This is the beginning of a series of posts discussing candidates and their positions on issues important to the bicycling community. First up, Nellie Gorbea’s Climate Plan.
As we all know, climate change is a wide ranging crisis impacting every single Rhode Islander. While there are many factors at play, transportation contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector. Therefore, any climate action plan must address transportation and help every resident shift away from car dependency and toward active transportation and transit. This will require a radical change of focus at the Executive level and at RIDOT in order to provide the physical infrastructure, policy environment, process changes and financial support required to create a modern, multi-modal transportation system that delivers true travel options for each and every resident of the Ocean State.
Let’s look at the newly released plan from gubernatorial candidate Nellie Gorbea entitled FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE by Seizing Rhode Island’s Climate Opportunity. Of course, I urge you to read the plan for yourself, but here are some initial thoughts from our perspective.
Let’s start with the good news. First, by even publishing such a document, Secretary Gorbea signals the importance of the climate crisis in Rhode Island and we applaud her for that. This is a wide ranging document that demonstrates the candidate’s grasp of the complicated nature of the issue and the necessity for fighting it on many fronts at once. We are gratified that Gorbea does address bicycling and other transportation issues and are heartened by several points. First, the plan calls on RIDOT to identify funds for the Bicycle Mobility Plan (BMP).
The biggest line item in the federal infrastructure law is for the building and repair of roads and bridges. A least $242 million is available for Rhode Island. The Department of Transportation should speed up repairs while also identifying funds for RI’s Bicycle Mobility Plan. (p9).
The BMP was adopted as part of RI’s Long Range Transportation Plan, but to-date, no specific funding has been set aside to build the projects. Although in the most recent session of the General Assembly, Representative Teresa Tanzi tried to force the issue by sponsoring a bill to provide $25 million to jumpstart building out the BMP, actually this is part of RIDOT’s job. One positive aspect of Gorbea’s call here is that it correctly places the responsibility for funding the BMP at RIDOT’s feet.
Another positive call in Gorbea’s plans is a focus on safety. Safety, of course, should be top of mind for everyone. All road users deserve safe passage, no matter what mode of travel they choose. We applaud Secretary Gorbea for calling for this use of infrastructure funding.
The Infrastructure Law focuses on highway safety, but funding is also designated for pedestrian safety, pipeline safety, and wildlife crossing areas. I will direct the Department of Transportation to include the use of Infrastructure Law funds for safe pedestrian walkways and bike paths (emphasis is ours) (p10).
Another item in the plan calls for every roadway project to assess the climate impact. We think this is very positive and will naturally lead to the construction of more climate friendly active transportation and transit projects.
These guidelines must also include a requirement for an assessment of climate impacts on every state road construction project (pg11).
Further, we are pleased with the calls for multimodal integration (p13) and community input (p14).
One statement, while we agree is a necessary and important change, seems to come with a hedge.
I will direct RIDOT to overhaul its engineering guidelines to require state engineers to include to the maximum extent practicable (emphasis ours) sidewalks, protected bike lanes, transit-only lanes, crosswalks, traffic calming….. (p11).
We very much agree that engineering guidelines need to be overhauled and there should be a focus on more sidewalks, protected bike lanes, transit only lanes, crosswalks and traffic calming. This would be a huge leap forward for everyone. Our fear is that if RIDOT is given an out, it will find a way to take it. Perhaps not everyone will read it this same way, but this phrasing gives us pause. We have seen RIDOT avoid public input, convert work to smaller projects to avoid oversight and transfer money from active transportation to bridge work because there was a hole they could slip through. We would prefer language that makes active transportation and transit infrastructure a given with very few allowable exceptions.
Of course, no plan is perfect. Here, we are disappointed that there is no mention of electric bicycles, electric bicycle charging infrastructure or electric bicycle purchasing incentives. We believe that any and all supporting infrastructure and financial incentives offered for electric vehicles should be extended to electric bicycles as well. Electric bicycles are rapidly becoming car replacements here and across the world and we have a huge incentive to encourage this transition–it will allow Rhode Island to address climate change and roadway congestion at the same time. Additionally, it is disappointing that there is no mention of RI’s current Complete Streets guidance in Gorbea’s plan. We urge the next governor to strengthen the implementation of complete streets across all road projects. Finally, we would encourage Secretary Gobea to include a timeline for the completion of the BMP. We suggest requiring RIDOT to advance a specific plan with funding for yearly progress that completes the BMP over the next 5 years.
Finally, on a more style related note, we recommend the candidate to call official documents by their proper names–it is the BMP not the Bike/Ped Master Plan as it is referred to in the references (p18). We are proud of the BMP and want everyone to be able to access and read it, which is only possible if they know its proper name.
It is our hope that you read the Gorbea plan in its entirety and come to your own conclusion. It feels to us that this would be a big, but imperfect step forward for Rhode Island. What do you think?