there were a few that I wanted to take issue with. Pulling a passage from the article:

These watersheds are already impacted by dense development and large expanses of impervious surfaces, such as roads and roofs. Water-quality impairments in surface waters have been linked to watersheds with impervious cover as low as 10 percent. The Providence River watershed is about 30 percent impervious surfaces and the much-larger Narragansett Bay watershed is about 14 percent. The Providence River is on the Rhode Island 2012 list of impaired waters for nitrogen, dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform. (my italics)
I think it's misleading to focus on percentages in this context, because the percentages mask the real problem. As with many Rhode Island statistics, the percentages used to talk about our state's density make a lot of sampling errors, and don't distinguish between important things like whether a place is completely paved over with parking lots, or whether a place is dense with buildings and people.

In a separate article I wrote a bit about this on RI Future, but I'm going to keep hammering at this idea until I get a receptive audience from the environmental community at large. If you look at percentages of impervious surface, who comes out on top (as in, least harmful)? It's Warwick and Cranston. Who is actually responsible for the worst pollution? Warwick and Cranston. It's exactly the opposite if you take the places with the highest impervious surface percentages. The very highest in the state is Central Falls, with nearly 70% coverage. But Central Falls has a very low per capita coverage, and also has the lowest in the region for absolute impervious coverage. So the people of Central Falls, stacked on each other in triple-deckers, are polluting less not more.

Take a look at the Warwick Mall overlaid over downtown Providence in the great image that GCPVD created, back during the first debates about parking and congestion in regards to the potential downtown stadium:
Greater City Providence shows the Warwick Mall overlaid with Downtown Providence. All impervious surfaces are not created equal.
No New Parking!
The point I tried to make in the RI Future article was different than the one Jef Nickerson was making: here he's pointing out how silly it is that people complain that there's not enough parking nearby to have a stadium, when in fact there are several parking garages within the same walking distance that one would have to cover if they parked at the edge of the Warwick Mall parking lot. But the point is related. Look at how unproductively the Warwick Mall uses land. It's not at all the same thing to put a building down with a roof as it is to build a road or a parking lot. Roads and parking lots are inherently obligations with huge costs that can never be balanced with the benefits they bring, except by ruthlessly limiting their expansion. A town like Warwick is fundamentally unsound. Every intersection has to have four or six lanes of traffic. Every crossing requires hundreds of thousands of dollars of light signals. Every commute, even to things within a short distance, requires a car--and in turn that means requiring parking in every location so that people can go from lot to lot, like fat bumblebees in search of nectar. War(wick) is hell; it's true.

But that brings me to my second passage from the article:
Boyd [a sea level rise expert] said that [2008] flooding — caused by an offshore low-pressure system that produced wind speeds of up to 53 mph and occurred during a moon tide — is representative of 3 feet of sea-level rise, likely before 2100, that will render current Waterplace Park walkways impassable except during the lowest tides. 
He said any development project proposed for the I-195 district — or any other coastal development, for that matter — should incorporate at least 3 feet of sea-level rise into the design. Buildings should be elevated, with perhaps some parking space underneath, and utilities installed up high.
Really? We're going to fight climate change with parking? Ugh. Such a lack of imagination!

Not only does adding more parking make it more likely that people will drive from the perspective of creating more space to put cars, but it also pretty much obliterates the pedestrian realm, by making things unpleasant and uninteresting to walk through. Already we have too many curb cuts to get cars in and out of parking lots and garages in downtown, but even those who are imagining a future around climate change expect the same?

Learn from Houston
The difference between parking and buildings is not an academic point. People who tried fighting stormwater pollution in the past assumed that the problem should make no distinctions between parking lots or buildings, and what they ended up with was a lot of parking (see the Houston section around 3:50):



