Providence Bike Friendly?



Providence Bike Friendly?

We received the following question via our online contact form:

Hi there! I am currently living in NYC and I am planning on moving to Providence within the next year, but my big concern is being able to ride my bike, so im curious if you can tell me how bike
friendly is Providence? I’ve been looking at the streets of the neighborhoods I want to live in, but i have yet to see a bike lane:( what are your thoughts on the relationship between cyclists and other
commuters (drivers, busses, etc)?

Rather than respond with just my opinion, I thought it best to open this up to the community.  So what say you Providence, are we bike friendly?  Are there any great biking neighborhoods out there?


  • haidee
    Jul 31, 2008 at 7:45 am

    welcome to providence, whenever you get here!

    i would have to say that while providence is not technically bike-friendly, in that there are few to no bike lanes, minimal bike parking except around downtown, and cops and drivers who don't know or care about bike laws, you can definitely bike here. i do every day, almost everywhere i go as do many others on this blog. also, the newly formed PBC is active, has the city's ear and is working on making providence more bike friendly, so it would be great to have you join us and help make providence more bike friendly.

    definitely get in touch with PBC and come to a meeting or post on the site when you get here, for tips and tricks to biking around providence.


  • Matt
    Jul 31, 2008 at 8:26 am

    As a former Brooklynite myself (ten years in NYC), I would say there are a lot of things about Providence that make it bike-friendly in comparison to New York. In this case, "bike-friendly" is a relative term. While there are just about zero bike lanes, you're going to find a less dense traffic pattern and plenty of empty side streets on which to navigate. Sure, 6th Avenue in Manhattan has a bike lane, but it was merely a suggestion after you factor in all the double-parked delivery trucks and left-turning cabs. Drivers in the city are generally pretty aware if you get yourself out into a lane far enough, but there's no shortage of jerks, as there are everywhere. You're also not going to have the lock-up paranoia here, but that doesn't mean you should use a cable lock or keep your bike out overnight. One thing we have that NYC doesn't: hills. Get your legs in shape if you're planning on riding down Atwells in and out of Olneyville or just about anywhere on the East Side.

  • Barry
    Jul 31, 2008 at 9:24 am

    My take: as an old and hilly city not laid out on a rectangualr grid like Manhattam, it is difficult to retrofit Providene to make it more bike friendly, but the current administration is willing to try to improve conditions, and state planners and RIDOT are generally supportive. We also have the nearby bike paths (East Bay, Cranston-West Bay, Blackstone) that are great resources which have both increased the pool of those interested in bicycling, and helped make motorists more sensitive to the existence of bike riders. We also have a transit system that has bike racks on all its full-size buses that serves Providence from all directions, there is neither a charge beyond bus fare nor a bureaucratic permit system to use them. Finally, we have a friendly bike advocacy community that welcomes new activists and I hope this person, if coming to Rhode Island, joins one of our advocacy groups.

  • Dennis
    Jul 31, 2008 at 9:25 am

    "Bike-friendly" is not the first thing that comes to mind. "Bike-tolerant" is something that we might be approaching. I commute on my bike and take regular rec. rides and I haven't been hit yet this year.

    That's quite an improvement over last year, though.

  • Django
    Jul 31, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Hey thanks everyone! Nice to get some on-the-ground advice about this. I suppose Im more concerned about the issue of tolerance than bike lanes and sign postings (Matt's right, both are totally meaningless in NY – Im better off riding right down the middle of the road with the rest of the traffic, Ive gotten doored 3 times and cut off twice from sticking to the bike lane). Providence looks like a great place to enjoy a ride, so Im really looking forward to exploring it. I will certainly throw any support I can behind the bike community once we make it up there. Oh and that reminds me, does anyone actually live there without a car? Is it even possible?

    Dennis, how many times we're you hit last year??

  • Matt
    Jul 31, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    There are lots of people who live here successfully without cars. They're called university students. Whether you can make it work or not really depends on where you live and where you work and how much you want to put up with during the winter.

    There are pockets of retail density that make it quite possible if you happen to live and work within them, but they are few and small. Where I live, I could probably make a good run at it. I already bike to and from work every day (5.25 miles) and I can pretty readily get to most of where I go out and shop that way, too. As much as the mall is an eyesore and a poor use of street-level urban space, it is a very good thing when you consider it's readily accessible by bike.

    That said, the closest grocery store to where I live is at the bottom of a 5-6% grade 3/4-mile hill. Hauling 50 pounds of groceries back up it in the middle of July on my 3 speed is one of the things I don't particularly enjoy. After a long day at work, I will tend to make that trip in the car. Providence is not Amsterdam, that is for sure.

    Still, my wife and I get by perfectly fine with one car and we're lucky enough both to live close enough to our jobs that neither of us commutes in it. So, yes, it is possible to be car free and it's also possible to be car-light.

    Oh, and the winter? That's a little trickier.

  • Aug 1, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    The League of American Bicyclist and FHWA both offer checklists for bikeability. Providence rates a 2 or 3 out of 10. They suggest you wear body armor for anything less than 4. Bicycling clubs NEVER stage rides through the downtown areas out of fear of liability. Even Critical Mass has given up (now that's saying something).

