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Response to Projo Coverage of Blackstone Bike Path

Lower-quality/cropped version of Projo photo, to demonstrate imagery. Original photo by Glenn Osmundson here

Dear Editors,

I write in response to your recent coverage of biking.

Kate Bramson is one of the finest journalists you have at The Projo, but I strongly disagreed with the coverage she did in two separate articles yesterday, covering a Central Falls sexual predator on the Blackstone Bike Path.

It is very important for The Projo to cover sexual predators. Their behavior is especially dangerous to children, as the article points out. There is inherently importance to this story as it affects gender equity through the social safety we feel in public places.

However, given the extremely delicate issues-- around race, class, and non-car transportation access, as well as the looming mega-crises of infrastructure over-spending and climate change-- discussion of bike paths needs to be deeper than what The Projo provided.

Historically, when organizer George Redman button-holed political leaders to get the East Bay Bike Path built, there was considerable resistance to the path out of fear of crime. That path, like others, has actually activated a previous derelict space and made it safer. The state in the early 1990s saw the old Jamestown Bridge dismantled against the advice of the previous RIDOT chief because Conanicut islanders feared what they indelicately called "fucking Asians" who then fished on it. Considerable expense was paid to demolishing the bridge rather than creating an environmental and tourism victory because of fear of the poor and non-white.

These issues are still salient, whether in Newport where Bari Freeman and Liza Burkin have worked for years to support immigrant restaurant workers who bike, in Johnston where the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council has had to fight (with the aid of law enforcement testimony) against fears of hypothetical television-burglaries-by-bike on their path extensions, or in Governor Gina Raimondo's push earlier this year to curtail community efforts to improve quality-of-life around Olneyville's 6/10 Connector in order to appeal to white suburban mayors. Biking is an equity and racial justice issue that the Projo mis- abd under-covers.

These faces of biking and transit deserve stronger representation in the state's leading newspaper. Each week there is an extensive "Cars Journal" for readers, but this half-page, above-the-fold coverage of the Blackstone Path attack is the biggest thing I've seen on biking in years of living here. The image for the article? A woman bringing a knife to bike with, to protect herself from an imaginary crime wave built off a single blip of sexual violence (it's boyfriends and husbands, not strangers, who attack women most).

I of course know this was not at all the intention of the author. Projo coverage under Bramson has been notably less sensational and more steady-handed than other RI outlets. I've had the honor in the past of being interviewed by Kate, and when I see her name in a byline, as with your writer Patrick Anderson, I look for quality.
The Projo should do a series of follow-up articles exploring creative ways to address crime through activation of public space. Rhode Island has the lowest violent crime rate in the country, but improving feeder access to these paths through protected bike lanes would improve the job and housing access of the state's most vulnerable, while bringing "eyes on the street" to improve crime. The solutions are around, but journalists need to report on them.

The things most likely to endanger Rhode Islanders are heart disease, diabetes, pollution, and car crashes. The things most likely to lower crime are social and environmental justice. I hope The Projo will think more broadly and deeply in future coverage.

Thank you.

James Kennedy

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