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Recap of 2016 Resolutions

Coming soon we'll be posting 2017 Resolutions for Providence, and for Rhode Island communities as a whole. But first let's review our resolutions from 2016, and see which ones elected officials have actually adopted and followed through on.

As with many resolutions traditions, the results are mixed.

10. Follow Through on Snow Removal:

GCPVD reported on January 8th, 2016 that the Statehouse was considering bills through the State Assembly and Senate to hold RIDOT responsible for clearing snow off of state properties within twenty-four hours of a storm. 

As of May, the House Bill (7008) was "recommended for further study" and has not been passed.  The Senate Bill (2005) faced the same fate in June, according to the Statehouse webpage.

Unlike RIDOT, City of Providence officials do seem to put some concern into making sure public properties are cleared of snow. However, at the city level, I am not aware of any improvements to snow enforcement on sidewalks. Private properties not clearing snow is a real problem. 

One suggestion that keeps coming up winter after winter is that the city create a budget for temporary workers to go out to clear sidewalks that haven't been cleared after a certain interval of time, adding a charge to the tax bill for the property for the hourly rate of the work. I think this would be a great idea. Perhaps city council can consider this.

I spoke with Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission member Michelle Walker, who had another perennial suggestion: make sure that RIPTA stops are clear! This turns out to be the responsibility of the advertisers who own the bus stops. You can contact them here if you encounter an uncleared stop.

9. Modify RIPTA Routes So That They Don't Go Into Parking Lots:

An ongoing weakness of many RIPTA routes is that they go into parking lots, or otherwise divert from linear routes. A lot of time these route choices seem to be at the behest of suburban strip mall developments. 

The reason this is a problem is that transit operates best when it's "on the way", meaning that it serves the people in the middle stops as well as being good for people going the whole way end-to-end. 

Anecdotally, I am aware of RIPTA making some small changes to some routes I ride that have improved the quickness of the routes, but there hasn't been any systematic effort to change routes in order to make them more efficient. 

The 54 is not unusual among RIPTA routes for its odd detours.
In some cases, the stops that RIPTA chooses for removal still symbolize the thinking of the agency. Riding the 54 bus out of Woonsocket a few weeks ago, I found that the usually starting point of the route at Woonsocket train station had been dropped as a stop, even though new train service is expected at that station by 2018. The stop also makes sense because the trestle creates a natural barrier from rain. 

While RIPTA has sometimes thinned out its walkable stops, it continues to keep those that truly take routes off-course. The 54 is one of many routes like this. 

I spoke with Peter Brassard, local rail activist, who said that the quandary RIPTA finds itself in is difficult. "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."

Brassard said that under past RIDOT administrations, he's suggested that the agency put effort into targeted pedestrian improvements along corridors, in order to help make goals like straightening RIPTA routes achievable (Brassard had no comment on the current RIDOT administration). Did he ever have success? "Obviously [RIDOT] did nothing" said Brassard.

I don't think RIPTA can simply straighten routes alone either. Last year, I suggested last year that the state should take a serious look at bike path spurs or protected bike lanes as ways to connect people to last mile diversion from bus routes, to allow the buses to do what they do best, and other modes to pick up the slack. 

RIPTA and RIDOT should put concerted effort into this on all statewide routes. Focusing on these types of route changes can help grow ridership on a small budget, as even fairly car-centric places like Houston have shown.

8. Put in 20 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes: Providence has its first protected bike lane, but it's kind of lame and incomplete.

The Fountain Street protected bike lane only goes in one direction, and doesn't even complete the connection between Empire and Dorrance (the last section drops cyclists back into turning lanes for cars). Cyclists have reported via Twitter that drivers frequently park in the bike lane instead of adjacent to it, as they're supposed to. My observation has been that this is a rare occurrence, but as with private properties not clearing snow, it takes just one person on a street to mess up the entire protected bike lane (the city can fix this problem by putting in bollards).

Fountain Street a good start, but follow-up needed to create a

network that's more than just a photo op.
Mayor Jorge Elorza and his Planning Dept. deserve some thanks and credit for what's been done on Fountain Street, but 2017 needs to be the year when the city puts some elbow grease into making a complete network of protected bike lanes for the whole city. These projects aren't really useful unless they make full connections from place to place. We don't have time to unveil a few blocks at a time, if we're going to get ahead of climate change. 

