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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...

Sharon Hill

Map: Red represented existing right-of-way transit. Purple represents the 113 bus, which I think could easily become BRT. The green lines represent places where protected bike lanes could be added easily.
When people ask me where I'm from, I usually say Philadelphia, and if people push me harder, I usually say "Well, Upper Darby. It's like the Pawtucket of Philadelphia." I do a lot of Upper Darby pride jokes, but maybe it's time to look to Sharon Hill, another town I lived in, as well.

Sharon Hill is another nearby trolley suburb of Philly, and recently as I've gotten talking to old friends about my times there, it's sent my mind back to what that time was like. I've been thinking lately about how easily Sharon Hill could become a bikeable place, and take advantage of its transit-oriented connections. It sits as a tiny, fairly dense borough just outside of Darby (not to be confused with Upper Darby). It's just miles from the Philadelphia border, and Darby itself is one of the densest places in the United States, with really great trolley connections into the city. Sharon Hill itself has an even better transit history. The trolley line it's on (the 102, formerly one of the Red Arrow lines), is mostly on a
right-of-way, so except for a few places where it sits in mixed traffic, it can speed people along through Delaware County to 69th Street, which has transit connections in all different directions. The R2 line (effectively the regional version of the Northeast Corridor) runs right through Sharon Hill, and the R3 (connecting Media, Swarthmore, and a bunch of other towns all the way into 30th Street Station) is all of a ten minute trolley connection away.


"Suburban" Philly housing, but of course a lot of people nationwide would cut off their left arm to have the kind of walkable bones that Philadelphia suburbs have. If we could only get a good transportation policy to connect all of that good land use!

The rowhouse is the most common Philadelphia form, even in the suburbs. Philadelphia has a lower percentage of detached single-family housing than even New York, as a region, though it also has a lower apartment percentage. This lower-middle class housing stock is missing from many regions because of exclusionary zoning, but it builds a beautiful "street wall" that makes these towns greater than they'd be if they were all detached housing. Jane Jacobs would salivate.
My family members who grew up their whole lives in Sharon Hill would boast of its past transit history, but Sharon Hill is one of these places that's really stagnated economically, and so when I lived there I had no sense of what the hell they were talking about. Just like how I thought living in Upper Darby in a rowhouse near trolley lines was normal "suburban life", I had no sense of how connected the Philly region was in Sharon Hill. Now that I live in Rhode Island, and spend all my time pining away about how to improve transit and biking here, I'm appreciative of the advantages of my old communities, and I want to help them to move along further. In fact, because the economic stagnation can be such a challenge for eastern Delaware County, transitizing and bikeifying the area should be a central goal. It could also help to relieve gentrification pressures on the city of Philadelphia itself, and to desegregate what ought to be by right a very diverse region.

The core memory that a lot of my family holds about Sharon Hill is the death of my cousin when he was just two. My Aunt Sharon and cousins were walking along Sharon Avenue when an older driver had a health issue and ran his car off the street, jumped a curb, and killed my cousin. My other cousin and aunt were severely injured. So I think that there would be quite the appetite for smart-growth in what more elitist voices would probably assume is a place not politically interested in change. Several of my uncles-- unfortunately now, a few of them have passed-- used to ride unicycles or penny-farthings to get around. The hashtag #KeepSharonHillWeird would probably trend if you got Delco people going at it, and it would probably be my father's side of the family pulling a lot of the weight on the weirdness.

MacDade Boulevard and Chester Pike are kind of the main drags through town (MacDade is technically in Collingdale, but much of Delaware County is full of tiny little continguous towns that would remind Rhode Islanders of Pawtucket, Warren, or Central Falls-- Collingdale was a block from my house, which being on the edge of Sharon Hill, can't have been more than a half-mile from the other side of town).

You can see where MacDade has been allowed to "stroad"ify.

 At the same time, this is what's left of traditional development. We take for granted the idea that everyone looks at this and immediately sees financial success, because this development pattern pays for itself, while the stroad doesn't. But I bet many people walk through this town center (or more likely, drive through it) and think not a lick about it. Note how even here, in a very much friendlier road design, the lanes are ginormous and unnecessary. This road is pretty flat for miles, until where it slopes down steeply into Darby. If you put a protected bike lane on MacDade, it would get used. I used to ride my bike on the sidewalk nearly everyday as a teenager-- just a crappy $30 bike we bought from the neighbor's garage down the street. But the biking I started doing in Sharon Hill was the first real "transportation biking" I ever did in my life. I would make it all the way out to Swarthmore, or would snake through Darby and check out the rowhouses and old shops (not a lot of great shopping in Darby-- but there could be). The segregation between someplace outright tony like Swarthmore (say "Swathmore" by the way) and someplace that people tell you not to go like Darby is due to the physical separation that all this overbuilt car infrastructure creates.

