RIBIKE comments on Providence Main Street plans



RIBIKE comments on Providence Main Street plans

W5-1The Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission at its February 19th meeting held a long discussion and opportunity for public comment on RIDOT plans for South and North Main streets from James Street to Smith Street.  The plans are ostensibly related to an Amecicans with Disability Act (ADA) project to install ADA compliant sidewalks and street crossings along the length of the corridor, but also include some opportunity to change the layout of the street between the curbs.

RIBIKE has submitted formal comments to the BPAC and copied RIDOT Director Lewis and city planning regarding the draft plans for S. and N. Main Street indicating support for removal of parking or travel lanes to make room for a high quality bicycle lane.  We also echo others calls for altered lane configurations to address, as perceived by many as, excessive speeds between Wickenden and College streets.

RIDOT project managers and engineers at the February 19th 2014 BPAC meeting indicated they would re-examine several specific sections of the street for altering the lane widths to see if a bike lane could be included using current design standards.

RIBIKE board member Eric Weis serves as the commission chair and RIBIKE board president Matt Moritz, serves a member of the mayor appointed commission.

Dear Mr. Weis:

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition (RIBike) appreciates this opportunity to bring issues before the Commission related to proposed RIDOT ADA improvement plans from James Street on South Main to Smith Street on North Main. We believe that as proposed, these plans do little to increase access to all users; moreover, the decision to start this work at James Street even as the I-195 Commission has issued specific developer criteria for that stretch of road and riverfront is unfortunate in the extreme. It demonstrates yet again a failure to implement both the city’s and the state’s goals for complete streets and integrated transportation into the actual operations of their agencies.

RIBike calls attention to specific transportation elements identified by the I-195Commission.

The first, and more comprehensive discussion of plans for this area occurs in the “Developers’ Toolkit” recently made available on line. The toolkit outlines specific development values to be considered for parcels in the I-195 portfolio, and generally notes that availability of high quality transportation choices is one of its strongest assets: “Safe, convenient choices for driving, walking, transit and cycling offer the access options that businesses and their workforce demand … (and) … walkability is supported by human-scale streets, dense development, and historic architecture on all sides…”. For the subdistrict called “College Hill/River” (Parcels 5 and 2 from Wickenden to James Street between South Main and the river), the toolkit prioritizes housing, intermediate-scale office/research, live/work, and encourages retail; it calls for special design consideration to integrate parking below or behind development or through use of public parking structures. It further highlights cycling connections, especially the planned City/WALK route, and states that new development should reinforce bike access. As an identified “secondary active street,” South Main is required to promote the safety and appeal of walking, including accommodating City/WALK by providing extra sidewalk width for more generous walking space and plantings, and providing passage where it provides more direct walking route and is flanked by active spaces. Finally, the scenarios for both parcels note that a low-speed street imparts a more appealing scale to the buildings, strengthens access to the river, and provides access to site parking.

A more general discussion occurs in the Commission’s RFI for development proposals, the deadline for which is May 1, 2014. Page 1 of this RFI states:

The Commission has worked to help shape open public spaces that include more than 350,000 square feet of park land, which will showcase the Providence waterfront and promote non-vehicular circulation. City zoning revisions are in place for the I-195 land (part of the zoning approved in summer 2012 for Downtown Providence) that increases flexibility and density; utilities are in place, including the relocation of the City’s primary electric feed by National Grid; and a Master Permit process was approved in late 2013 for the entire district to meet the combined requirements of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Commission (CRMC). The City, State and urban neighborhoods fully support this project. (Bold italics added.)

There will be two public informational sessions to discuss this RFI and weather permitting, site tours on February 25, 2014 and March 25, 2014.These sessions will be held at 11:00 a.m. at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, 315 Iron Horse Way, Providence, Rhode Island, with a site tour immediately thereafter. Advance notice of attendance is required.

RIBike believes the plans proposed by RIDOT for South Main are not only inconsistent with these considerations, they actively discourage a more sensible sequence of planning/construction  and a more comprehensive and imaginative approach to streetscaping — one that fully supports the non-vehicular circulation stated as a city and state goal. The need to achieve ADA compliance should be part of an overall strategy to reclaim streets for people, not a grudging one-time fix. RIBike strongly encourages representatives of the BPAC to participate in at least one of the planned public sessions to make the case for a complete streets process that addresses key safety and use criteria: slower, neighborhood-speed traffic; design that reduces cyclist, stroller/wheelchair, and pedestrian vulnerability; street crossings consistent with dense streetscape that includes retail and housing; provision for securing bicycles; and re-thinking the current one-way traffic pattern that encourages and enables speeding.

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns. These are not new. RIBike (at the time known as the Providence Bicycle Coalition) addressed the need to focus on moving people and goods, not vehicles, in public comments to RIDOT’s updated transportation plan. The concerns we raised then (attached) are still in place. RIBike welcomes the goals of the city and Commission to incorporate cycling and walking as critical elements of an effective transportation network. We would be more than happy to collaborate with the city, the I-195 Commission, and RIDOT to ensure a better outcome for all transportation interests.

Margherita Pryor, Vice-President
Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition