Greater City Providence

Snow as traffic calming

Currently, due to the snow, Atwells Avenue is a good 4 to 6 or more feet narrower than usual. Yet, cars are able to park on both sides and traffic is able to flow smoothly in both directions (in most areas, some places the snow is totally out of control). Which proves my point that the road is too wide and should be narrowed. A narrower Atwells makes the traffic move more carefully, which means slower, which makes the road safer for pedestrians. The traffic moves so slow, that bikes can take the lane and comfortably move with traffic outside the door zone.

An Atwells Avenue that is consciously narrowed (not narrowed by the happenstance of snow) would also of course allow for wider sidewalks which would be attractive to the restaurants and retail, especially those that want outdoor seating. And when it inevitably snows again, a wider sidewalk is better able to act a holding area for snow moved from the roads and the sidewalks.

With traffic moving slower, the areas where the sidewalks are clear are almost pleasant, the sidewalks too are narrowed, but it is nice that the traffic is moving slower. Of course…

…there remain many places where the sidewalks aren’t clear. Even with traffic moving slower on narrowed streets, walking in the street is most certainly not pleasant.

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.


  • Thought the same thing this week! Another sideways perk of substantial snowbanks/parking bans: decreased onstreet parking, decreased threat of getting doored. Given that, my bike commute up and down Washington St has been marginally more pleasant the past couple of days, although all the slush generates its own peril.

  • Let’s not forget about adding bike lanes when we narrow streets 😉 Narrow the lanes, there is plenty of love to go around for both pedestrians and cyclists.

  • I agree regarding bike lanes. The city should seriously consider this option.

  • In addition,, the road would be safe rfor pedestrians if the restaurants would clean up their act and move *inside*, freeing up the sidewalk for pedestrians who are often forced to walk on the street due to tables clogging up the sidewalk.

  • A bike lane that is not in the door zone is appropriate where it is reasonable for vehicular traffic to consistently move faster than bicycles. Where “traffic moves so slow, that bikes can take the lane and comfortably move with traffic outside the door zone” you do not need a bike lane.

    I’m sold: Widen the sidewalks on Atwells by 3 feet .

  • Yeah, a street like Atwells should have traffic calming measure that decrease the size of the street. A bike lane will not do that. Plus a bike lane on Atwells will only serve as a place to dump snow. Atwells is a special case that needs the sidewalks widened for multiple reasons. The first is to slow traffic. The others are to make for a better pedestrian experience on a street where the restaurants are basically given carte blanche to takeover the sidewalks with tables. Notice in the summer that it is nearly impossible to walk down Atwells without stepping into the street. Three extra feet on either side will allow that (assuming the city prevents the restaurants from putting their tables in that extra space). It makes for a better sidewalk dining experience when your table isn’t in the line of pedestrian traffic.

    I honestly never saw Atwells as a major bike route to begin with because it has so much traffic and so little room between traffic and the parked cars.

    As for the snow as a traffic calming measure, I love it. People aren’t able to drive like a-holes because one wrong move and they either hit an oncoming vehicle, a parked car, or drive into a hard snowbank. So everyone, including the a-holes, has slowed down.

  • No, traffic is not flowing smoothly. Instead, drivers have to pull off the road into driveways in order to let oncoming traffic pass. There is absolutely not enough room on most tertiary streets now for parking on both sides and two-way traffic. You can’t see around the snowbanks on the corners, meaning even creeping into the intersection is taking your life in your hands. Add in the giant potholes that require swerving to avoid breaking your axle…I am all for making Providence more pedestrian-friendly, but that should not come at the expense of making driving more dangerous than it already is. Driving this past week is the best argument AGAINST traffic calming measures that I’ve ever seen.

  • Yes, we should narrow Atwells to one lane. That way, when it snows, the one lane will be clogged and all traffic will become VERY VERY CALM.

