Greater City Providence

The T in DOT?

Ready for a rant?

Atwells & Dean

Work has resumed in earnest on the reconstruction of Dean Street. This is a good thing, Dean is in dire need of a rebuild. But you know I can’t just be happy it is being rebuit, I have to find something to rant about.

Atwells & Dean

So this has been the condition of the intersection of Dean and Atwells all week. Sidewalks are closed on both sides of the road, some lanes are closed at various times, there are holes in the ground, metal grates down, all things that need to be done when one is rebuilding a street, this is all fine. It is the sidewalk closures that get me. When they close travel lanes, detours are set up, lanes are shifted, police officers and flaggers are posted. The sidewalks? Well they are just closed. I’ve had to wander out into the street and hope that I don’t get hit by some construction equipment, or a car, or that I don’t fall into a hole, hoping that an officer or flagger will notice me and give me some indication of what the safest path is or maybe even stop traffic for me to cross.

I’ve already ranted about how the walk lights on Atwells don’t work. So since there are no walk lights, one needs to pay attention to the traffic lights and try to figure out when to cross based on them. Well, the flaggers and officers are now pushing traffic through red lights willy nilly with no regard to the actual color of the light, so this adds to the chaos of trying to navigate this area on foot. If they are not going to regard the lights when they direct traffic, then they should shut the lights off. All week I’ve been walking into the road when the lights indicate I can only to have someone start waving traffic into my path, and into me!

Lest we forget, the “T” in DOT stands for Transportation. It is not the Department of Moving-Cars-From-Place-to-Place-as-Fast-as-We-Can-Disregarding-All-Others. Transportation includes cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, horses, scooters, wheelchairs, skateboards, mule trains… but every construction project in the state and city is set up as if there were only one mode of transportation on Maudes green Earth, automobiles.

We can see more of this in the Iway work. First there was the walk light fail in Davol Square. Now pedestrians are left scrambling at Wickenden Street.

Point Street at South Water Street

There’s a crosswalk here yes, but there is no part of the light cycle during which cars are not given the green light to cross this crosswalk, and of course the streets are built like expressways, so the cars race through and assume they have the right of way. Can you blame drivers for thinking this road is theirs and theirs alone? And no, there is no walk light here.

Point Street at South Water Street

Over at South Main Street and Wickenden Street, where the temporary street grid is in place we have the opposite problem. There’s a walk light, but no sidewalk.

South Main Street at WIckenden Street

Sure, it takes time to build things, you don’t wave a wand and have streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, walk lights, all the infrastructure in place. But I took that photo on April 23rd; the street was paved and striped, the traffic lights were installed and working, but there is no sidewalk. When I was there on Saturday, it looked exactly the same. The infrastructure for cars was completed tout suite, the infrasturcture for pedestrians… I guess they’ll get to it eventually.

Wait, I’m not done, it isn’t just us walkers, the bikers get shafted too. Over on Bike Providence Eric got RIDOT Director Michael Lewis’ ear and asked about street sweeping in regards to bike safety. Mr. Lewis said state roads are not swept during the winter for two main reasons:

(1) the equipment involved includes a water sprayer; that component freezes up in the winter, so the department basically mothballs the street sweepers between fall and spring, and (2) budget constraints mean that the workers that operate the sweepers (and mowers, etc) in the summer are operating snow removal equipment (and other winter road maintenance stuff) during the winter, so there is no staff available.

So as Eric pointed out, the answer basically comes down to money. Here’s the thing, when it comes to the mobility of automobiles, RIDOT seems to be able to find the money; streets get plowed, bridges get rebuilt just in time for graduations, temporary roads get built in a jiffy, but when it comes to the safety of cyclists, well, that’s not quite in the budget.

Plus, as I already ranted about in the comments section over on Bike Providence, when does this “spring” where the temperatures are above freezing long enough to use street sweeping equipment start? It is 95 degrees today, how does Allens Avenue look? Are workers doing snow removal ALL winter, it only snows every so often. What are they doing when it is not snowing? Mythical “winter road maintenance stuff?”

Barring a biblical flood, RIDOT seems to find a way to keep cars moving (and even during the flood, they were busily pumping water off the highway to get it re-opened ASAP), as the Department of Transportation they should be ensuring that all means of travel are able to make their way around the state at all times.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Jef, thanks for this. For the record, it was Barry Schiller who asked the question of Mr. Lewis at RIDOT; I was simply reporting. Our budget woes make transportation in RI more challenging for all: RIPTA will likely be cutting routes, bike facilities are not maintained as well as we’d like, the issues faced while walking, etc. Motorist complaints are loudest because they are the biggest slice of the commuter pie, and as a result they get the best service. I get the sense, however, that RIDOT does wish to improve facilities for bicyclists & walkers, within the constraints of their budget. Engineers are currently working on plans to narrow the travel lanes on the Jamestown Bridge, creating a shoulder; once this is done, bicyclists and walkers will be able to use this bridge between N Kingstown and Jamestown. Too long coming, but we will all welcome this. Newport Bridge next.

    One bite at a time, as they say. And if we maintain the pressure on our elected officials and agency personnel, the bites will keep getting taken.

