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My Five Cents on Roger Williams Park

I want to preface this by saying that I haven't been to see the updates at Roger Williams Park yet. I have read descriptions of them, and some of what I have read has led me to think that the updates are not what they should be (for instance: Really? Sharrows? Anything built as a greenway should be a protected bike lane or a bike boulevard). But the coverage of the Roger Williams Park "controversy", as the news likes to call it, doesn't clarify certain things about traffic and safety that will help the conversation to move along. So while I plan to get down to the park and actually take pictures and make critiques in the coming days, here are my five cents to start with.

There Aren't That Many Cars
First thing to know is that 130 cars an hour is not a lot of cars. To put that in context, S. Main Street gets around 25,000 a day, or about ten times as many. S. Main is often blocked down to one lane by loading vehicles, without any emergency resulting.
130 cars an hour is too many cars to be comfortable for people to bike in mixed traffic (especially at 25 mph, which is really fast for a bike), but it's not at all enough cars to warrant the kind of traffic-apocalypse news coverage that is all over Rhode Island. It's a bit more than two a minute, which is not at all too many cars for one lane of traffic to carry, and cannot possibly cause diversion even in a scenario where we assume the (ridiculous) notion that everyone who currently drives must and will continue to drive, and that all diversion from driving will take place in the form of driving somewhere else.

But As I Said, that Assumption is Ridiculous
Even if 130 cars an hour was as significant as it's made to sound, the reality is that traffic diverts in more ways than simply by going on other streets. This is a well-established fact.
We can assume that some of the people who are driving in Roger Williams Park are doing so
The Prieta Loma Earthquake brought down the
Embaracadero Freeway along with three others, but
San Franciscans chose not to rebuild.
to cut through, while others perhaps are visiting attractions in the park. But on roads that have no attractions-- highways-- we've seen sudden collapses of much larger structures not create any traffic issues. This has happened on the West Side Highway, in New York City, in San Francisco when four highways fell at once during an earthquake (and two were permanently and successfully removed), on the Harbor Drive in Portland-- Portland, you should remember, is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, but is still less dense than Providence, and was even more car-oriented in the '70s and '80s when it started to make its turnaround.


160,000 cars just disappeared. Read more.
In Seoul, South Korea, 160,000 cars used the Cheongyecheon Highway before it was removed to open up a river park. No problems. The 6/10 Connector, near Roger Williams Park, which actually does carry 100,000 vehicles a day (though not on that part), is a big cause of what traffic congestion that does exist, because it blocks the neighborhood street grid that would otherwise seamlessly connect Cranston and Providence (that is, it takes away more lanes than it adds.
Here's a Nickel for Your Thoughts
Which brings me to my five cents.


The thing to understand about cars is that they take up a lot of space. Trying to move around 250,000 people (170,000 from Providence, and 80,000 from Cranston) using just cars is kind of akin to trying to pay for a $250,000 house in rolls of nickels. Not even rolls, actually-- loose nickels. Just handfuls and handfuls of loose, unsorted nickels.

Nickels are fine. You can gather that I'm not dissing nickels. If you need change, they work. And like that, cars are good for what they're good for.
But the argument over losing a lane in the park-- one that carries hardly any cars, lets remember-- is like if you had an argument over losing a slot in your cash register full of nickels, which had been replaced by $20 bills.


Yes, some people are going to drive no matter what, but everyone doesn't need to drive, and if we can get some people on bikes, we actually save space.

Bikes and buses are like the $20 bills of the transportation world. When you're dealing with big numbers of people, you need them.

So running around with our heads cut off screaming and yelling that we're about to lose a lane of car traffic (that's being replaced by bikes) is like being angry that someone took your drawer of quarters and gave you twenties back.
 The Mayor Informed People
The Mayor's Office did inform people of this project, and the reason I know that is that I have had absolutely no involvement in the project, and very little enthusiasm for it, and I've known about it for at least a year. There's been a lot of blood spilled over the "rollout" that was supposedly sloppy, but what's sloppy is the lack of investigation most journalists seem to put into understanding the issues behind this.

This project is flawed, and what I can say is most flawed about it before even seeing it is that it's only in the park. We need more than a playground for bikes. We need this:

The unfortunate thing about a City Council and Providence media that fails time after time to do basic coverage of the revolution happening in car-free transportation is that when a timely story like this one pops up, no one around actually knows what to say about it. So when Councilors Aponte, Matos, and Castillo called recently for a traffic study to determine if the 130 cars an hour were going to flow into the South Side and create havoc, or when Mayor Allan Fung made an even bigger spectacle of himself demanding that Providence give into Cranston resident demands about a park Providence owns and pays to maintain, the stuff coming out of their press releases wasn't informed. The media just picks up something a mayor or a city councilperson says and jazzes it up with words like "controversy" without deeper research.

That's why Rhode Island is still a mess.

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