“Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around”



“Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around”

Exciting! From the City of Providence’s “Art Culture & Tourism Newsletter”:

The 2nd Annual Claiborne Pell Lecture on Arts and Humanities
March 9 @ Trinity Rep
Hosted by Mayor David Cicilline

City of Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline invites you to a panel conversation with musician, artist and author David Byrne; urban historian Samuel Zipp, Assistant Professor at Brown University; Thomas Deller, Director of the City of Providence Department of Planning and Development; and a local bicycle advocate (TBA) about how bicycles transform our urban experience.  Initiated by Mayor Cicilline in 2009, the memorial lecture honors recently deceased Claiborne Pell (1918-2009), who represented Rhode Island in the United States Senate from 1961-1997.

  • How do creative thinkers strengthen civic life?
  • How can a city foster a more bicycle friendly environment?
  • How might Providence change if more people made a bicycle their primary mode of transportation?
  • This is a free but ticketed event.

    Beginning Thursday, February 25th, tickets will be available at the Trinity Repertory Company box office, 201 Washington Street, and must be picked up in person (no phone reservations).  Four ticket limit per person.  Due to limited availability we suggest advance pick-up.  For box office hours and directions, call 401-351-4242.  For answers to questions about the event, please call 401-421-2489 x456.

    Full press release here!


    • barry
      Feb 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

      Eric, thanks for posting this. I like the three questions above, the answers are not obvious, and I hope it generates some discussion posted here.

      A thought on the third question: One way Providence might change if it had more bicyclists is that I think it could become a more attractive place in the competition for the independent entrepreneurial residents that provide creative energy to boost the economy. To some extent, such people can choose their location and will make choices at least partly on quality of life issues, and I believe a bike-friendly culture will be part of that appeal. This is partly based on my observations of Portland OR which I knew as a failing city in 1974-75 when a grad student at Oregon State U, and saw the next time 30 years later in summer 2005 – its relatively strong bike culture that had developed seemed a significant part of the mix that has made the city so much more successful (at least until the current downturn)

    • Noman
      Feb 27, 2010 at 8:12 am

      Chicken and egg… Catch 22. City thinks, "If more riders will accommodate." Activists think, "Better infrastructure will draw cyclists." Reality? Worst depression locally since 1930's: 35% unemployment is no draw. Shops in bankrupt PPM and retail district are closing. Offers to city leaders to provide nice posters for free ignored. Street have potholes that can swallow bicyclists whole and no bike lanes despite cheap cost of paint. Yet they'll race to eradicate paint that stealthy volunteers put down. As long as automotive interests are met first, whatever is left over will be barely tolerated. Ain't no bike friendly town. Won't be until they replace leadership with someone forward thinking, which is what happened in Portland.

    • Barry
      Feb 27, 2010 at 9:51 am

      First, since my first post above, its been cionfirmed that I will be a panelist at this Pell Arts/Humanities lecture.

      Second, does everyone agree with the negative assessment posted above? I'm not so negative. The chicken-and-egg analogy is good but an old city like Providence with many narrow streets and no grid, is challenging to retrofit to make bike-friendly. Well-intentioned efforts on Allens Avenue and Promenade have not worked out well, but the one abandoned rail line in the city has been converted to the Woonasquatucket path, and the current city leadership has encouraged share-the-road signs, Blackstone Blvd lanes, supported bike-to-work day, and has been interested in biking issues as the streets related to the I-95 relocation are redesigned.

      By the way, do potholes really annoy other bicyclists that much? I can usually easily dodge them but they really slow the traffic! I'm more annoyed when driving!

      If Norman will reply to me off-line (bschiller@localnet.com) I would like to hear about the posters refused, paint removed etc.

      I think Norman is right about Portland leadership but Oregon has long had a strong outdoor-oriented culture that resulted in a state law mandating a 1% set-aside for bikes on most highway projects even before I got there in '74. Portland area leadership, but also a grass-roots effort resulted that year in trading-in Federal $$ for a east-side beltway (the so-called Mt Hood freeway) for smaller projects and the start of thir (now extensive) light rail system. They also plowed up a dismal road on the west bank of the Willamette River (site of mostly abandoned warehouses, the main port there is on the Columbia) and replaced it with a long park including a bikeway, now the site of festivals, farmers markets….all this hekped revive the city, though it also made it a lot more expensive.

    • jack
      Feb 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm

      Barry – I'm with you. I have been involved in advocacy in Providence in various forms since the mid-nineties and have seen and participated in various methods (positive and negative) of trying to get the voice of the transportation cyclists heard at the City and State level. Critical Mass, letters to the editor, public meetings, etc. I have also been on the other side of this as a Civil Engineer and have experienced first hand the reaction negative foot stomping evokes from the professionals and elected officials who bear the brunt of public comment. My conclusion is that negativity shuts the process down. There are all sorts of forces pushing and pulling on the process and it is essential to build trust and a friendly relationship with the characters who are ultimately responsible because they are the ones with their neck out.

      Kill 'em with kindness and respect and let give them the opportunity to take credit for the success of your ideas.

      I'm looking forward to this event. Now if only we could get tickets. Who do you have to know in this town?

