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2017 Resolutions for a Better PVD & RI

Say it with me! 2017 is going to be better than 2016!


It's been a rough year, and we're not just talking about He Who Must Not Be Named. At the time of writing, Betty White is still alive, who who knows what the final hours of this awful year will bring? 

Last year we did ten resolutions for a better Providence and followed up this week with progress on those resolutions. Now let's look at some resolutions for this year. 2017's list has some old favorites, some new additions, and a fairly changed landscape of priorities. You can also tweet @transportpvd and we'll promote some of yours (if they're good. . . ).

10. Reform RIPTA routes. RIPTA needs more frequent service in walkable dense areas, and it needs to jettison some of its more ridiculous curly-queue routes. This item is in many ways a repeat of last year's resolution to get RIPTA to stop diverting routes into parking lots. 

As part of our recap of last year's resolutions, we spoke to Peter Brassard, rail advocate, who said that RIPTA and RIDOT need to coordinate better to make sure that stops are walkable. "Just straightening the routesout isn’t the answer alone. The insertion of auto-centric commercial or retail planning is the problem, not just RIPTA. Many of RIPTA’s passengers are elderly or have physical limitations that make hiking into one of these big box stores (often a ¼-mile in one direction) a challenge at best. Even in urban areas pedestrian amenities are often absent. When sidewalks are in place, there’s often no bus shelter on the street in front of big box. I doubt building owners do much in the way of snow removal from onsite sidewalks."

Bike paths can help to connect these areas, which would really let RIPTA use its labor expenditures more appropriately to straighter, faster, more frequent bus routes.

Yes, it's true, we're not the only ones with bad land use to overcome:

A great way to start in on this goal would be not building new roads, sewers, or other public infrastructure that creates taxpayer-subsidized sprawl, as in the Citizens Bank project that just about all the top brass of Rhode Island showed up to cheer for. Many of RIPTA's more absurd routes serve projects like this, making buses the clean-up on the back end of bad land use.

Another way to address this issue would be to hire someone like Jarrett Walker to look through RIPTA's route system and come up with a plan to rationalize it with the goal of frequent service. 

We hope this is the year that RIPTA gets serious attention.

9. We're keeping the car tax, thank you. A lot of people may disagree, but Rhode Island's car tax is a good thing. Driving is expensive, and that expense doesn't go away just by willing it to. We've spoken on this issue at the city level, and it's also important at the state level: lowering or eliminating car taxes means shifting the cost burden of driving onto property taxes. Some of us drive, but all of us need a place to live. And for those of us who cannot afford a car, making driving less expensive by raising our cost of housing doesn't sound like a great idea. 

The state could look to lower its costs as one way of saving drivers money. Rhode Island has an abnormally high number of urban highways, especially for a northeastern city, and this is something our blog has tried to address through the 6/10 Boulevard fight. By canceling plans to expand roads, and looking closely at when existing infrastructure can be dieted, Rhode Island can start to get control of its ballooning fees.

And by the way, I like to remind people that Rachel and I are now a one-car household, so while we're infrequent drivers, lowering the car tax would seem to be in our immediate selfish interest. We still oppose it, and we call on progressives and fiscal conservatives to stand up on this issue.

8. Grant undocumented immigrants access to drivers' licenses. This is a hard one, because the world is melting around us because of the driving habits of Americans. Transport Providence supports policies that put driving in the backseat of transportation policy where it belongs, but there should be no part of that that includes discrimination. Speaker of the House Nicolas Mattiello, who campaigned on a racist platform of immigrant exclusion and narrowly held his position, should expect a fight on this issue, as well as his plans to increase property tax burdens (See #9) on working families by getting rid of the car tax.

7. Hold the mayor accountable on the Sanctuary City plan. The Providence Journal reported on November 14th that Mayor Jorge Elorza is no longer considering "sanctuary city" status for Providence, a plan that would mirror progressive efforts in other cities to protect immigrant communities. Transport Providence caught up with Elorza at a recent event, and the mayor said that the Projo report was misleading, and that his office will make sure that Providence Police Department does not cooperate with ICE. Immigration policy is not normally a main focus of this blog, but our cities are not good places to walk if walking somewhere might result in deportation. We ask the mayor to keep his promise on this.
6. Reform property taxes. Providence charges too much taxes on renters, but attempts to change that problem have often failed, as homeowners and renters get pitted against each other.

