Greater City Providence

Abel Collins: Complete Streets

Complete street in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo (cc) EURIST e.V.

Abel Collins is Program Manager at Sierra Club RI where he runs the Club’s transportation reform project. The goal of the project is to expand and improve the transportation choices of Rhode Islanders in order to reduce the state’s carbon emissions and increase public health and safety. He also sits on the working group for the Coalition for Transportation Choices and is the vice president for policy of the Environment Council of Rhode Island.

Imagine Providence streets as safe for pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders as they are for cars and trucks: fewer but better designed crosswalks, tree lined streets with narrower lanes to calm traffic, safe routes to schools, comprehensive bike lanes connecting the city, inviting sidewalks where businesses can sell their wares, and bus shelters that actually provide shelter. Imagine streets designed to reclaim their function as vibrant public spaces rather than the corridors for automobile traffic and parking that they have become. Can you picture streets that provide us with more than one viable transportation choice when we step out the door? What you are seeing is a complete street.

It isn’t hard to do, right? It’s not like we need a technological leap to make it possible, no sputnik moment here. Providence is a little more than 20 square miles, 4 x 5 miles give or take. Every destination is within walking or bicycling distance. The biggest obstacle is really just the car-centric mindset that has been at the center of our planning and economic development strategies.

The movement to bring Complete Streets planning to Rhode Island’s cities and towns is gathering momentum. Thanks to the work of Sierra Club RI and AARP, as well as the Coalition for Transportation Choices which they help lead, Newport, Middletown, and South Kingstown have all adopted complete streets resolutions. Even as I write these lines, Providence and Portsmouth are working toward resolutions of their own.

At the same time, statewide complete streets legislation will be considered this session which in addition to exhorting the benefits of complete streets designs and encouraging complete streets planning policies at state agencies will also create a complete streets council to help coordinate its implementation across the state.

Of course, it is the acceptance and implementation of planning policies by the Department of Transportation and municipal departments of public works where the rubber will finally meet the road, and these resolutions are merely the beginning of realizing those imaginary streets. Moreover, complete streets require more than just a shift in governmental thinking. We, the street users whether on our bikes, in our cars, or on our feet, are equally responsible for recognizing that streets are a shared public space that should be safe for everyone.

If you want to help bring complete streets to Providence and the rest of Rhode Island; if you want to make those streets you were picturing back at the start of this post real with all the benefits to public health, the environment, safety, local business, and the size of your bank account that they entail, then contact me,, or at least let your local administrators, council members and state reps know about it.

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