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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...

Mayor's Bond Passes

While away at the DNC, Mayor Elorza had a victory: his $40 million bond proposal passed through city council (it requires a second vote, and then submission to the ballot to be voted on in November). City councilors will not decide the individual projects, but moneys will be awarded evenly on a ward-by-ward basis.

One thing worth noting is that the bond priorities are not lining up with the percentage of Providence residents living without a car. While 22% of the city's residents live in a household with no car at all, just shy of 17% of transportation-related bond moneys will go to sidewalk projects, while the remainder simply goes to a catch-all streets category. One way the administration could fix this would be to put part of the streets funding ($1.3 million) to protected bike lanes. Minneapolis-Saint Paul recently dedicated $6 million to protected bike lanes, which they're flexing to create thirty miles of completely separated bike infrastructure. On our smaller budget, the city could easily connect a protected bike lane from Pawtucket to the Cranston border and also connect Olneyville Square to Downcity-- a significant leap for a city that barely has painted bike lanes, much less protected ones. Important to note is the fact that in Minneapolis the budget includes quite a lot of money towards things like signal reorganization-- creating special timed cycles to let cyclists get through-- and I'm not entirely sure those would be necessary at intersections where two lanes meet two-lanes. So we may even be able to do more for less.

Sidewalks are a really important part of a city. I'd like to see more detail on what we're spending towards on sidewalks. A big cost for cities is making sidewalks ADA compliant. You may not notice this if you can walk, but a few minutes in a wheelchair would open your eyes to the fact that many intersections still lack proper wheelchair ramps (or have them oriented in a way that makes crossing dangerous). One thing I think the city should explore is using protected bike lanes to help save on curb cuts for these ramps. If we create wide protected bike lanes, they can be used both for slower users in rascals and wheelchairs as well as more sporty ones on bikes, and the additional protection can help disabled users take advantage of (poorly placed) curb cuts that already exist. Not being a wheelchair user myself, I'd be open to hearing push-back from the community of people who are reliant on getting around that way, but here's a video that shows a bit where my thinking is coming 

Sewers are a significant part of the budget as well. I don't really know what priorities the administration has towards sewers, but people should keep in mind that the more we're able to take advantage of road diets and other de-paving projects, the less sewer overflow we'll have (and perhaps, the less budgeting we'll have to put towards those concerns). Parks funding could and should be used towards "linear parks" when possible, so as to create greenery opportunities in neighborhoods where park space might not be available. So we should be thinking about how we can look holistically at these seemingly unrelated sections of the budget and working to get them synchronized.


Gaming the System

Transportation geeks and environmentalists should unite behind a new group I've just encountered: Keep Hopkinton Country (Twitter @keepHopkinton). The group exists to fight a $12 million proposal for a 500 space parking lot and rest stop center in rural Hopkinton, just off of I-95.

Get your blood pressure meds and your yoga breath out. This is going to get you angry.

RIDOT is asking Rhode Island taxpayers to pay $3 million of the project, with another $9 million requested from the federal government. Keep Hopkinton Country offers some great arguments for why this project is a huge boondoggle at their website. Let me offer some of my own:

Hopkinton is extremely rural: around 8,000 residents living at under 200 per square mile, according to the metrics found on its Wikipedia page. It's 36 miles from Downtown Providence, when you type it into Google Maps, which any good Rhode Islander can tell you is a product of a very diagonal trip: the state at its widest point is only 37 miles wide, and that includes a lot of water in the middle. So this is boonies of the boonies territory.

With that in mind, Hopkinton clearly is not a location well served by transit. At all. Even if, by magic, 100% of rural Hopkinton-ers ditched their cars and took the bus to work (they all apparently work in Providence) everyday, this would come out to a very large amount of money spent per person for a long bus trip through otherwise fairly unpopulated territory.

On top of that, $12 million is twice the entire protected bike lane budget for the city of Minneapolis. And just to be clear on that point: the $6 million plan in Minneapolis is meant to be implemented over 10 years, so maybe I should say its twenty times the yearly protected bike lane budget. So in terms of cost-benefit for biking, this is rightly termed as the state's "most expensive bike rack" to nowhere.

What makes me so angry about this plan is that it is clearly a manipulation by RIDOT officials to support a project they started out wanting to build, rather than even an earnest mistake in the pursuit of genuinely good goals. There are times when honest people can disagree about what the best priorities are for transit and biking, but this is not one. RIDOT's process was "Hmm, let's build a giant parking lot and give a contract to our friends" and then "Hmm, where can we put the key words 'transit' and 'bike' in this plan to get the feds to give us free money?" Utterly disgusting. Fraud is the right word.

RIDOT already lost out a big grant it was hoping to use to rebuild the 6/10 Connector as a covered highway. The fact that the feds rejected that project shows that they're on to RIDOT's chicanery. Director Peter Alviti should learn his lesson and drop this project before he makes the agency look like a bunch of buffoons again.


Governor's Beach Day: So Sad & Emblematic.

Governor's Beach Day is a tradition that proceeds Governor Raimondo. Each gubernatorial administration offers free parking and free RIPTA for the day at all Rhode Island beaches as a kind of symbolic give-back to the community and a promotion of tourism throughout the state. It's the type of project that most likely happens on autopilot with little involvement of top brass, because it plays out pretty much the same way each year.