The city should come up with new revenue to avoid this pitfall, and Transport Providence is again asking the city to consider a parking lot tax. The parking lot tax got consideration last April, but inside sources tell me that state officials who would have to approve the city's use of a parking tax are not keen on it. The mayor and city council need to start advocating noisily for this as a source of revenue, and a way to incentivize development instead of surface lots. And reminding commuters that the lot owner is typically the one who has to swallow the tax increase wouldn't be a bad way to start changing the conversation.

5. Repeal exclusionary zoning throughout the city.  A top consideration should be removal of the unconstitutional ordinance limiting the number of students sharing large single-family houses. Removing parking minimums throughout the city is another top goal (See #4). And large sections of Providence are zoned for single-family housing only, which should change. If you look at a zoning map of many Providence neighborhoods, you'll notice the array of crazy colors that have to be put in place to codify the actual existence of multiple types of housing that came about due to natural development patterns, but the real onus of the zoning code is to prevent that process from unfolding as it would. If someone wants to add a granny cottage to their driveway or build a triple-decker, they ought to be able to do so without red tape. Affordable housing should be a top goal in the city.

Rhode Island's "Missed Connections" happen in parking lots. Massachusetts has them on transit.
4. Repeal all parking minimums in the city. Providence loosened its parking minimums a few years ago, but still requires parking in much of the city. This is bad! Schlecht! Malo! 

Most recently, the Providence Journal reported that Providence Planning is still spending time making sure that there's enough parking at an apartment project that proposes more parking than apartments. Every required parking spot increases the cost of development, reduces affordable housing, and pushes people to drive when transit could have been their preferred option. Transport Providence would like to see Providence follow Buffalo to become the second city in the U.S. to do away completely with parking minimums in 2017.

And it wouldn't be bad if we raised their King to an Ace and put some parking maximums in along frequent transit lines.

3. Make Sure 6/10 & I-95 Projects are Done Right. That means a car-free bridge on Tobey Street, removal of the Dean Street and Plainfield Avenue ramps without replacement, and no expansion of I-95. All the bridges crossing the highways should get protected bike lanes and widened sidewalks. 

The rail corridor along 6/10 needs to be carefully looked at. Peter Brassard, local rail advocate, spoke to Transport Providence about the rail options along 6/10. "A critical component for this project is to preserve an adequate ROW width for a future fourth railroad track east of the existing northbound track through Olneyville, the West End, and Federal Hill," said Brassard, emphasizing the renewed importance of this route since the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has decided to locate improved high-speed rail along a corridor that includes Providence (Rhode Island had originally been slotted to be excluded from the project).  Brassard said to make sure to consider where an eventual Olneyville MBTA station might go (Olneyville used to have two train stations).

Parkway plans are a let-down, considering that last year's number one resolution was to not rebuild 6/10, but taking care to build a parkway in a way that doesn't exclude these possibilities is really important.

The parkway plan isn't complete until these features are changed.

2. New leadership at RIDOT. We learned recently that Deputy Director Peter Garino will be stepping down from his post at RIDOT. As one of our followers tweeted, "One down. . . ". 
Unfortunately, between "the two Peters" at RIDOT, Garino was by far the more qualified, having served before as top brass at New Jersey Transit. Garino was not perfect, but a lot of misleading and bad ideas from Garino often felt to me like they were reflections of a civil servant who was following orders from above.  

It's "Peter #1"--Peter Alviti-- that needs to go, and we're not stepping down from the demand. As yet Governor Raimondo has ignored our calls to address her fossil-fuel-happy RIDOT director, but we intend to follow up.

We're also aware that the pattern of RIDOT directors can be to jump from the frying pan to the fire, and we'd like to avoid that. Alviti should be replaced by someone chosen directly by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). The TAC is the group that advises RIDOT on projects, including groups like RIPTA Planning, Bike Newport, and the Rhode Island Bike Coalition. Though in theory the TAC should have a large say in what happens at RIPTA as the supposed arm of community advice, its role is usually marginal in practice. Transport Providence will be periodically highlighting engineers that we think are qualified to head RIDOT, and we hope we'll get an opportunity to bring those nominations into fruition.