    • Noman
      Feb 28, 2010 at 12:17 pm

      Don't waste your time killing them with kindness: They'll be gone soon enough, thankfully. Have half a mind (literally) to run for mayor myself and fire the whole bunch. You only need a half a mind to straighten out the mindless mess they've made of this city with so much potential for someone with a grasp of "city planning".

      After 12 years of local transportation activism and profound insights into issues, I'd rate bicycling progress in RI at 1:1000 vs motoring. In real dollars, they've spent at least $1 billion on I-way and Q-way to a few million for bike paths. Sure, bicycling infrastructure is cheaper, but there's a net loss in miles you can bike on since they've continuously stolen shoulders.

      So, open your eyes before spouting rosy opinions aimed stroking politicians who don't care and long ago quit trying to support cycling for you… despite the fact that complete streets is already law but never been anyone's priority, witnessed by mayor's lip service, RIDOT's tokenism, and TAC's total ignorance of its duties.

    • jack
      Feb 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm

      My eyes are wide open Noman. Considering that transportation cyclists comprise about 5% of the overall population in the "rosiest" of outlooks, I'd say that the attention we are given right now by politicians is understandable. Why should they care about us? We aren't a significant voting block yet. However, we can win people over to our views on transportation cycling by showing the other 95% of the population that we are normal people who would simply rather get there by bike.

      When you run for mayor you might try not hitting people over the head with your facts about why cars are bad. People like their cars. Its better to show them that bikes are a good way to go. Its all in how you say it.

    • Noman
      Mar 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

      No recreational cyclists ride through Providence by choice. Driving to riding venues is the norm. This is unacceptable. You don't have to drive to driving venues, do you?

      Pedicycling infrastructure, by law, have to accompany or mirror all motoring infrastructure. You have to leave your cars sometimes. The fastest growing number of pedestrian fatalities is those run over in parking lots.

      Yeah, facts are annoying, especially when your trying to cut costs and spin opinions. Just because bike commuters are a small group doesn't exonerate criminal negligence by elected officials.

    • jack madden
      Mar 1, 2010 at 7:29 am

      The point here isn't about whether or not we should have better cycling infrastructure. Of course we should. The point is how do we achieve it and in what form. There are many opinions on this even amongst our group.

      My feeling is that for it to happen it probably won't be because the "criminals" are persuaded of their neglect. We will get better cycling infrastructure when there is a clear economic benefit from it.

      As advocates we can tie it to promoting the currently expedient "green" movement. We can draw connections to growing our local tourist economy. We can talk about serving a workforce that has perhaps recently eliminated one car from their two car garage and are more and more finding it useful and affordable to choose a bike instead.

      More and more people are getting it. Soon we will reach a tipping point. Until then we are best to make friends and engage in open and respectful discussion.

    • Dennis
      Mar 1, 2010 at 10:04 am

      Are potholes a significant problem? Throughout the year I can avoid most of them, but not all of them. I'd like to blame my bicycle repairs on potholes, but the jury is still out on that one…

      More important is what happens when a bicyclist comes up on that pothole. Most of us can avoid them, but that makes us into traffic hazzards. I become unpredictable to the motorists. I think THIS could be the biggest problem.

      And another aspect of the potholes is that more of my attention becomes focused on the road surface in front of me and less attention is focused on car doors, changing traffic patterns and the lovely environment.

    • Noman
      Mar 1, 2010 at 10:30 am

      What is a friend? A friend in need is a friend indeed. Politicians should be kissing my butt as a homeowner, small business proprietor, and steady taxpayer. The hand I reached out was spit upon. Your way has always failed. Potholes are only a symptom of general neglect; some are probably unavoidable during local construction phases, but in other cases they've been there for decades, like Broad and Weybosset.

      No, put some feet in the fire. The squeaky wheel gets lube. I've had far more success screaming bloody murder than bicycling community collectively trying to impress officials with givens, "It's a good thing kids, mom, and Mother Nature need." Never going to draw ecotourists or other visitors to a land where LNG domes substitute for mountain ranges; tugboat captains could care less. Taxpayers paid to Save the Bay, yet there's a nonprofit still collecting and practically no edible aquaculture. No, if you can only get traffic engineers to stop stealing shoulder and start sweeping them, you'd do more than enough to encourage cycling.

    • Geoff
      Mar 1, 2010 at 11:09 am

      I just wish I'd gotten some tickets – i heard they vanished long before any announcement went public.

      focus on positive economic changes, small ones.

      ones that work.

      why put bike lanes in that won't get used.

      I read somewhere (byrne's book) If you aren't comfortable with your 8 year old kid riding in the bike lane then it isn't going to work to get more people on it. Bike paths are great and work, but bike lanes, blackstone for example, are not helping as much as they 'could.'

    • jack madden
      Mar 4, 2010 at 5:08 am

      I think that we try too hard to accommodate the novice cyclist in our attempts to make our urban environment more bikeable.

      My feeling is that we should try to make infrastructure – be it striped lanes, sharrows, etc. suitable to the more seasoned cyclist who is already comfortable sharing the road. In this way, we make the facilities more useful to the one who will be using them more often (as opposed to avoiding a poorly designed lane); and can serve as a model for novices who will hopefully follow them into the fold.

      I think we often get hung up on catering to the eight year old child on a road like Allens Avenue. Cyclists still have to deal with (the occasional) ignorant drivers who are thinking you're a nut to bring your child out on a bike while they buzz you at 40mph.