But this is a day that could really be used more effectively, so we should demand more from Gov. Raimondo.

First off, free parking is a major incentive to drive. At a time when our beaches are in great danger of being lost to climate change, and when a major cause of Rhode Island's numerous beach closures is runoff from surface parking lots, there's something really irksome about a bread-and-circus holiday each year celebrating free parking at beaches. 

While free RIPTA is nominally an equally important part of Governor's Beach Day, promotions of it tend to bury the lede on RIPTA fares, promoting only the free parking part of the event.

And if you were hoping to take advantage of the free parking, unfortunately by 10:30 in the morning it's probably full.

I don't know how you feel about most Rhode Island beaches. Perhaps you grew up here and have lots of fond memories. And most likely me badmouthing the beach amenities of the Ocean State is not a great way to get me friends and esteem. But I find most of our beaches depressing, and I don't go to them. They're surrounded by surface lots which are ugly and hot. I yearn for my childhood, when we'd go down the Jersey shore, and being at the beach meant being able to walk up and down a boardwalk, see people, buy things, play in an arcade, ride a rented bike up and down, etc. Let me put it more directly: Rhode Island beaches kind of suck (Cliff Walk at Newport notwithstanding-- that's pretty awesome). 

So why promote the thing that is most dysfunctional about our state's waterfront?

Let me be pretty blunt again. My family members are not exercise-inclined people. Like really. I don't say that to be mean to them, but I say it because people assume that I must come from some kind of effete, upper-middle class jet-set of MAML bike riders, who spent our family vacations biking up the Alps in Switzerland or something. No. My family recently visited, and there were a few times when we'd walk just a couple blocks and one of them would grab a wall and catch their breath. For them that was a lot. But growing up, I could count on all my family members to get on a bike on the boardwalk. It's one of the few places when suddenly my family started to walk and bike places consistently. Rhode Island beaches are depressing to me because they lack anything that seemed to make going to the beach special for me. And so every year, when the state has its bread-and-circus holiday around free parking, it kind of pinches me a little inside. It's just so pathetic. I mean, don't you all see that you're about to lose the beaches you have, and so much more, if you don't make a change? 

Sorry to be negative. But I hope it spurs someone to action:

*Cancel the free parking next year.
*Promote RIPTA better.
*If you want to make a generous offer with the parking funding, why not put it to the bus budget for the day so that the buses can run more frequently, or for a longer span of time? 
*Start thinking about the nice things you could have instead of surface lots next to your beaches (maybe additional dunes to promote wildlife and protect houses from flooding. Maybe walkways).

Governor's Beach Day needs to change.


Brown Daily Parking Rates Encourage Driving

I haven't been writing much because I'm in grad school-- it turns out that has made me even busier than I expected.

One big complaint I've heard while at grad school is that people have to move their cars multiple times per day not to get 2-hour parking tickets. I found this one to be a real head-scratcher, and so I checked the parking rates page to see what I could find.

I heard this complaint a lot that people couldn't get Brown parking passes, and so had to operate as if they didn't work/go to school there. Politifact James rates this a "half-true."

So, take a look at the temporary daytime rate, and then compare that to the various rates for yearly parking. The yearly rates are a much better deal. Even a yearly pass for 24-hour parking, which is the most expensive, would only cost about 80 days worth of daily parking passes (at $15 a day).

Why does this matter?

Driving is the dominant way of getting around in the United States, and people choose it as a default. It takes a leap of faith to change one's habits even a little bit. So making it expensive to park one day and ride a bike or take a bus another day punishes flexibility. It also assures that seasonal or adjunct faculty will ignore the system entirely and try to fit into 2-hour parking. I know numerous people who just make it their habit to leave in a hurry and move their car, multiple times a day, rather than deal with the parking pass system.*

Regular readers will know this, but just to repeat: paid parking is a good thing, and Brown does better at parking policy than any other university in the state. But it should change this daily/yearly gap.

One of the most successful things that Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation did to reduce employee drive-alone commuting was to institute flexible parking fees, so that employees could choose to take the bus to work most days, and bring a car on a day they might have to run off to do an errand not accessible by transit. Check it out.

People hate paying for parking-- and they're wrong. Paying for parking may suck, but not paying for parking means that (often poorer) non-drivers pay instead-- through rent, higher prices on food, or lower wages.  Most trips in the U.S. are short, so parking also is a larger share of the cost of driving for those trips than fuel, making free parking one of the biggest transportation-related causes of climate change. 

Brown shouldn't give any ground to demands to give away parking for free. But even for those of us who are happy warriors against car culture, there is wisdom to be found in the voices of befuddled drivers. 

*It's off-topic, but think about how this perversely proves how there is no shortage of parking spaces around Providence, even on the East Side during a Brown workday. Employees not only have one spot available to them, but several, and can switch from spot to spot in order to get around paying for a parking permit. It's a pain in the butt and I don't envy them, but it does show that we're not parked out. Shame that Brown decided to tear down seven houses to add a surface lot to Brook Street.