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Mayor Elorza Needs to Snap Joe Paolino into Reality

Please see the factual update to this article. 
East Side Monthly this month (no link yet) ran an extensive interview with former mayor and parking lot/casino aficionado Joe Paolino. One thing caught my eye especially. Joe Paolino thinks that bike lanes are the cause of the 6/10 Connector's expense. He blames Jorge Elorza pointedly, in what can only be described as a set up to run for mayor (he's been doing a lot of those lately. . . ):
I worry about the mayor's over-reliance on planners. The 6/10 changes are fine but can we afford them? The bicycles paths they brought in are underutilized and have safety and maintenance issues like the one in front of the Providence Journal building where not only is it confusing but you can't plow them.
Mayor Elorza shouldn't feel too bad: Park(ing) Day's 2014
protected bike lane was underutilized too-- because Joe
Paolino parked in it (off-screen). The other car in this shot
moved graciously when we explained the idea to them, but
Former Mayor Paolino dug in his heels. We later got a call
from staff at Mayor Taveras' office telling us not to talk to 
Paolino or the entire event would be canceled. That's how 
power works in Providence.
I once referred to Paolino-- a Clinton supporter-- as the Donald Trump of Providence, because of his intense desire to build things that will bankrupt the city and his faux-populist mission of creating umbrage about a supposed explosion of crime and delinquency in Kennedy Plaza as a way of shunting away "bus people". It seems Joe is at it again, and we need to take him seriously. Like Trump, he's full of dumb ideas, but he could come to power.

Every broken clock is right twice a day, but Joe Paolino is right only once. He calls the Fountain Street protected bike lane confusing and unsafe, and I agree. It ends by spilling into a turn lane at Fountain & Dorrance, it only goes in one direction, it doesn't have adequate bollards to keep drivers from parking in it, and so it ends up being ineffective. The plowing issue is real, but could be resolved by using snowblowers, or by making the bike lane wide enough for an ordinary plow to go down it (I suggested these changes during the planning process).

But Paolino really has some chutzpah talking about an issue he clearly doesn't understand. Like the broken clock, he's only right by accident.

The 6/10 Connector is a tremendously expensive project, but it's not because of bike infrastructure. It's not even totally clear whether RIDOT is going to include real bike infrastructure beyond paint. As someone who has looked at the plans in meetings with the WBNA and the Fix the 6/10 Group, and as part of planning meetings with RIDOT, what comes out clearly from RIDOT's renderings is that they consider a bike "path" to be merely some paint on the ground. Most of what RIDOT plans biking-wise is for show to pretend that the state is concerned about cities, but there's little substance to it. And that is why I'm glad that community groups have been meeting to push for more.

Let's be clear, even if real, Dutch-style bike infrastructure gets included in 6/10, it will be a rounding error on a rounding error of the cost. And the reason that the 6/10 Connector is so expensive is not because of Mayor Elorza-- well, it's a little his fault, but I'll get to that-- it's because of RIDOT. RIDOT insisted that the project go forward as a highway, which is much more expensive than the boulevard model the mayor and his planning department--and the public-- supported.
I am often a critic of Mayor Elorza, but I have watched Joe Paolino's demagogic rise with concern. Mayor Elorza's biggest problem is he runs with half-measures. The bike lane on Fountain Street needs to get fixed so people can't park in it. The 6/10 Connector should have been a boulevard, and probably still can become one if Mayor Elorza grows a spine and tells RIDOT and Gina Raimondo to shove it, reopening the planning process. 

Some of the "lack of parking" in downtown (the Biltmore
While we're speaking about parking in bike lanes, let me remind people of something: in 2014, candidate Jorge Elorza came out to support the city's second annual Park(ing) Day, in which a temporary protected bike lane was tried on Broadway for the day, in cooperation with local businesses and the WBNA. I was extremely stressed that day, because a certain former mayor, Joe Paolino, decided to park his car in the bike lane all day, making it useless. Joe had complained to the city (then under Mayor Taveras) that by no means would he accept a parklet in front of Paolino Properties, and we stepped out as far as we could to accommodate that. He then slapped back at us anyway. Remembering just how much of a prick Joe Paolino was that day is one of many reasons I would never want him to be mayor again.

Let's talk about expensive: Also in 2014, Joe Paolino interviewed with James Baar at the Projo, claiming that Downtown Providence was plagued by crime and a lack of parking. He called for strict policies to get rid of the homeless and the buses, something he currently is working with Gina Raimondo to accomplish. And he said that the best thing to do with Kennedy Plaza was to turn the whole thing into an underground garage. Paolino apparently didn't know that underground parking runs at $100,000 a space, and that Providence has no lack of parking available at all hours of the day and night. Maybe before telling us how expensive bike lanes are, he ought to look to some of his own past statements.

The best way for Mayor Elorza to fight back against Joe Paolino is by doubling down his efforts to make the city a progressive place. I respect many of the things the mayor tries. Now he needs to try harder. Half-measures like the 6/10 Connector or the Fountain Street Protected Parking Lane will only weaken his efforts. Joe Paolino is an idiot who happens to have lots of money. But idiots with money win sometimes, and especially if the opposition isn't clear-headed and strong. Stick it to him, Mayor. A good place to start would be a tax on those damn parking lots.

But we must stop Joe Paolino.



  1. It is clear that we have a difference of opinion on bike lanes in Providence. I believe that our current bike lanes are hazardous and creating more will not prevent someone from being seriously injured, which I worry about with the existing lanes. I understand that may be a generational difference. Additionally, I did not say that the 6/10 Connector proposal was expensive solely because of new bike lanes. In fact, we can both agree that it is simply too expensive for the city. I would also like to say that I have never parked in a bike lane. There is enough fake news going around in Washington, let’s not create more in Providence.
    - Joe Paolino

    1. For readers who might encounter this comment, I am currently attempting to verify its authenticity. I will comment below when I know if this was really Joe Paolino.

      Joe, if that is you, I have several witnesses who can attest to knocking on your door about someone from your business parking there. Paolino Properties told us to go away and that they would not move the car. I'll have to look if I still have the archived emails from the city requesting that we not put a parklet in front of your business (which we didn't).

      Park(ing) Day Providence paid thousands of dollars in permitting fees for that parking lane. It was clearly marked as off limits, and your choice to park there made the day much less successful.

      Mayor Elorza, by contrast, came out to support. I'm proud of Elorza's support, and I hope he'll double down on it by making the bike policies in the city more complete.

      Here's safety information on protected bike lanes from the National Association of City Transportation Officials: http://nacto.org/2016/07/20/high-quality-bike-facilities-increase-ridership-make-biking-safer/

      Perhaps you didn't say that bike lanes were the only thing that made 6/10 expensive, but the fact is they were not even one of a series. They are one of the least significant costs of the project, and as I said above, it's not even confirmed that RIDOT is going to follow through and do proper infrastructure. Many of their drawings indicate that they may only use paint.

    2. Former Mayor Paolino confirmed authorship of this comment this morning through his Twitter account, @joepaolinojr.