  • I live on a tertiary (or even lesser) street. I am forced to back into the driveway across the street to get out of my own. I cannot pull into my driveway if there is a car parked across the street in front of my house. My street is MUCH safer now because cars are far less likely to fly up and down it. My street tends to be used as a way to avoid the traffic light at Chalkstone and River. I drive on tertiary and secondary streets all the time. Traffic is moving just fine. Just because traffic isn’t going at 35 mph down Smith Street (which is the norm) doesn’t mean it’s not flowing. Traffic should NOT be doing more than 25 on any street in the city, yet people seem to think 35+ is fine, even on those tertiary streets, like the one where I live. My neighbors with children are less fearful of their kids lives because traffic can’t fly up and down our street. Sure, it sucks having to pull over to let someone drive by, but you know what? It doesn’t prevent traffic from flowing at reasonable and safe speeds. It just inconveniences someone a bit because it takes 10 minutes instead of 7 to get somewhere.

    When you drive, you take your life into your hands. It should be that way for pedestrians, but it is in this city. Perhaps the city should find those streets that normally have parking on both sides and ban parking on one side of the street for the winter or whenever there is snow present. Or maybe they should do it on all streets, with downtown and the major corridors being the exception (streets like Smith, Broadway, Atwells, etc).

    And traffic calming measures usually don’t involve building a 5 foot tall wall along the curb. So your argument about visibility is just silly. Sure, it’s a problem right now, but that’s only because of the snow. Normal traffic calming measures don’t have that problem.

  • do you really think the city would spend the money on a project like widening the sidewalks? i don’t think PVD even really knows what a sidewalk is for.

  • Just ask the folks at Venda. Sidewalks are for parking on! The wider, the better.

  • Headline in the ProJo today: Mounds making getting by impossible

    Then the text of the article:

    PROVIDENCE | The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority says that “massive mounds of snow piles” and “cars blocking the roadway” have forced it to detour seven bus routes.

    Michael J. Dillon, the Providence Fire Department’s assistant fire chief for operations, Monday urged people parking on the city’s streets to think about fire trucks and rescue vehicles trying to get to a fire. Don’t park across from another car on a narrowed street, he said; it’s hard to squeeze a 96-inch-wide fire truck between two cars.

    So it is not the “mounds” which are the problem, it is people parking in the road, people trying to utilize parking spaces that simply are not accessible due to the snow. If the parking space is blocked by snow and you cannot get your car into it, then you cannot park there.

    When did we reach a point in society that people felt it was a god given right, guaranteed in the Constitution that they could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted with their cars?

  • I think the last thing that needs to be done is narrow Atwells. The traffic is slow enough already.

  • The reason traffic is slow already is due to lots of cars on the road up there. That’s just congestion. Cars won’t go any slower if the road were narrowed. But it’s only slow at peak times (rush hour, dinner time on weekends, events downtown, etc). The rest of the time, it’s like a speedway, and that’s when it’s most dangerous. That’s why it needs to be narrowed.

  • A fundamental problem for old cities such as Providence with narrow streets (so little room for wide sidewalks, snowpiles, bike lanes and few thru-streets since not a rectangular grid) is simply too many cars. That is why we need traffic calming, traffic jams up, drivers are impatient, parking is tough, gardens are paved over for parking, not to speak of the outflow of RI $$ to out-of-state/country oil industries …. What to do?
    We are in a tough chicken-egg situation with regard to a transit and other alternatives: since there is not so great transit, folks have little incentive not to drive, making it hard to attract transit passengers needed to improe the system. On the other hand, for getting enough people downtown (as well as for mobility for those who cannot drive) we still need the buses.
    Downtown redevelopment is a generally shared goal, but there is enough parking to cut into building up a better transit system, but not enough convenient parking to attract enough customers, shoppers, businesses that go to suburban strip malls instead. So we have the worst of both worlds – there, inadequate parking and inadequate transit.

  • The narrow widths at Hope Street (Rochambeau) and Wickenden Street help to maintain a neighborly street although the traffic volumes are high. Folks wait for pedestrians to cross mid-block. Cars line up for three turns of the stoplight at Wickenden and Brook in the morning rush hour and there are no horns, no cursing, just patience in knowing your turn through the light will come. That is how we should think about the social aspects of the public space of streets.

    That said, I remain pessimistic about RIDOT’s engineer’s and urban designer’s proposal for the Wickenden Street / South Main / South Water intersection.

    Narrow streets and slowed traffic are ultimately desirable for local, neighborhood, small business and pedestrians.

Providence, RI
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Feels like: 52°F
Wind: 15mph N
Humidity: 93%
Pressure: 29.93"Hg
UV index: 3
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