And in any case, protected bike lanes are one of the best ways the city can ultimately save money. One of the mayor's laudable achievements has been using RIPTA passes to connect more high school students who were previously excluded from the school bus radius of 3 miles. But in the Netherlands, bike facilities are quality enough that even in rural areas, the vast majority students bike to school; school buses are a rarity mainly used for students with physical disabilities that require transport. In the case of the RIPTA pass program, there's at least the benefit that Providence is giving to the general transit system, and thus helping to sustain a service that supports the entire community's mobility. But the school district should especially be looking to lower its output on yellow school buses. The best way to do this would be making biking an option. The school budget currently allocates $15 million to transportation (see page 31). An estimate of the RIPTA bus pass program from 2015 suggests that only a very small part of that budget is high school students using RIPTA passes. 

Because we're a culture that is highly automotive, many adults respond to my focus on this budgeting issue as if I'm suggesting austerity for Providence students. But on the contrary, the school district could be clever about using cash-out options to share its savings directly with students. Busing and bus passes could remain a free service for students within the prescribed boundaries, but students who bike or walk to school could receive a portion of the district's savings back to them as an incentive. This is the same thing that universal healthcare services do in other countries when they pay patients to exercise or quit smoking-- the school district would be making a universal benefit more cost-effective by incentivizing better use within the program. And any additional money the school district saves should be put directly back into improved programs and facilities for students. There's a reason why the top biking countries also happen to be the most social democratic and best for children.

7. Finish Bike-Share, and Make Sure It Includes the South Side: No bike-share yet. :-/

6. Pass a Parking Tax, and Lower Property Taxes with It: 

During budget talks in April, a parking lot tax was proposed as one source of revenue the city could consider. No action was taken. The city did not raise property tax rates, but did effectively raise property taxes (due to higher assessments of value on city properties). It also gave out a regressive changes to the car tax.

Creating a parking lot tax has some hurdles, as the report said at the time. The Statehouse would likely have to give permission to the city to collect a parking lot tax. It's time for the city to ask for such permission.

A parking lot tax is a kind of "land value tax" that only affects the lowest-use (parking lots) differently than other properties. 

A parking lot tax would be progressive because it would tend to charge property speculators like Paolino Properties for land that's being held as commuter parking, while using that revenue to lower taxes on businesses and residents that contribute far more to the city. Local reporting has tended to pit suburban residents against city ones (The Projo created this inaccurate title for my letter on the issue, for instance). More careful reporting has studied the fact that commuter pay parking tends to be an inelastic, uncompetitive market that is already priced as high as it can go, meaning that it would be land speculators, not commuters who would likely be forced to swallow the costs.

The firm Urban 3 has some great visuals about how per-acre value in cities, and points out in numerous lectures on the subject that low income residents tend to subsidize big box stores because of the structure of local property taxes around the country. A parking lot tax could be used to reduce Providence's higher rate of taxation on apartments without raising taxes on "owner occupant" properties, which is a win-win in my book.

5. Elongate Car-Free Festivals on Thayer Street. 

I reached out to @ThayerStreetPVD, the organization that manages the pedestrianized festivals that occasionally happen on Thayer Street. As of printing, I have not heard back, but I will update this report if I do.

It hasn't been a great year for Thayer Street.

This year, Brown University tore down seven multifamily houses to create a new surface parking lot on Brook Street. The lot was hyped as being a great new achievement for business, but rarely gets more than a few cars parked in it. 

Thayer Street business Avon Theater ceased its incessant complaining about parking meters supposedly chasing customers away after Transport Providence rallied the public on Twitter and to Avon's facebook page. The Providence Journal reported that one meter on Thayer Street remains the city's busiest, bringing in in excess of $37,000, casting doubt on the notion that people are not parking because of the meters. Meanwhile, the "frequent" 1 bus that runs through Thayer Street only comes every 18 minutes, and Thayer Street has no bike infrastructure to or from it. Transport Providence supports the city choosing to honor its promise to share meter revenue with local businesses-- something Mayor Elorza promised but did not follow through on--but would like to see Thayer and other shopping districts focus on alternatives to driving instead of tearing down pieces of the neighborhood for more parking lots.