    There are a LOT of advocacy groups and individuals (many with profit motives) who've been saying the same thing for 15 years… Providence is a MAJOR impediment to a statewide bicycling system. It's no Amsterdam, for sure, but there are many flat runs along three rivers. About the only terrain worthy of being called a hill is along the East Side, but that easily climbed up Brook St from the South, or Canal St and Randolph Square. But visitors wouldn't know that since there are no signs.

    The impediment part comes directly from the current mayor, who simply refuses to do anything about bike lanes and shoulders on narrow streets or signage directing your around worst intersections. He'll promise anything, but for 5 years has done NOTHING (Northwest Trail was a state's doing). It's not like there's huge competition on streets with vehicles, since there's not many entertainment venues, industries, markets, or points of interest to tourists anyway. Few people live downtown anymore, except millionaires in condos who eat a pricey restaurants. The worst competition is from parked vehicles jammed into every available spot 24/7.

    Outlying areas are reasonably bikeable, except for sections of adjacent cities/towns of Cranston, North Providence, Pawtucket and Warwick (not to ignore downtown Newport). That they'd spend any ISTEA or TIP funding on any other places in the state can be described as reckless negligence. They just spent millions for a wooden boardwalk in Central Falls. Huh! Paint and signs in Providence would cost 1/1,000 as much.

    It is federal and state law that they provide adequate bike infrastructure on all streets wider than 23'. OR they can provide alternatives, such as dedicated bikeways. FWHA call bikes an underserved component of transportation. The easiest way to accommodate is simply paint bike only lanes as part of the road, INSTEAD of stealing the shoulder for parking or turning lanes. What's happening in Providence is the latter, all the time, invariably, which is to say, "Bikes begone!"

    So, is Providence bike friendly? I think not.

    Btw: A RIDE bus today on West Shore Road near Oakland Beach Ave nearly ran me over from behind. The driver was fixed in the breakdown lane. I pulled up against curb to barely escape as he passed and CONTINUED in the breakdown lane. That WHITE LINE is not to be crossed except to pull over and stop. So much for public transportation and training of drivers thereof.

  • Ryan
    Aug 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    I just recently moved to Providence from a city with car-wide bike lanes on every road, and I found it a surprise for such a large college town with tons of students riding their bikes…there is not any bike lanes! However, I don't find bike lanes totally necessarily in a city like this, because with how a lot of the drivers are in this town, they will start using the bike lanes for swerving around other cars, a turning lane and whatever else they can squeeze into it.

    The main problem is, many of the providence streets that are surely wide enough for two lanes don't have ANY road markings are lines, so people just really drift wherever they feel like driving! Sometimes it's just one car down the center, or sometimes it can be 3-4 cars wide. So…before we get bike lanes or anything of the such, Providence has to start fixing the traffic control downtown and in certain areas, therefore making people around here drive better. By doing this, it will make it safer for bikes.

    Finally, many of the roads seems like they been hit by several earthquakes, and some pot holes are deep enough consume your skinny road bike tires. Many of the roads could very easily be fixed and traffic detoured to the next block over. I guess the winters just take their toll on the roads and they rarly get fixed.

  • Django
    Aug 1, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    hmmm, maybe ill just leave my bike in manhattan where it belongs: Alan's saying everything I was afraid of! Id love to live downtown but all there seems to be are those crazy expensive lofts that dont allow pets (i have two dogs). wtf? My friend lives outside of Wakefield and swears Im better off out in the woods, Im beginning to wonder if he's right?

  • Ryan
    Aug 2, 2008 at 4:35 am

    Bring your bike for sure. You will be glad you did. Providence is called "the walking city" but you can seriously get around faster on a bike then you can if you are walking or driving. After riding around for a week or so, you will learn the best routes to take and become more comfortable with riding with traffic here and predicting what the drives here do.

    You don't really want to live RIGHT downtown, because living just a few blocks away from downtown in any direction is still reasonably affordable and is as close as anyone would need to be to downtown. There is no point living directly downtown.

  • Aug 2, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Django, don't be scared off by a few comments. Providence is no cyclists' mecca, but conditions in most of the city are adequate for any street-smart rider. You'll also find that there are indeed places where one can live car-free, combining biking and walking with RIPTA (our bus system) and a train station (Amtrak and Boston-based commuter rail).

    Of course, these are not guarantees of bicyclist safety, but they are signs that the city is making attempts to create better conditions for cyclists: the city's bike route network is finally getting marked with signs (happened largely last week), a 1.5 mi road was striped with lanes the week before (Blackstone Blvd), another road (Broadway, 1 mi) will be striped this summer or fall, and both Promenade and Kinsley have bike lanes (1.6 mi combined) that will be re-striped this year as well.

  • Aug 3, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Yeah, that 1.6 miles of Promenade "bikeway" is riddled with 140 storm grates with parallel running slots. Broadway has been promised for 5 years without action. Allens Ave, not mentioned but the first section of bike lanes established in city, is so full of train tracks and trash as to be almost unusable. Sweeping is too expensive for city, or so I've been told. One-way, double wide Blackstone Blvd didn't need stripes, was actually where paceliners trained for years before; it's a case of misplaced priorities. Planners here have no clue how to deal with bicycling, other than say they love it.