Chester Pike, which traditionally had Red Arrow trolleys on it, and now just has the 113 bus, is right at the end of the Sharon Hill trolley line (102). This is the gigantic configuration of the street, which we had to walk along, sun-drenched, as high schoolers. The trolley stop is in the background of this shot, and the reason you have cool little districts all throughout Delaware County that are walkable is because the original burst of development was all based around rail and trolley lines. As the U.S. unfolds silly little mixed-traffic streetcars-to-nowhere, Delaware County is one of the few places that still exists with right-of-way connections. That means that the trolley can get you places, and not get stuck. And that's yuge, as we'd say back heowme.
Gigantic. No one thinks this is successful, because it's not. Imagine the amount of public money that has to be shelled out in order to maintain the scant strip-mall environment that exists here. And yet, the great connection that could ferry transit riders back and forth between Philly and Chester is not there, except as a mixed-traffic bus. This road is so big it could get protected bike lanes and transit lanes, and still not have a traffic problem. And honestly, what Sharon Hill and other towns like it should vy for is to have a traffic problem. The only thing worse than congestion is no congestion.

This is where my uncle tried to set up shop with a magic business. The business did not survive. We think of the city and all its grungy hipster neighborhoods as places for cool, weird things, but actually the suburbs can often be a place of creativity too. But there's no analysis in most towns of how a cool little shop on Sharon Avenue brings in tremendous wealth with little infrastructure investment. The tax revenue from sprawl along stroads like Chester Pike probably looks impressive, but doesn't pay for itself when all the costs are taken into account. And that's before you consider things like the deaths of small children like my cousin. 

This failed magic shop was on the same block my cousin died on, back in the '80s.


Some Sharon Hill weirdness for your entertainment. #KeepSharonHillWeird


I wonder sometimes what it might mean to organize smart-growth movements in suburbs. "Suburb" of course is a very loose term that means a lot of things to a lot of people. The Sharon Hill area is a racially diverse place with walkable bones that has been completely devastated by the misdeeds of PennDOT or local planners. But it's also the type of place that could easily start making smart choices and reinvigorate itself, improving its environmental footprint and its equity/access for working-poor people.

It doesn't take magic or sleight-of-hand, just a return to traditional ways of building cities and towns.

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Becoming Self-Sustaining

Transport Providence has been your place to find news and opinion on transportation issues in the Ocean State since 2012. Now we'd like to make the blog self-sustaining, and we're asking for your help to do that.

I have written this blog as a volunteer, but I'd like to get to the point where I can make $1,000 a month on the blog. Given my generally frugal lifestyle, $1,000 a month is probably enough to sustain most of my needs until we can create deeper fundraising goals. Given that our Twitter base is more than 1,700 followers strong, I think we can pull that off. If 10% of our blog readers gave $10/month, we could make closer to $20,000 a year doing this.

What has Transport Providence done in the past five+ years? Here's a very partial list:


*We've submitted hundreds of articles on our blog and elsewhere on issues ranging from parking, to affordable housing, zoning reform, highway removal and bike infrastructure.
*We've led Jane's Walks through downtown exploring the need to connect our neighborhoods with protected bike lanes and to institute a parking lot tax.
*We've submitted testimony at the Rhode Island House and Senate Finance Committees on issues ranging from truck tolls to highway removal and the state's car tax plan.

*We've collaborated voluntarily with groups like Economic Progress RI to highlight the equity issues that face non-car owners in the Biggest Little.
*Despite hating cars, we've stood up for our immigrant neighbors in their fight for dignity and to get driver's licenses with Safer Rhodes.

*We've helped amplify the need to for drug policy reform with groups like Regulate Rhode Island, because persecuting safe drug use is a bad policy goal when our policing power could be used to create safer roads instead.