1. 20 miles of protected bike lanes, with a plan set for 50 in the next 2 years. Providence got its first (0.3 miles) of protected bike lanes this year, but Providence needs to get serious and create a full network. This one has been upgraded from #8 to #1 because there's just no excuse for the city not to achieve it. Protected bike lanes are cheap, they prevent a whole bunch of other costs the city accrues, and we're starting to look ridiculous for not having a serious network of them.

The most likely source of revenue for protected bike lanes ought to be the next bond. The last one failed at city council and became a ghost bond. Transport Providence had asked city council to kill the bond, because its transportation components didn't even begin to come close to funding none-car projects at parity with the number of non-drivers in the city. It's unclear how much of an impact our call to kill the bond had on its ultimate defeat, but we hope that when new funding proposals come up, the city council will remember that about a quarter of Providence residents don't even own a car.

We encourage people to do what the Dutch did if the city doesn't start to move on this.

Happy New Year, everyone! Get ready to fight like our lives depend on it.



  1. As an inventor, here's what I want:

    1. The invention of the upward inclined moving walkway for cyclists.

    A slow cyclist or a wheelchair user would stop at the beginning of the moving walkway. A fast cyclist would have enough speed to roll halfway up the moving walkway. The cyclist would grab one of the rails on the side of the walkway. The walkway would then lift the cyclist to the top of the walkway, where the cyclist would then ride above a busy intersection or three. A separate (straight!) bikeway would take descending cyclists down and accelerate them onto the path beyond.

    With such a system we could install time-saving high lines for cyclists and pedestrians above traffic-snarled streets. We could also get cyclists from the end of the Bristol bike path, on River Road, up to Blackstone Boulevard. Or, we could probably install a gentle-sloped bikeway on city land behind the Lincoln School.

    2. Traffic lights that see pedestrians and cyclists coming. Beg buttons are stupid.

    3. Busses with GPS. When a bus approaches a light the light should turn green. The seconds add up!

    4. Bus signs that tell you how many minutes away the next bus is. If a bus has GPS on-board then a computer can calculate how many minutes it will be for each location. If you need to duck inside for ten minutes to wait for the bus, duck! Don't stand out there and freeze!

    5. Snowplows for bike paths. It used to be, we were lucky if they shoveled the road sand off of the Washington Bridge bike path by midsummer!

    6. 36 inch wide stars painted wherever bicyclists or pedestrians were injured. This tiny safety device lowered pedestrian-auto deaths by 35% in Bogata, Colombia. It also tells RIDOT, "Hey, you probably have a problem right at this spot, Bunky!" Volunteers might do the street painting.

    7. Low level narrow-focus floodlights aimed at people's feet at crosswalks. Pedestrians wouldn't be blinded but oncoming cars could see their sneakers even if they wore dark colors.

    8. Disability crosswalk mats that don't rip up and become trip and fall hazards.

    Anonymous as usual,
    Paul Klinkman

  2. 9. 20 minute parking spaces. They don't take coins, but a parking meter device with an ultrasound button measures the distance to the vehicle when it parks, then starts ticking away. After 17 minutes it tells the meter reader's vehicle, "hey, come on over!" The more customer throughput, the more valuable downtown storefronts become.

    10. Single payer health insurance for helmeted bicyclists while riding. If we mow em down, we pay for em. All of a sudden the city becomes extremely health-conscious about bicyclists.

    Still Anonymous,
    Paul Klinkman

  3. seems to me natural to focus on allowing munis to create parking taxes if the car tax gets disappeared (on which point I found Mackay's editorial yesterday pretty convincing). taxing parking drives behavior as well as mostly avoiding the low-income issues that you're primarily concerned with re: the car tax.

    also, howsabout Gabe Klein for DOT? He's run DC and Chicago, so maybe it's time for him to step up to the state level. Also, he could hang with Torey Malatia. Come on in, Gabe, the water's fine.