4. The Pedestrian Bridge-- Where Is It? RIDOT does appear poised to complete the pedestrian bridge. 

Although the choice to keep the piers in place after I-195 was removed made the pedestrian bridge cost-neutral to complete, RIDOT had to be dragged kicking and screaming to complete this project. As part of the negotiations, community members near Gano Street agreed to changes to pedestrian improvements they wanted in order to cut costs. I didn't actually favor some of the plans for Gano St. to begin with: the proposed straightening of the "Gano curve" sounds to me like something that would worsen, rather than improve safety; the added parking lots were a bad idea; and even the Blackstone Bikeway Path section 1A was ten times as expensive per mile as it would be if it had been completed as a network of protected bike lanes. But I find the idea that RIDOT playing hardball with the local improvements budget kind of distasteful considering that the agency has chosen to push the rebuild of the 6/1o Connector and a widening of I-95 (see below). 

I am hoping as part of the budget changes that the parking lots will be part of what is dropped. 

3. Pass Rhodeworks. 
Done! Having trucks pay more towards highway upkeep-- which on a vehicle-to-vehicle basis, contribute 10,000 times as much damage as cars--makes a lot of sense, and Rhode Island should be happy that Rhodeworks passed.

As with #4, I have to reiterate that I have deep concerns about RIDOT's spending priorities, however. The agency's budgeting would be a lot easier to justify if it weren't rebuilding the 6/10 Connector, and planning an expansion of I-95.

2. Pee Alley: The pee alley (technically called "Arcade Street", according to Google Maps, though I also like to call it by the name suggested by its sign: "Not a Public Way") along the side of the Superman Building remains fenced in, which means it's no longer covered in pee, but is still failing to be the great walkable space it should become. Hopefully someone will do something about the many cool underused alley spaces in the city soon. It's really a shame not to be able to use this alley to cross from Westminster to Kennedy Plaza, when it could be like this:

As Ian Donnis noted last year when the Resolution post made his "Things to Know" list, the lack of publicly available, clean bathrooms is a real downside of downtown Providence. RIPTA facilities remain questionable, and aren't open during the evening. Perhaps City Hall's restrooms could get extended hours?
1. 6/10 Connector: While nothing is built yet, the 6/10 Connector is imminently to be rebuilt as a parkway, an iteration that isn't as bad as it could be. This is nonetheless disappointing news that earned Providence a nomination to Streetsblog's national contest for "Worst of the Year, 2016" (This happened organically, too-- I didn't ask Streetsblog to do it).

There are a bunch of projects that community members can continue to be active on related to the 6/10 Connector:

The Tobey Street ramp is being removed and the new plan has a proposed connection for local traffic there between the West Side and Olneyville. Transport Providence has called for this new bridge to be car-free, and for the city to consider abandonment of parts of Ridge Street to allow additional pedestrian space and mixed-income housing development (Two members of Providence's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission have confirmed that this proposal is being considered by the BPAC, per requests from Councilman Bryan Principe and DPW).

Transport Providence also proposes that the Dean Street ramp above DePasquale Square be removed entirely, and not replaced (the current proposal is to remove it, but replace it with a smaller-footprint ramp). The ramps on 6/10 are unnecessarily close together, and actually undermine the effectiveness of the route (this article also called for RIDOT to drop plans to widen I-95, a proposal that would worsen safety and traffic despite RIDOT's insistence to the contrary).

The crossings that are being rebuilt across the 6/10 Connector need stronger bike and pedestrian facilities. Pictures floated by Providence Planning during its public sessions were not impressive, and need work. 

Transport Providence has been covering the (lack of) response the Raimondo administration has directed to surfaced tweets by RIDOT Director Peter Alviti expressing a number of politically upsetting and/or rude thoughts about fossil fuels and presidential erections. The 6/10 Connector was when Alviti put his authoritarian management style on display for the whole state, and has not left our blog impressed with his work. We continue to call on the governor to address the controversy and look for stronger leadership for RIDOT that shows commitment to the community planning process and climate change mitigation.

Soon we will compile a list of new resolutions for 2017. Please stay tuned!


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