We have to think of a different way of doing things, or we'll always get the same result. The EcoRI article makes a lot of valid points as concerns the danger to our buildings from their low-lying locations, and hopefully we'll find smart ways to both prevent and adapt to sea level rise. But whatever we do will require more density, and less parking.
~~~~ 

What's Wrong with the Jazz Fest?


The Folk Fest draws many bicyclists, but the vast majority do not bike to the event. Many times fewer people bike to the Jazz Fest. Still, this image is a sign of what is possible, and we shouldn't push for even more.
The Newport Folk Fest is the bee's knees of biking in Rhode Island, and possibly the U.S. This year 3,369 people biked to the festival over three days--the peak number on Sunday was 1,200, or about 12% of the attendees. Bari Freeman, director of Bike Newport, said she was unaware after a long internet search of any U.S. venues that match those statistics when I spoke to her yesterday.

The Jazz Fest draws fewer people in general than the Folk Fest--I haven't gotten hard numbers from this year yet, but the estimates I heard were around 10,000 for Folk and 5,000 for Jazz--but the number of cyclists dips a lot lower still. Yesterday's peak amount was 105, according to the Bike Newport Twitter account, and the day before that was a piddly 39: this hovers the event around plus-or-minus 1%.

So what's wrong with the Jazz Fest?


Let's Keep It International


Very old and very young bike in the Netherlands, not just cool twenty-somethings.

The real question, to begin with, is not just what's wrong with the Jazz Fest, but why don't even more people bike to the Folk Fest than already do? 12% is a notable amount in the U.S., but Dutch author David Hembrow tweeted to us to say that many local events in the Netherlands have nearly 100% bike mode-share. The Folk & Jazz Festivals are international in character, but even those who come from far away and not by transit often park their cars in town and use a shuttle or ferry to get to the event. The rest of the drivers sit in interminably awful traffic, even despite these laudable attempts at diversion.

@TransportPVD @BikeNewportRI Very much depends on event. Some near 100% (local events). Some much lower. Eg int class mcycle racing in Assen
— David Hembrow (@DavidHembrow) August 2, 2015

The other thing to say is that there's not necessarily anything "wrong" with the Jazz Fest, or its participants. I talked to a lot of of people at the event and asked why they thought there was less biking at the Jazz Fest than the Folk Fest, and most of the explanations centered around political culture or age. While I think there's probably some truth in the idea that Folk Fest attendees are younger and more politically overt than Jazz Fest participants, this is less an explanation than it sounds. We can't change people: as we all get older, we'll get slower than we once were, and more cautious. Some of us will always be more political than others. And some will always be more adventurous than others. What we need to change is the situation those people are put in: older people like biking just as surely as young people, and even take it up specifically when their bodies no longer allow running or other high-impact sports. With the right accommodations, older people in the Netherlands bike many times more than the Folk Festival participants do, and not just in recreational situations, but also to the grocery store, to work, and to all the errands of their lives (In fact, if you want a particularly comical example, what Oewehoeren: "The Old Whores" a surprisingly uplifting and clean(ish) documentary about two senior-citizen twins who wish to retire from a life of prostitution. The twins complain that they just can't fuck--their words--people the way they used to because of arthritis, but still go on bicycle tours throughout the movie). 

So what's wrong with the Folk Fest?


Stop Parking Cars on the Lawn


Cars were also allowed to park all around the lawn during the Jazz Fest (I didn't attempt to get a precise measurement of this, but I'd guess there were hundreds of cars on the grass). The amount of permanent paved parking provided is generous, so the lawn parking was in addition to the official parking area. Flat-out reducing parking has been one of the most successful methods of reducing driving, as pointed out by Donald Shoup and a range of others.

No one but vendors or technicians really need to park at the festivals. The bus shuttles that get run from parking areas in the center of Newport come much closer to the gates than even the best-parked car in the whole place. In addition to reducing the congestion of the event to zero, ending the practice of lawn parking would completely obviate the extensive police detail of traffic cops at every intersection during the event arrival and departure times, and would mean that Fort Adams itself would be less depreciated by cars running all over it. Let's reserve parking only for people delivering large, heavy shipments of things to the events.


Close Some Streets to Cars Temporarily

I observed the Newport Police Department shutting down major intersections and diverting cars this way and that in order to deal with the overflow of people driving out of the Jazz Fest. Why not apply this diversion technique a bit more precisely, for better results?

The Bike Newport RI bike map actually suggests a slightly different route, but the way I prefer to take to get to the Jazz Fest is straight down Thames, a right onto Carroll, another right onto Harrison, and then all the way down Harris (there are a few other turns, but there's nowhere else to go but where the street takes you). I find this route acceptably calm for me to be willing to bike on it, but despite the fact that 100% of the motorists I've encountered going this way have been reasonable drivers, it still puts a tiny edge of stress on the ride just to have cars there at all. This subjective safety phenomenon is even more the case for less gung-ho bicyclists.