*We've crossed swords with and collaborated with the state's conservatives: despite being a stridently left-leaning voice for social justice and environmental action, Transport Providence has collaborated with voices as far to the right as
Mike Stenhouse and Justin Katz. 
*We co-organized the first two Providence Park(ing) Days, which also included in the second year the first-ever temporary protected bike lane in the state of Rhode Island.
*We collaborated on a voluntary basis with the City of Central Falls to measure streets so that then-planner Stephen Larrick could organize the creation of a protected bike lane on Washington Street.
*We've cross-published at RI Future, Eco RI, Greater City Providence, and other respectable Ocean State publications, bringing major stories to light like the 6/10 Connector boulevard effort. 
*We've brought national coverage of issues in Rhode Island to Streetsblog, Strong Towns, the Urbanophile, and other outlets, all free-of-charge.
*We've fought to bring forward ideas that no one else cares about, and we've succeeded in changing the dialogue from a one-sided echo-chamber to a two-sided debate on issues like the Jaguar Tax Cut.
*Transport Providence took submissions from then-candidate Jorge Elorza and
his opponent Brett Smiley to push them to be accountable on transportation issues.
The Transport Providence endorsement, Elorza, promised significant parking reform and protected bike lanes, and today Transport Providence can boast that Providence has its first protected bike lane. In fact, collaborations between Transport Providence media coverage and local activist-father Jeff Leary of Cranston made it possible to turn the lane from being a protected parking lane to a protected bike lane.
*Transport Providence is pushing candidates Nirva LaFortune, Mark Santow, David Lallier, and Daniel Chaika to take on transportation projects to improve Ward 3 after Kevin Jackson's ouster in the recall election.
*Transport Providence submitted original research on the death of blog-friend Mark Baumer, which Baumer's parents described as some of the deepest coverage that his death received worldwide. The blog recently collaborated with the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund to lead a walk honoring Baumer's first day across-country. 
*Who else but Transport Providence would offer you up-to-the-minute live-tweeting of the empty parking garages and full buses at PVD Fest? Where else could you count on to push the city to improve the bad design of bike infrastructure it's put down?
Transport Providence is often the only institution in the state pushing for a transportation system that works for all of us. Over the years, I've heard many of you say that you feel the blog has "changed the conversation" on transportation in Rhode Island. We need to accelerate that change. Help us to make the blog a self-sustaining job instead of an extensive hobby. You can donate at PayPal using the email james.p.kennedy@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for your support! 

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Ward 3 Transportation Survey


I sent these questions to Ward 3 front-running candidates Nirva LaFortune and Mark Santow earlier in the campaign, and recently updated candidates Daniel Chaika and David Lallier as well. Both LaFortune and Santow have written me emails and expressed in person that they intend to give full responses to these questions. I haven't heard back from Chaika or Lallier yet, but I think they deserve a grace period since I gave the other two candidates a head start. 

All candidates are welcome to cheat by reading the blog. A lot of our recent posts have been Ward 3 related.

Questions for Ward 3

1. Where do you see the ward, and the city more broadly, adding
protected bike lanes in the coming years? If you had 25 miles of protected bike lanes to distribute throughout the city, where would they go?

2. Are there places where you would put
neighborhood greenways to improve walkability and bikeability for children, the disabled, and the elderly? Where would they go, in your opinion?

3. What will your candidacy do to move the city closer to repealing exclusionary zoning like
parking minimums, R1 and R1A zones, and anti-student housing provisions? 

4. The city charges a much
higher tax rate on apartment dwellers than homeowners. Will you challenge that to promote affordable housing?

5. What are the top three things you'd like to see improved about RIPTA service in the city? Are there particular routes you use or have used, and what is most frustrating or exciting about the way RIPTA runs?

6. Our blog has proposed a
parking lot tax for a number of years, which would help raise funds to lower property taxes, and could help promote better land use and address climate change. The econ. on this supports the idea that wealthy parking landlords like Joe Paolino would have to eat the tax, rather than commuters.

7. I presume you both support immigrant licenses and will push the state to address that (Yay!).

8. Our blog has stood out for
pushing against the notion of lowering the car tax, especially in upper brackets-- what we have called "the Jaguar Tax Cut". This is a state issue, but one which city officials have commented on. Where would you stand? (Here's an Economic Progress RI report supporting our position).

