Bike lanes on Blackstone Blvd: Part 2



Bike lanes on Blackstone Blvd: Part 2

Blackstone BoulevardThe first Boulevard bike lane striping entry on this website attracted far more comments – pro and con – than any other topic that has ever appeared on this site. So it wasn’t terribly surprising that the public meeting, held Monday March 3 at School One, was well attended.

However, despite memories of a rancorous meeting on the same topic some 7 years ago being fresh in many minds, this one was respectful, smooth, and civil.

I estimate that 40-50 people were there, and while not everyone elected to speak, many did. Also in attendance were John Nickelson (Prov DPW), Lambri Zerva (RIDOT engineer), Scott D’Amelio (VHB, the consulting engineer), Cliff Wood (City Council), Lts Schiavulli and Ryan of the City Police Dept., and Alix Ogden (Director, Providence parks Dept.). The meeting was led by city planner Melanie Jewett.

Most speakers were in favor of removing an automobile lane and replacing it with a bike lane. Those opposed to the bike lane were heard clearly. Their concerns were generally related to the viability of roadway narrowing as a traffic calming method, and the perceived vs. actual safety of a bicycle lane.

Those who spoke in favor of the proposal – the majority of speakers, and attendees – included those speaking on behalf of Summit Neighborhood Association and Blackstone Parks Conservancy. There were also a number of eloquent speakers from the Providence Bicycle Coalition and Take Back the Boulevard.

All in all, it was quite clear to the officials in attendance that the proposed changes are desired. Melanie told the attendees that the work would be done this spring.

Speakers asked the City to revise the plan in one specific way. The VHB plan calls for a 9′ parking lane, 6′ bike lane, 14′ car lane, and 3′ shoulder. We want to see the car lane narrowed by 3 feet or so, more in line with that to be expected on a residential street, and less like the lane width you’d find on I-95. The City and VHB now need to determine where to stick those extra ~3 feet: wider shoulder against the median? enhanced buffer between the car lane and the bike lane? When the plan is finalized, the results will be posted on this site.


  • Jen Parks
    Mar 4, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I was impressed by the attendance and enthusiasm at last night's meeting at school one. I'm relatively new to Providence, and not a resident of the neighborhood surrounding blackstone blvd., however, as an avid bicycle commuter and supporter of improving the safety, image, and overall experience of city bicycle riders of every ilk, it was important to me to be able to participate in the meeting and speak about my experiences as a commuter in an incredibly bike-friendly city, Portland, OR. In my experience, that even though bike lanes don't solve all the safety problems that bicyclists face while riding on busy city streets, one thing they definitely do is give a clear, visual message to drivers (and the bicyclists themselves), that cycling is permitted and encouraged on that particular street. and a city with bike lanes is inevitably, eventually, going to become a little more bike-friendly just by virtue of those lanes. Of course, this is just a baby step – much more will need to happen before providence is going to be considered bike-friendly – but, as many of the people who spoke at last night's meeting said, we need to take baby steps before we can run full speed!

  • Bruce
    Mar 5, 2008 at 4:16 am

    For Pete's sake this is Providence not Portland. An entirely different mindset, city plan (250 years old) and population. I’ve lived here for 43 years and cycled on the Boulevard for 28 of them.

    This plan is going through just because the well to do on the East Side want traffic slowed. How many of the attendees still think it's for their precious snowflakes to rollerblade in?

    Bike safety on the Boulevard will be pummeled.

    Jack Madden, Geoff Williams, and Howard (I wrote Short Bike Rides in Rhode Island and know every cyclable inch of the north east by heart) Stone are all extremely experienced cyclists. All see this as a bad plan. I am unwilling to quietly accept being a living speed bump for the Providence haves.

  • Geoff
    Mar 5, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Real safety vs perceived safety.

    The first is impossible to achieve on a bike. The second will get you killed or in the hospital.

    Bike lanes tend to do the latter.

    The lack of addressing the transit issues. The lack of how the heck residents are going to cross the bike lane (i'll wager 100% of them will merge into the bike lane before entering or leaving their driveway instead of turning across it).

    The opposition was from people who've ridden their whole life.

    That Geoff Williams guy Bruce mentioned (wait that's me) has commuted for years in Seattle, WA, and Lansing, MI and ridden around plenty of other cities. And now for years in Providence. PVD is not PDX and never will be. We can still be a great cycling city.

    Not like Portland though.

    The best model we can follow is Rome.

    Cars in PVD are brilliantly predictable. Always ALWAYS pulling the illegal left hand turn (and people are worried about cyclists running red lights and stop signs), rolling stop signs, not to mention speeding.

    Is a traffic violation different if you are going 45 in a 25 or you roll through a stop sign?

    The issue for blackstone is more how to control speeds. Slow the speeds down and there is no need for a bike lane. None. Slow the speeds down and cyclists are safe there. And residents are safe there.

    Literally every time I drive up and down the BLVD I set the cruise control at 26-7 mph (speedometer variation – actual speed IIRC is about 25). And man alive do people go flying past.

    Not just people trying to get through. But residents. People who zip past me and then park the car to get out and walk/run along there.

    Fix the speed problem.

    Put a bike PATH in down the middle. Like the East Bay Bike Path.

    Bike lanes CAN work. But the meeting made it completely clear. People don't want the bike path. They want a quite slow street back and are exploiting cyclists and the impression that a bike lane will give them what they want.

    I took a handful of pages of notes and will try and get my impression of the meeting written up some what soon.

    Most people who cycle around here also drive. Do you want to make this state safer for cyclists?