Groningen permanently disallows direct car trips from quarter to quarter, 
leading to 50-60% of trips being taken instead by bike. (Streetfilms)
According to Google Maps, this bike route is 2 miles--including the jaunt into the parking lot. This should be car-free during major festivals. The expected bike time to the event from Thames St. would take 10 minutes.

The car route I propose is down Bellevue Avenue, along Ocean Drive, and back up to Fort Adams from around the back. That car route is just under 7 miles, and would take 20 minutes by car, according to Google Maps.

Experience from European cities shows that when cars are made the slower means of arrival, there are large diversion rates to other modes of transportation*, so rather than just pushing the cars to a different route, this would likely also reduce the overall number of drivers. In addition, a lot of people who might have biked if they didn't feel the whoosh of a car go past them on the way to the festivals would join in and bike the much shorter route reserved for them.

No one here is saying that Harrison Street should be shut down to cars permanently, but it makes sense to do so for the festival days. Most of the affected neighbors in the Lower 5th Ward would still have access to their homes by car within one block's parking, just by using alternate routes. Only a few mansion-style residences on the route would be genuinely off-the-grid for driving during the event, and they could still access everywhere by bike.


Give the Shuttles An Advantage Too

The enormous number of people taking shuttles to their cars would be unnecessary with proper biking set-ups, but bus shuttles would still be necessary for those taking a large amount of stuff with them, and those who are older or frailer. So set up the car-free streets with a bike section and a bus section, separated temporarily by cones. This could be Harrison Avenue, for the festivals.

The bus lane could be reversed for coming and leaving, and if two buses met going the sam direction they could negotiate by pulling to the side at intersections.


Use Transit for the Right Purposes

You might think, why does it matter so much if people take a ferry or a bus to their car, instead of taking a bike? I think that's a good question. The shuttles and ferries themselves are a far preferable way to get people around than personal cars, and the organizers of the Folk and Jazz Festivals should be lauded for taking those steps to keep people from driving. But each mode has a purpose, and what bikes are good for is dispersed (that is, autonomous) local (that is, short-distance) trips. Buses and ferries are better used to take larger numbers of people between center to center over distances that biking doesn't allow.

A slight exaggeration of what the 60 looks like, yet it keeps its infrequent schedule. 
We need to ask ourselves how we can get many more people to arrive in Newport with no car at all, by bus. The Amtrak Northeast Corridor makes very convenient stops in Kingston, and in theory one can arrive to Newport by catching the connecting 64 bus at URI. The 64 ought to connect directly to the train station to make alighting it easier, and its schedule should be more frequent during major festivals. The 60 bus, which always looks like the Darjeeling Express for the number of people on it, also needs increased frequency. At peak times it comes every half-an-hour, but we had to wait an hour for the 60 bus home, because the festivals fall on a weekend and end at night. We also missed our first bus because it was so full that we couldn't take folding bikes on it. 

I would pay a higher fair to have more frequent service--perhaps every other bus should run at a higher price, with the remainder staying at the usual $2 "One State, One Rate" level, like congestion pricing for buses. I'd also pay for an extra seat on a regular bus to be able to store my folding bike on it: with no city-wide bike share program, renting a bike in Newport will set you back a lot of money, and the bike path down the East Bay isn't complete yet. 

I saw hordes of people standing in line for a ferry trip across the harbor for $10--a trip of less than a mile. This reminds me of tragicomic stories I've heard from pedicab friends about biking drunk people home from Newport or Providence bars. You think, "great, they're not driving!" but in reality, the pedicabbing is just a local service to get them to their cars, necessitated by parking and congestion issues. The same is true on ferries and bus shuttles. You can't really celebrate the lack of driving as much when you know that 90% of the trips will end in a personal vehicle at the other end. Let's fix that by using the right modes for the right purposes.

Let the ferry stay something that people take only for the novelty of being on the water, and leave the practical local travel to two wheels. Then take care of these issues with buses, and we can get people from New York, Boston, T.F. Green Airport, Providence, and elsewhere to the city without ever putting them in a car.


Newport, We Can Do This

Fort Adams is pretty close to sea level, as is much of Newport. If we don't make drastic changes in our lifestyle, it will be under water soon enough. So we can't be satisfied with the numbers we currently have for biking--even the more impressive ones from the Folk Fest need major work. Making sure that there's still a Folk or Jazz Fest for future generations means fixing these problems aggressively, and that means doing the things I outlined above. I predict that we could easily get the Folk Fest to 50% bike attendance within two years, and get the Jazz Fest to above the current Folk Fest levels of biking, if we implemented these steps. Let's do it.
~~~~

*Huge overnight diversion away from driving has also been observed in the U.S. in the case of highway removals or collapses, but hasn't been systematically used as in Europe as a means of engineering.