 9. What can we do to make it easier to allow people to put affordable housing in their unused driveways?

10. How can we address the fissure that I-95 poses to connectivity between neighborhoods in the short- and long-term?


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Put the Fountain Back in Fountain Street

"Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
 
--Jesus
  
Providence's streets are currently a place for the strong of will-- those who can out-pedal or out-run a car-- or who have a car-- are the ones who feel most comfortable on the street. But instead the city needs to take a bold look at its misuse of public space, so that the meek can inherit the earth (Well, at least the city. Let's not get carried away. . .).

I've been contrasting the great job that Providence Planning and Mayor Elorza did on fixing the protected bike lane on Fountain Street with the outright shitty job that has been done on the next street over, Sabin. But looking at the area and taking pictures as I waited for the library to open and write this post made me even more aware of the whole neighborhood network, and how to make that network click together into a total system.
Fountain Street is as yet not a very well used protected bike lane, and clearly that is because it begins and ends and busy streets full of cars, trucks, and buses, and only goes in one direction (Yes! One direction! Really!).
Fixing the Whole Thing
There's a lot else that's done wrong here. Sabin Street's death-trap, right-hook bike lane is even shorter than the 0.3 miles that Fountain Street's takes up, because according to statements by Providence Planning's Bob Azar at BPAC, the Rhode Island Convention Center objected to the loss of parking spots in front of the center, and the city folded (Azar cornered me at a meeting once many months later to tell me that he "misspoke" on that issue, and you can take that for whatever you take it as, but to me what that says is someone in the city above Azar didn't like that he spoke frankly and told him to shut-up).
 
The way that space is used here is overwhelmingly pointing towards the need to reduce the space given to cars, but the design is very much the opposite.

Sharrows Mean Death
The Broadway door-zone bike lane comes across I-95 as sharrows on a four-lane stroad-bridge. The four lanes are entirely there for the use of highway entry and exit, because neither Broadway nor the streets further down have four lanes. It's a giant car space that is used principally for half an hour in the morning and the evening as a the receptacle of traffic jams, and then left open to speeding the rest of the day and night.
 
The sharrows require that a cyclist be brave enough or crazy enough to bike in front of drivers in the same lane, then cross the slipway off of Service Road 7 to get to a painted bike lane on the other side of traffic. This sharrow lane should be entirely for bikes. The slipway should not exist. The bike lane that is currently there should be extended as more sidewalk space with trees.
 
This slipway needs to disappear, like yesterday.
Two-way Traffic
 
Sabin and Fountain should both be two lanes of two-way traffic. The north parking lane on Fountain needs to become a protected bike lane headed west, and Fountain should lose a parking lane and a travel lane each to created protected bike lanes in both directions. They should not be anemic and narrow like the ones that currently exist on Sabin, but should be built to Dutch design standards.

The most active space in the whole area is this skate-park. (If you want to weird people out, stand on a bench and take pictures of people sitting). The worker who was fixing things in the theater said that theater owners talk very actively about how much the skaters keep this park clean and orderly. Their presence makes the city a better place. Otherwise this would be a parking lot or worse.

Closing (Well, Opening. . . ) Empire Between Sabin & Fountain
Two-way traffic patterns and protected bike lanes would facilitate opening the block of street in front of the Hasbro headquarters (and whehhh the fiahh station use-ter-be) to either additional development or garden space. The bike lanes would be allowed to traverse the space, but the car traffic would not be allowed to, in a "filtered permeability" style. I'm torn on whether the currently under-used POPS in front of Hasbro should stay a POPS or would be better as more building space, but opening this space up could give a lot of creative options, since there is a lot of land here.

Put in a Fountain

What if we put a fountain in the center of the intersection at Fountain & Empire, and created a roundabout?

It's Fountain Street, right? Fountain Street's drivers should be allowed to come in-and-out in both directions, but at the end of the street there should be a roundabout cul-de-saquing* car traffic. The block in between the library and Trinity Repertory would also be better used for something other than cars. Both of these blocks get really open sun because of where they're placed, and could be the site of very successful garden spaces for library and theater patrons to sit in. They could add to the restaurant life on the next block of Empire (which I think should stay open to cars and buses since it carries major routes like the R-Line).

Rhode Island has lots of small rotaries with statues and fountains in them, and they work very well. Providence should adopt some more of these. They don't have to be gigantic. They should be small enough to essentially carry through the bike traffic and allow for people to walk around.

I just finally learned how to properly embed these maps into the site, so here's a map. The red like represents the main through-route for transit and cars (basically the R-Line route). The green represents areas that have lost car lanes to bike lanes, and gone to two-way traffic from one-way traffic. The blue represents filtered permeability on Empire Street. The magenta is places that could be redeveloped along this route.