  • That intersection at Atwells and Dean is one of the scariest intersections for a pedestrian. Heck, all of Atwells is pretty scary, though the intersection at DePasquale is much better since the walk lights now work properly, assuming people don’t run that red light, which seems to happen every time it turns red.

    As for the rest of it, I can understand that immediately after a major event, the DOT needs to get the most people through. That happens to be cars. However, once that’s taken care of, they need to step it up and work on everyone else. Atwells is one of the most heavily walked streets and having the sidewalks closed at that intersection is just bad. That kind of neglect is deserving of a letter to the mayor and to the hopeful mayor who happens to be the councilman for that area.

    In the case of bicyclists, there wasn’t a whole ton of snow this year. The DOT could have easily sent out sweepers to move the sand. I’m sure there must be some kind of street sweeper that doesn’t use water that they could use in the winter.

  • Eric, I agree, RIDOT, under Director Lewis seems to be moving in the right direction. I’ve heard Michael Lewis talk several times, he very much knows we are done building highways, that multi-modal is our future, he’s working to prioritize projects to the benefit of RIPTA… I think the problem is the Assembly and other politicians. Indeed, drivers are the squeaky wheel so they get the grease from Smith Hill.

    There’s also the chicken and egg issue, drivers are in the majority, so the road system is catered to them, since the road system is catered to drivers, there aren’t as many people using other modes, so there is not a strong voice for alternate mode users… Then there is the issue of social equity. Many of the people without cars are poor and less engaged in the political systems, so the smaller numbers of people in that alter-modal group is further diminished by that.

    Jim, indeed DePasquale is a much more pedestrian friendly intersection than Dean. I think there are several reasons for that. One is scale, Dean is a huge wide open space with many lanes for autos. All the roadways at DePasquale have only 2-lanes. There’s also the bump out at the Plaza, further narrowing the street and creating a friendly scale. Also, the walk lights work, so pedestrians have an indication of what they are expected to do. There’s also critical mass. There are so many people on foot in the Plaza, that that, coupled with the scale of the intersection indicate to drivers that they are not al0ne on the roadway, that it is not exclusively their domain. The scale and the sheer mass of people send a message to drivers that says they have to share. That message is not transmitted at Dean where the wide lanes and lower level of pedestrian activity (plus the fact that so much traffic is speeding up off of Route 10) all indicate to drivers that the space is theirs, no messages are sent that it is a space that they are sharing.

    As to the current construction situation, I am not ranting that the sidewalks are closed, work needs to be done, the sidewalks need to be closed for that to happen (in fact, this morning they were laying the footings for a new walk light, yay!). The problem is, sidewalks are closed on both sides and there is no alternative route created for pedestrians. It would be fine if they put up a sign that said the sidewalk was closed and to please cross. In fact that would be ideal if once one crossed, there was a clear path in which to move through. This is what is done for the traffic lanes, they are all shifted and marked with cones and the flaggers are showing cars where to go. But the pedestrian has to find some path through the traffic and hope they can make their way across safely on their own, no provisions have been planned for how pedestrians will safely navigate the construction zone. That should be hard baked into the plans for how the project will proceed and it is obvious that no thought at all was given to pedestrians when the plan was conceived.

    This is doubly annoying as I actually don’t think this is a RIDOT project, I’m pretty sure that Dean is a city street and it is the city that is running the show here. If it were RIDOT, I would be annoyed, but it would feel par for the course for a highway focused agency that is still trying to transition it’s culture into a multi-modal mind set. But the city? The city should be cognizant of pedestrians from the get go.

  • I ran into this today. I had to go downtown to catch a bus to get to a job interview. But I had to stop at the Sovereign branch on Atwells first. I walk down the street and notice both sidewalks are ripped up. I gave one of the DOT guys a “WTF” look and he pointed at Barker St.

    It’d be nice if they had signage. But is this a DOT job or a city job?

  • Almost forgot. Royal Little Drive – no paved sidewalks. Just grass. That’s another one that irks me.

  • DePasquale used to not have working walk lights. You had to go with the traffic, which was dangerous because people run that red light all the time. It’s safer now, but I have seen more cars run that light than any other light (it should have a camera, but the business owners on Atwells would never go for that because it’s probably their valets running it).

    @Tony: There are tons of places in Providence without paved sidewalks. Royal Little Dr is one of the least of my worries because it’s basically an industrial park that was never designed for pedestrians to begin with. I’m more annoyed with places like Pleasant Valley Pkwy which has huge strips of no sidewalk, and I’m sure they need permission from the property owners to have one installed (though that shouldn’t be the case). In fact, most of Elmhurst, which has a lot of walkers, has a lot of streets with huge strips of sidewalk-less areas that span several properties. It’s annoying walking in those areas because you either walk in grass or walk in the street.

  • @Jim, yes I’m aware of the other sidewalk free areas. I always thought that city ordinance said that the first 6 or 7 feet of any street facing property were for the common use, aka sidewalks.

    But then where I grew up in Eagle Park, we didn’t have them either, especially on Cheshire St.

    I think it’s not followed consistently.

  • I emailed Lombardi about the sidewalks. He actually gave me a call. It is a state funded project but he agrees, closing sidewalks on both sides was kind of stupid.

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