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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.



  1. North Main St. between Charles St. and Olney St. is part of a major bike route up College Hill, the route with the gentlest slope. I remember shortcutting through an apartment complex on the east side of North Main when climbing that route, because I couldn't maintain much speed on the moderate upgrade.

    Four-lane roads with narrow lanes and with no shoulders are inefficient and they lead to lots of accidents. To add to the fun, postal vehicles and others try to park right in the travel lane, on a downhill slope too, to the alarm of high-speed oncoming cars and cyclists. Restriping the existing North Main Street at this one block down to a two lane road would be inherently better.

    Sooner or later the city needs to break down and put a traffic light on the southbound part of N. Main where it crosses the northbound lane of Charles Street, right in front of a personal injury law firm, the former "Decof and Grimm". Talk about location location location. Right now two cars at a time pull up to the stop sign, so that one of the two cars is completely blind to any oncoming speeding traffic. I sometimes assume that I can sneak across behind the other car in its shadow, although that's a hazardous assumption if the first car pulls up short or takes a big acceleration past me.

    Good to meet you tonight!

  2. If every bus had a gps device, every traffic signal could see a bus moving toward the signal and could flip the light or could hold the green light until the bus passed. We need someone to program the system, we need someone to interface the software to an intelligent traffic light, and we need a regional or state authority to take a small risk on the experiment.