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Old Ideas #3: Car-free Barbara Leonard Way

Barbara Leonard was a state-level Republican politician who ran for governor unsuccessfully. She was from Newport, not Providence, but she has a small bridge over I-95 named after her, called Barbara Leonard Way. 

Barbara Leonard is someone whose importance I haven't been able to figure out, beyond that (please comment, though! I'm sure some old-timers know.). But her bridge is an important crossing for a lot of reasons, and should get attention from the city, and from Ward 3 candidates.

The Rochambeau Library computers have programming to let me do screenshots and draw on things, which the downtown ones don't, so this post will have better visuals than some of my recent ones. :-)

Barbara Leonard Way is a completely ignored stretch of bridge in Providence, but its namesake could be better honored if it was made a community connection to re-knit Mt. Hope together. 
Barbara Leonard Way is the sole lifeline between most of Mt. Hope on the eastern side of I-95, and the rest of it (which you would assume was part of the Charles Street/Wanskuck neighborhood if you didn't know the history of black-neighborhood removal that happened when I-95 was built).

The main reason that Barbara Leonard Way is so important is that it doesn't have any on- or off-ramps to the highway. It's a gigantic crossing with very few cars using it, but because it's gigantic, the few that do use it sometimes speed. It's also pretty desolate, because of its location over the highway. If you happen to be inclined, you can walk on over there-- it almost lines up with Jenkins Street (not Jenkes). I can't find the post I did about this, but I believe I had pictures of some dumped couches and garbage on the bridge. Even with all the couches down, it was yuge.

What if we made Barbara Leonard way a car-free crossing? We could activate it by taking away a lot of the width for raised bed planters, and encourage people to use those planters to grow vegetables or flowers. That would reduce the chances that the bridge would get trash dumped on it. Cars and trucks that had to do deliveries could still access all the businesses, like the U.S. Post Office, through Charles Street (Charles should get a protected bike lane, but that's another story for another day). 

The reason this would also be a great way to do things is that by created a filtered permeability connection, we'd not need to rebuild the bridge or add anything expensive. We'd in fact be reducing wear on a bridge that is already built, by removing heavy vehicle traffic over it. So this would be a cost-saving project, which would encourage connections across I-95, until someday we can take the bold step of removing the highway entirely.


It would look like this (you can't modify the width of the gardens, because Streetmix.net assumes you're not modifying a bridge, but a regular street, but you get the idea):

Note that while the usual goal would be to avoid having cars enter or exit this way at all, the grass strips and curbs could be made in dimensions that would allow emergency vehicle access if desired.
This is not an unprecedented idea, in that it mirrors the efforts to make crossing I-195 nicer into India Point Park. 

A final idea that would make this crossing more active would be putting bike-share stations at the R-Line and 51 bus stops on N. Main and Charles Streets. The bike share bikes could help workers in the industrial park connect off of buses. By making the bus a useful option for commuting, much more of this valuable land could be developed, instead of being used for parking (the exception is probably the Post Office, which needs a lot of parking for its trucks no matter what).

I can't make my screenshots perfectly exact, but these are roughly equal squares of neighborhood as-the-bird-sees-it, and you can see how much land is wasted in the industrial park:



One of my housemates, a Chinese immigrant in her fifties, rides her bike or walks to work at a chain business that is on the other side of this highway. Certainly one of the things we could do to protect the lives of working class Rhode Islanders would be to make their commutes for work safe.

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Old Ideas Revamped #2: Connect Highland & Camp

I'm revisiting old ideas that didn't go anywhere, and one of them is connecting Highland and Camp streets. I actually can't find the article-- maybe it was just a Tweet-thread?-- but at some point I suggested that these two streets should become one, and even went (I think?) as far as emailing the Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission about it with maps.
 
[Here's where I was going to put that slow R & B hit "When Two Become One", but damn it if I can't find it, and the Spice Girls song by the same name keeps coming up. . . Drats! Seems symbolic! By the way, who sings that song? Bonus commenter points for helping me figure that out.]

