The reaction in the Netherlands to the bicycle accident reminded me of comments I provided on behalf of the Providence Bicycle Coalition a couple years ago. The comments refer to the state’s long-term transportation plan, which it must develop periodically in order to retain eligibility for federal funding. Sorry to say — very little has changed since 2008! The lack of real response demonstrates the urgent need to have informed, sustained advocacy for cyclists, pedestrians, and other alternative transportation.
Comments on behalf of the Providence Bicycle Coalition (PBC): Long-Range Plan and TIP
We commend the program for its honesty in identifying and presenting scenarios for outcomes based on current spending and priorities. This greater transparency is needed to understand the costs of different choices and help the public indicate where we want to make tradeoffs among them. That being said, however, the truth is that the plan remains a listing of disconnected project, isolated within program stovepipes. It does not provide a coherent and holistic map of the state’s transportation system and alternatives, nor does it include in the cost/benefit discussions the costs avoided by greater reliance on alternative transportation modes or incorporate the currently external costs of pollution, human health impacts, and the physical destruction or degradation of our cities and landscapes.
According to its own analysis, more than 60 percent of goals and measures in the last long-range plan were either not met, were considered inadequate to demonstrate progress, or were unsupported by data. Yet most of these measures are retained in the proposed new plan. For one egregious example: the plan states a goal of reducing serious bicycle injuries from 80 in 2001 to 75 in 2015, 71 in 2025, and 69 in 2030 — taking 30 YEARS to achieve a reduction of 11 injuries!! Clearly this says something about the need to rethink how we measure a successful system and suggests we should massively re-orient the plan from an inventory of programs to a set of key strategic outcomes. If more bikelanes and signage were installed in urban areas they would accomplish multiple outcomes — not only providing more support for cycling as an alternative mode, but also reduced traffic congestion and improved air quality; reduced wear and tear on existing roadway infrastructure, including bridges; less negative impact on neighborhoods and more opportunities for local travel; and reduced need for parking.
Despite its stated goal to the contrary, and despite the public priorities identified in its own survey, the plan still focuses on moving cars, not people and goods. Bicycles, walking, ferries, and transit are given very little attention and fewer dollars. As summarized in Appendix B, the survey showed the public’s top three priorities were 1) commuter rail and sidewalks (tied); 2) bus, trolley, and special needs services; and 3) bike paths and lanes. Moreover, the top incentives for greater transit use were more frequency, availability of commuter rail from outlying areas, and reduced need to transfer (i.e., more one-seat destinations). Yet the overwhelming majority of the funding is allocated to highways and roads. Even within highways, there is no specific focus on the 1.2 percent of roads where 35 percent of the congestion occurs. We recognize that safety, particularly of failing bridges and other essential infrastructure, prevents immediate overhaul of budget priorities. Nevertheless, SAFETEALU does allow re-shuffling of funds; at least 60 percent of each core highway dollar can be used for any project eligible under the law. We ask that DOT and state planning listen to the public’s stated wishes and begin considering how to more effectively combine programs to achieve outcomes that are more than the sum of pots of money.
We are in this dire situation because of the failure to adequately fund maintenance and even more because of the lack of a vision for what a successful 21st century system could be. What is lacking is boldness and an appreciation that this moment of skyrocketing gas prices and economic downturn is also a moment for change. If we cannot take advantage of this moment now, when the public is fed up and ready to support leaders with ideas, when will we? By the plan’s own analysis, every program is in the “sink” category. Transportation systems and their impacts arguably have more direct and indirect impact on our environment, economy, and quality of life than any other investment we can make. We can choose to operate more strategically — looking at desired outcomes, not programs — recognizing that promoting less vehicle use has the immediate advantage of increasing the life of existing infrastructure while also providing breathing space to shift to other modes, reduces the pollutants responsible for health and environmental impacts, improves overall safety, and begins to offer true choice to citizens. Rhode Island is small and dense enough to build a truly integrated system. It’s beautiful enough for us to care to make that happen — if not for us, then at least for our children.
The bicycle program, with the exception of earmarks, will essentially disappear between 2008 and 2011 — this despite the fact that rising gasoline prices and other contributing factors are encouraging more and more commuters to take up cycling as a preferred transportation alternative. Moreover, even the earmarks are heavily oriented to suburban and recreational trails rather than ensuring safety of cyclists on city streets.
The TIP’s insistence on looking at mass transit as the mode targeted at EJ and ADA communities only perpetuates its stereotype as the alternative of last resort. A system that works for these communities will work for everybody! SPO, RIPTA, and DOT should improve the system to accommodate all users in order to engender widespread public support.
See comments above regarding lack of consideration for cycling/walking as viable and necessary transportation alternative. For example, the ~$50 million repair and rehab of the Henderson bridge should be re-evaluated. Is this highway to nowhere necessary? Does the bridge need to be configured exactly as it is at present? Current design does not even improve bicycle access.
Also see comments above regarding disconnect among programs. The example of the I-195 realignment is telling. India Street along the waterfront will have been torn up and re-paved at least 3 TIMES during this process — for the highway construction itself, for the burial of the power lines, and for the construction of the Narragansett Bay Commission CSO interceptor and outfall. How can this happen? Surely the TIP should be the way these infrastructure activities can be coordinated.
As PBC requested in the TIP discussion last fall, we request that every road project going forward include bicycle and/or pedestrian accommodation. This is the only way to begin shifting the priority from moving cars to moving people. In the interim, we want more signage, more bicycle racks, and more education of drivers and police about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists on the roads.