    That said, you CAN ride a bike here, do it myself all the time, 4 seasons. I've resorted to using Kevlar belted tires (Vittorio Randdoneurs) and Mr. Tuffy Tire Liners. Adds weight but seldom get flats as much as I used to. A lot of people use mtbs instead of roadies; there is a cult of fixies, too.

  • Aug 3, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Meanwhile, I had a chance to reflect on what's worst about Providence's Plan for Bicycling.

    The signs I've seen say "Bike Route". This gives no indication as to where you're headed. When I consulted with city planners, I suggested a "subway" plan, with signs that were color coded: Yellow for SE-NW, Red for N-S, Blue for E-W (6 main directions of travel). These signs are shown in the video I put awhile back on…

    Every bit of Providence Bicycling infrastructure is represented in the video, along with bike culture, historic images, local color, and, not to forget, a bunch of whacked out bicycling songs. It's believed I have the world's largest collection of them, several hundred, from over 1,000 listed in my book.

    Every local survey I conducted and bicyclist interviewed said they didn't know HOW to transit downtown, because there are no group rides, no marked lanes, and no connections between existing infrastructures, the actual bikeways in adjacent cities and towns. The mayor's attitude is that there are no abandoned railroad rights of way or similar structures upon with to build them downtown. Agreed, very little real estate to work with… and yet, plenty to throw more huge high rise luxury apartments, but no affordable housing. Yeah, Providence is headed in the same direction as Hartford. It will soon be unlivable except for millionaires with concierge service to distant markets.

  • David
    Aug 5, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I think Providence is for the most part bike friendly. I've been commuting to and from work on a bike for four years, although I will drive a car when the roads are icy or the temperatures are unbearably cold. We do use the car for groceries, because there is no way we can haul groceries for the week for the whole family on a bike. I also drop off and pick up my 5 year old son at school on my bike, he rides on his Alleycat tandem trailer. While there are no real bike lanes, traffic density is not particularly high and as long as you bike safely you should be fine. You also need to get used to the driving habits of Rhode Islanders. However, I never feel uncomfortable or unsafe biking with my son in the alleycat behind me. I agree that downtown is not the most bikeable area, but even there is fine, as long as you use common street sense. That being said, you don't really need to live right downtown since there are very walkable and bikeable neighborhoods just West, East and South of downtown, and the city is so small you can get around quickly, despite all the hills (seven to be exact). So, while things could be improved by bike lanes and such, I think you will get a lot of use from your bike here. I do.

  • David
    Aug 5, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    One more thing. I looked up the Bikeability Checklist on the NHTSA website mentioned above by Alan Barta (which is based on a scale of 5 – 30, 30 being the best), and I ended up with a rating of 20. Which according to the checklist means that "Conditions for riding are okay, but not ideal. Plenty of room for improvement." Which is a fair assessment. Some of the points taken off were not the fault of the city (roads being hilly) and some equally affect motorists (potholes, slippery roads in wintertime) so you cant fairly count them as "bike discrimination". Here is the link to the checklist, in case other people want to test it out:

  • Matt
    Aug 5, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I'd also like to add that I've heard a fair amount of frustration from the cycling community over the lanes on Blackstone—it boils down to "the boulevard was wide enough and didn't need it" and "it wrecks things for the paceline"—and I feel compelled to give my opinion, which is this: anything that removes a lane of traffic for a bicycle lane, I am 100% in favor of it. No, it wasn't done ideally. No, the signs posted around the city don't add up to a comprehensive bike path/route system. But it's two less lanes of car traffic and two dedicated lanes for bikes.

    As someone who uses a good stretch of the Boulevard on my daily commute, it makes all the difference to me not to have constantly to be looking in my mirror/over my shoulder. No road is wide enough for bike travel if it's all dedicated to cars. As for the paceline, I have a hard time understanding how they won't find room to maneuver around in the parking lane if the bicycle lane ever does get overwhelmed with riders. Besides, I have yet to encounter a peloton that wasn't very vocal about its approach well in advance.

  • Aug 5, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Dave's too generous evaluation of 20 is still firmly a "D". Yes, you CAN blame mayor for bad pavement and lack of response leaving bad grates, no shoulder, few parking restrictions in biking's favor. They argue that all the colleges take up a lot of resources and room and pay no taxes. Yet some of these deficiencies go back decades. That segment of cobblestone on Pine St has been rattling my teeth for 40 years. City Hall just doesn't care.

    In any grand vision of this tiny state becoming the equal of some bike mecca, like Portland, Or, rests squarely on Providence's shoulders… literally. You can't go anywhere in this state surrounding a bay without passing through Providence. Yet they threw in an I-way without the least idea of including a bike lane, especially when there's supposed to be a huge new $15 million bike-ped parallel on that side of the George Washington Bridge in 2012, if ever. Somebody just doesn't get it at RIDOT, an agency who pays people to study and implement intermodal transportation, at least give lip service to it.