One of the ideas put forward  by neighbors multiple times in multiple different ways at last night's Ward Three Un-Debate was the idea that Summit and Mt. Hope are separated from one another, despite being close to each other physically and in the same ward. A lot of this obviously has to do with deeper systemic problems like racism that can't be fixed only by urban planning, and neighbors proposed some really smart solutions like having community dinners (Woot! Antonia Soares!) that intentionally put black, white, and Latino (etc.)neighbors in the same room together, and putting more onus on wealthier sections of the ward to help pay for services of less wealthy parts.

As a Mt. Hope resident, I also see room for physically connecting the neighborhoods better. The disconnection between Highland and Camp is a physical barrier, especially because the crossing there would be relatively flat, but going between them any other way means traversing a steep hill.
 
The idea is already getting some support from the Highland side. :-)
Yes! When I lived on Sixth I cut through there all the time. Hopped the fence if on foot, used the apt bldgdriveway if on bike.
— Thomas Nosal(@TomGNosal) June 16, 2017
 
I thought the little dead parking lot between the two streets was a Miriam property, but I've been informed that I was wrong. It belongs to the Army. So that could either spell death for the idea, or-- who knows?-- maybe the Army will turn out to be a great progressive leader (sometimes it does that).
 
Now c'mon, karaoke style! Everyone! When two become onnnnnnne. . .
 
In addition to desegregating a major walkway, we could also start thinking about transit connections. These streets are technically a block away from both the 1 and the RLine, but the hilliness has an impact on people's use of the buses if where they're going is uphill (and even it's downhill, it's uphill on the way back). Some of the neighborhoods that this bus could pass through are fairly dense, while others are less so, but Brown and Miriam are two major employment centers that connect the two.
 
An additional issue people brought up is the idea that Camp Street needs more business growth, and I think this could help a lot.
 
The lower part of Benefit Street has always struck me as a place that needs better transit. It is also up a steep hill, but because the buses usually use the tunnel to get to Brown, there's no connection for the lower half (the upper half could maybe backtrack off of the R-Line). So this bus route could actually avoid the snag at the Brown green by starting at Wickenden, going up Benefit, then turning up the hill (probably at Waterman) and turning again to follow Brown/Camp/Highland. I kept the route short because shorter routes are easier to "pulse" and create transfers, but we could also think of extending this route south into the South Side. If we ever decided to create Cyprus/Branch or Wickenden/Point bus lines, they could make useful interchanges with it.
 
I made a map.
 
I'd like to see Providence use filtered permeability to make Camp less of a through-way for cars, while prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and buses. Since the green on Brown is already a kind of filter for cars, we'd just have to add to the filters every several blocks. One at Olney, Doyle, Cyprus, Rochambeau, and then at the Army parking lot (which would be a street).
 