    DRIVE THE SPEED LIMIT ALL THE TIME. Well at least when you aren't on the Interstate.

  • Don Rogers
    Mar 5, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    To be clear:

    Some of us feel strongly that a cyclist belongs in the standard traveled way and needs no special segregated space such as a bike lane. Part of our (or at least my) argument for this is that the traveled way allows for the most flexible use of the road space by all vehicles at all times regardless of vehicle class. Further, the traveled way is swept clear of debris by motor traffic, it's where motorists are looking for other vehicles, and it's where the city is most likely to maintain reasonable pavement conditions. None of this is true of bike lanes.

    There will always be the possibility that broken pavement, road debris, turning traffic, stray pedestrians, wrong-way cyclists, errant parked vehicles, the need to turn left, or other conditions make a position in the bike lane at least temporarily unsafe or unsuitable. At such times, the only correct position to ride will be within the single travel lane. Because of the mere existence of the bike lane, some motorists are likely to resent this incursion into their segregated space, but regardless it is still the legal and safe choice to leave the bike lane in such conditions.

    But you suggest taking the travel lane, now designed at 14 feet, and pulling 3 critical feet out of it and giving it to the lefthand shoulder? Or a 'buffer' between travel lane and bike lane (how would that work exactly)?

    In a travel lane of 14 feet, there is room for any cyclist who has to leave the bike lane to share that travel lane with motor vehicles, though of course *much* less comfortably and safely than with the pre-existing two travel lanes before the bike lane goes in. But if you take away those 3 feet and reduce it to 11, then this is not the case and a cyclist that has to leave the bike lane must take the travel lane entirely. And what effect will this have in motorist/cyclist relations? I don't think it will be a positive one. Do you?

    All too often, when bicycle facilities are designed, they are designed with a lot of assumptions of what cyclists want, what families want, what neighborhoods want, what politicians want. The design is built on aesthetic principles, towards satisfying a desire for comfort and convenience and a picturesque scene. But these are transportation facilities we're ostensibly talking about. They need to be designed for consistency, predictability, and *safety*. Comfort is not safety. Convenience is not safety. Safety in transportation comes from sound engineering principles, not warm and fuzzy social ideas.

    VHB is an engineering firm, and a pretty good one. Please do not set the trap of pressuring them to surrender their skills and credentials to satisfy aesthetics and politics. Let them do their job. Trust their specifications. Leave those of us who actually want to use our bicycles as vehicles the space to do so when necessary.

    Keep all of those 14 feet in the travel lane.

  • Mar 13, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I came to this post by a complicated series of conversations and this comment is the body of a response I sent to the Melanie A. Jewett, AICP, Principal Planner, City of Providence. My apologies for the awkwardness of the cut and paste.

    / / / / /

    Thank you for getting in touch with me! Cliff has also forwarded 10% scale plans and your March 10th Notes. I've been down sick for the last few days. I am sorry for seeming unresponsive.

    I live two blocks off of the Boulevard and use it every day as a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver. For most of my life I've ridden recreationally and as a commuter, in urban and rural environments around the country. I have also ridden as a messenger in Boston. This has given me the opportunity to see and road test the intersection of policy and road culture in a few different combinations. I would be happy to talk to you or anyone else in person in greater detail about this, but in general I believe that painted bike lanes do more harm than good.

    Reading through the meeting notes I see that many of the points I would raise have been mentioned so you have my apologies for any repetition but I'd like to address or reenforce a few of the statements in those notes.

    * First I don't believe that cyclists are for traffic calming. Cyclists _are_ traffic. I believe that this may be a semantic disagreement but it sounds a bit like charging off the curb with a baby stroller out front to make cars stop for you. If speed is a problem (and I believe it is), then it needs to be addressed through enforcement of existing limits.

    * Anecdotally I believe that the painted lanes have actually increased speeding on the Boulevard. I would be interested to hear any metrics that the Police have to support or refute this. Crosswalks were added at the same time and I have only rarely seen them cause a car to stop for a pedestrian waiting to cross.

    * I have ridden in cities with and without lanes and paths and believe that the safety of bike lanes is, at best, largely illusory. The net effect seems to mostly be a constraint on the behavior of cyclists not motorists. Bike lanes create the perception that the lane is the _only_ place that cyclists should be. In my experience, this leads to more antagonism between drivers and cyclists than in places where the unmarked lanes make it obvious that everyone is sharing the same road. This is especially bad where cyclists and drivers need to change sides of the road make a turn off the marked route. Bike lanes do not empower cyclists to be on the road, they segregate them into specific paths and reenforce uneducated drivers' perception that cyclists are second-class users of the roads.

    * Rumble strips to separate the lanes were mentioned. This is awful for cyclists who have to cross them to enter or exit the lane. They also collect sand and glass and generally seem like they would hinder street sweeping.

    * Bike lanes are typically located right next to the parking lane. In more urban environments the greatest dangers to cyclists are suddenly opened car doors and pedestrians darting from between parked cars. On the Boulevard, the more likely conflict is a driver cutting off a cyclist as they make a turn off of Blackstone into the surrounding neighborhoods. Situating the lane to the right-hand side creates the maximum "exposure time" for the cyclists to conflicts with drivers. Currently, skilled, faster cyclists ride on the park-side of the lane to lessen their exposure. A right-hand bike lane will make this unsafe and kill a reasonable informal work-around that has developed to share the space with minimal friction.

    Thank you for the opportunity to put in my two cents. My apologies for the repetition and scattered structure. Please feel free to contact me if you would like clarification of any of the above.

    Cheers, Alex