 
The fancier version of this with rising bollards would probably be needed for buses, but in the interim we could also try making this an acceptable bike route (again, for the ideal of helping people avoid hills). Using the lower-tech version of the filtered permeability, with the hand-gates, could help a lot at lower cost.
 
~~~~
 

Revisiting Old Ideas: When in Rome

A longtime Philadelphia resident, Mayor Ignazio Marino learned how to live
without a car while in the U.S., and brought back his ideas to Rome, which is
apparently a surprisingly car-oriented city. He closed the Via dei Fori Imperiali,
which was a fascist pipedream of Benito Mussolini, and created an open-air
pedestrian and bike atmosphere. We could do this too. Hat-tip to Mister N'orester.
I thought I'd do some searching into the archive for ideas that I've already talked about, but which could maybe use a revisit. Mayor Elorza's recent initiative to make Roger Williams Park safer for bicyclists and pedestrians raised some temporary kerfuffle, but it's looking more and more like the evidence is weighing in the mayor's favor. Hopefully we'll see that become a positive precedent to build on as we look to create a citywide bike network using travel and parking lanes.
I live closer to North Main and have become more concerned with it as a result. I'm surprised all the time by how many people I see biking up the hill between the Main/Charles split and Whole Foods, and I wonder if it's because the grade is less severe than the other ways of getting up that way. So the more I think about N. Main, the more I think it's a really important place to create bikeability.

I wrote this piece back in 2014 asking whether we could learn from Rome and do better with N. Main Street. I want to put that idea back on the table.

The idea is to close off either Randall Street, or the snippet of N. Main from Charles to Olney, and only allow buses and bikes up the closed portion. Cars would circumnavigate the other way.

The distances between these two are actually pretty similar. And the grades differ slightly, but not enough to matter which one is used.


I personally favor closing the N. Main snippet. My reasoning is that 1) that's where the R-Line already goes, and 2) I think as a north-south corridor this would be the main route, and you want to limit the amount of turning people on bikes have to do to limit crashes.

I think this plan of closing a small portion of N. Main is a great idea. And why? As a driver trying to get between the lower and upper part of Main Street, you don't really add any length to your trip going the Randall way. We could organize the signals on Main Street to allow the bus to power through every fifteen minutes when it comes by, reducing traffic, but otherwise we could just give normal signal back-and-forth between the other directions in the Randall-Main/Randall-Charles intersections. So drivers lose nothing.

Bicyclists and bus riders gain a lot. We could take two lanes of the four for bikes, and use one of the lanes for greenery separating bike riders from the bus lanes. The other two lanes could be for the buses. If we wanted to add some power to the bus trip, we could take a little less than one-full-lane for the bike divider, so that we could put a little divider between the two buses. That way they're not powering at each other directly, and can speed along without head-on collision risk. It would look like this:



Creating little snippets of advantage for buses really helps speed things along. The signal priority and short span of bus-only lanes could give buses an advantage coming either way on one of the busiest and highest-potential-ridership-growth bus lines (connecting Pawtucket, the East Side, Downtown, and the South Side, all the way to Cranston). 

Further up the street, N. Main widens out, and could get protected bike lanes without losing travel lanes. So it would keep its four-lanes for cars alignment, and parking lanes would go to bike lanes. Buses would ride in mixed traffic.

Probably creating some kind of signal priority for the bus coming across to Main Street from the train station, and coming down Canal Street to the train station, would help as well. It might make sense to make S. Main and the Lower part of N. Main before the hill two-way for cars, and do the same bike-bus-only arrangement on Canal. Bikes could continue through that little snippet of road connecting Steeple and Waterman, and go right down Waterplace Park to S. Water Street (where I think some space should be taken from the uncongested roadway for bikes as well). 

But the start of this would be looking just at this tiny snippet, 0.4 mile long.

~~~~

Brown Serves Me

I haven't felt well-served by Brown University, but today I was definitely served something.

I received a call from Brown University Police Department asking if I had any comment on the "incident" that had occurred on campus a few weeks ago. Not knowing what "incident" the police were asking about, I asked them to go into more detail, and they declined. The officer I spoke to at the time, an Officer Remka, said that he wanted to come by my house to talk to me about it. He said I wouldn't be arrested. I gave him my address and waited.  


My housemate was leaving on her bicycle to go to work, and so I was home alone. Because of the way that Brown University has sought to portray me, I was concerned about how this incident might escalate if I wasn't careful. I called two friends to let them know that this was happening, and one of the friends suggested that I record the incident.


Here is the recording. Officer Remka acted professionally, but did not appreciate being filmed and said as much. I offered several times to discuss the issues, but Officer Remka declined.


Background
On May 27th, I had an appointment at Health Services with CAPS, the campus counseling service, which I've been seeing weekly since February to deal with the hostile situation I encountered at my student-teaching placement (among other things, I walked in on my mentor teacher having sex with another teacher, who he referred openly to as his "work wife"). The May 27th meeting with my last CAPS appointment.

I encountered Dean Andrew Campbell on the sidewalk near the main green, about a block away from where my appointment was. I introduced myself to him (he knew me through email only) and asked if we could please set up a meeting to discuss my expulsion from the university. He gave me the name of his office assistant, who I emailed that day. Here is the email:
  

Now, why Brown University would feel the need to ban me from the campus for this, other than to send a message of power, is beyond me. 

As Officer Remka stated, this ban includes locations like the Brown Bookstore, so if anyone wants to get coffee with me, we'll have to meet somewhere else. I haven't gotten the full map that was promised, but I imagine I'm not allowed to go to things like the Ladd Observatory, or attend Brown lectures, or eat (or work) in any restaurant or cafe whose premises are owned by Brown. 

I will challenge this through the appeals process, but nothing about the Brown "appeals process" strikes me as open, or likely to succeed. I was technically expelled through a graduate committee, which included as one of its members the person who was making the accusations against me, and which did not allow me to attend, testify, or see and challenge evidence. I received the right to "appeal" my expulsion by having it summarily rejected without getting the chance to meet with anyone about it. We'll see if this is any different.

As a matter of fact, though I attended the graduation ceremonies for my cohort, I encountered security quite often (usually to ask them for directions) and never had a problem. I have never previously been served with anything that said I should not appear on campus, though the last time I was on campus was to use the computers to publish my open letter to President Paxson. I have since started using Providence Public Library computers.

I guess getting banned from campuses happens to the best of us. 

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Why RIPEC is Wrong to Focus on the Car Tax

"The tears of the world are of a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere another stops. The same is true of the laugh."
                                                                   
                                                                                             --Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
 
I've been covering the Jaguar Tax Cut proposed by Speaker Mattiello for quite some time, and I've covered quite a lot of angles on it. One angle I haven't covered closely is the notion that we need to adjust the car tax because it's more of an outlier than other taxes in Rhode Island.

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the opportunity costs of lowering the car tax: we may be more of an outlier on car taxes than other taxes, but that's a good thing. Why not lower another tax on something we actually want to grow?
Rhode Island does have the #1 car tax in the country (#1 like "We're Number 1! We're Number 1!"). We seem to be the only state coming close to making driving pay its true costs. That's a good thing, and we should keep it: for equity, for the environment, and for our budget. We have the best car tax, not the worst car tax, and though we should make changes to it-- like having a "one state, one rate" equalization between municipalities-- we should not be changing the overall effective car tax rate. 
But what about this idea that the car tax, being so much higher than our neighbors, causes people to leave? This argument doesn't make sense, when it's examined.
 
Rhode Island's overall property tax levels are considered high across the board, even though car tax is the highest. Here's what RIPEC, on the opposite side of the issue, has to say about property tax climate in Rhode Island:
Property taxes remained the largest driver of the overall tax burden in the state, accounting for 44.6 percent of all FY 2014 tax revenues in Rhode Island. By contrast, in the U.S. as a whole, property taxes only accounted for 31.3 percent of total state and local tax revenues.  The state’s property tax burden remained among the highest in the country in FY 2014, ranking fifth highest as a share of personal income and seventh highest per capita. Nominal property tax collections continued to grow in Rhode Island between FY 2004 and FY 2014, increasing by 38.4 percent. Reliance on the property tax also increased over the same ten year period – property taxes as a share of total tax revenues increased by 2.8 percentage points, from 41.9 percent in FY 2004 to 44.6 percent in FY 2014.
RIPEC's John C. Simmons was among the people who came to speak for the Jaguar Tax Cut last night at the Senate Finance Committee, arguing that because the car tax is an outlier, it should be the priority target for adjustment. But that logic doesn't make sense: people live in houses and apartments (with a few exceptions, but almost none of those by choice). If they own a car, it's parked at the place they live. Lowering property taxes on real estate, or lowering regressive taxes like the state sales tax (at 7%, quite high) are also ways to attract people to the state. If you give someone $100 back in car tax, it's not any more enticing to them than $100 in real estate tax cuts, or $100 in income tax cuts, or any other $100 tax cut. And the people that receive these tax cuts bring their cars with them.
 
Unless they don't, of course. One of the key reasons we should keep a high car tax is that we don't actually want people to drive. It's fine if they do-- that's their choice-- but we want to make sure they pay for the full costs of it when they do. We certainly don't want driving to be a growth sector of the economy. When you look to places that are successful from both a market growth perspective, an equity perspective, and an environmental perspective, one of the key metrics these places have is a high charge on auto use. Those high charges, like Denmark's 180% excise tax on cars, allow for healthy social spending (though not higher than the U.S.'s spending, better spent. High car taxes mean lower healthcare costs and transportation infrastructure costs, like in Germany. It means focused smart growth in the parts of the economy that make us happy-- going out to a restaurant, sitting in a nice park, having a nicer house, or more time with our family-- instead of the parts of the economy that just grow carcinogenically due to induced demand.
 
The RI Senate Finance Committee seemed open to the idea of considering opportunity costs of this giant tax cut. It should do that. Even if Rhode Islanders' property taxes on housing were middle-of-the-pack compared to their tax on driving, we'd do better to develop healthy housing upkeep in the state than to subsidize climate change and inequality. This is especially true since many communities rightly worry that their real estate property taxes would go up if the state doesn't come up with a way to pay for this deficit spending.
 
We can't get rid of the expenses of driving by hiding them. That's unfortunately what most of the U.S. does. We should be proud that Rhode Island is doing something right, and should work to fix the kinks in that system rather than abandoning it. Let's keep the car tax.
 
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