Greater City Providence

News & Notes

A couple of red traffic lights against a blue sky

Photo (cc) Horia Varlan

Better Cities & Towns: The benefits of removing stop lights

In the 1990s, the City of Philadelphia removed 800 traffic lights. Traffic flow improved and accidents declined by 26 percent in these intersections.

Recently, Wayne State researchers recommended that Detroit remove 460 signals, or 30 percent of its total inventory. And that figure may underestimate removable signals, the researchers note.

For pedestrians, four-way stops are much better—because every automobile has to come to a complete stop and traffic is calmed.

For pedestrians, removing traffic signals also helps maintain their right-of-way. If one approaches a stop light and is unable to reach the beg-button before the light changes, the red hand tells pedetrains and motorists that the pedestrian is not allowed to cross, even if they are trying to cross with the green which they should be allowed to do by right. Even if the walk-light actuates, turning drivers interpret their green as their right-of-way and treat the pedestrian as secondary.

A non-signalized intersection gives pedestrians the right-of-way.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: One-way streets are failing their cities

In John Gilderbloom’s experience, the notorious streets are invariably the one-way streets. These are the streets lined with foreclosed homes and empty storefronts, the streets that look neglected and feel unsafe, the streets where you might find drug dealers at night.

“Sociologically, the way one-way streets work,” he says, “[is that] if there are two or more lanes, a person can just pull over and make a deal, while other traffic can easily pass them by.”

It’s also easier on a high-speed one-way road to keep an eye out for police or flee from the scene of a crime.

So all the streets that were made one way on Federal Hill to deter drug activity, actually made it worse? Thanks NIMBYs.

CityLab: The Complete Business Case for Converting Street Parking Into Bike Lanes

San Francisco is moving forward with a plan to add protected bike lanes on Polk Street, one of the busiest cycling corridors in the city, but the decision didn’t come easy. The San Francisco Examiner reports that the plan endured about 2.5 years of debate. At the center of the dispute was an objection to the loss of on-street parking spaces by local merchants…

But here’s the thing about the “studies on possible economic impacts” requested by retailers on Polk Street, or really wherever bike-lane plans emerge—they’ve been done. And done. And done again. And they all reach a similar conclusion: replacing on-street parking with a bike lane has little to no impact on local business, and in some cases might even increase business. While cyclists tend to spend less per shopping trip than drivers, they also tend to make more trips, pumping more total money into the local economy over time.

London Evening Standard: Pub must be rebuilt brick by brick, orders council, after developers tore it down to build flats

The owners of a historic London pub who triggered outrage by demolishing it without permission are to be ordered to rebuild it brick by brick.

Council chiefs will next week issue an unprecedented enforcement notice to the firm that owns the Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale requiring it to “recreate in facsimile the building as it stood immediately prior to its demolition”.

Thinking of Grove Street School.

CityLab reposted this story from 2014 on thier Facebook page, it is still worthy of a read:

CityLab: Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous for Safety and Must Be Replaced Now

Why do they do this? Because they believe that wider lanes are safer. And in this belief, they are dead wrong. Or, to be more accurate, they are wrong, and thousands of Americans are dead.

They are wrong because of a fundamental error that underlies the practice of traffic engineering—and many other disciplines—an outright refusal to acknowledge that human behavior is impacted by its environment. This error applies to traffic planning, as state DOTs widen highways to reduce congestion, in complete ignorance of all the data proving that new lanes will be clogged by the new drivers that they invite. And it applies to safety planning, as traffic engineers, designing for the drunk who’s texting at midnight, widen our city streets so that the things that drivers might hit are further away.

Hartford Courant: Tolls, Taxes May Fund Connecticut Transportation Overhaul

Highway tolls, private-sector sponsorships and asset sales were some of the early ideas discussed Tuesday as possible ways to help pay for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed $100 billion, 30-year overhaul of Connecticut’s transportation system.


Additional concepts offered by Barnes for discussion included restructuring existing taxes, implementing automatic traffic enforcement systems. or so-called red-light cameras, and creating a road usage program that charges motorists based on miles driven. In 2013, Oregon lawmakers passed the first legislation in the U.S. to create such a system, authorizing the state Department of Transportation to set up a mileage collection system for 5,000 vehicles beginning July 1, 2015.

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  • “The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: One-way streets are failing their cities”

    “So all the streets that were made one way on Federal Hill to deter drug activity, actually made it worse? Thanks NIMBYs.”

    I’d add, is already ruining the Jewelry District in Providence. Thanks RIDOT!

  • I agree with the overall direction that people are going with one-way to two-way conversions, but sometimes instead of a two-way conversion, adding bike infrastructure or bus lanes would make more sense. It depends on the situation.

    The two most successful bike lanes in Philadelphia are the pair on Spruce and Pine, both originally double one-ways. I think that if they had been just turned into two-way traffic, the results would have been better than a double one-way pair, but would not have been as good as having a lane each for bikes and cars on a one-way pair.

    I wrote a bit about this in the context of Woonsocket, which has many one-way to two-way conversions proposed, but should be looking at protected bike lanes in its core:

  • Pleasant Valley Parkway was converted to one way on either side of the little canal thingy. They added traffic islands and bike lanes. It’s a lot safer for pedestrians and bicyclists because traffic is predictable (as opposed to having a 6 way intersection where cars can go any of those 6 directions). It also seems to have slowed traffic down a bit. Some streets just make more sense to be one way, while some (Empire) make more sense as 2 way streets.

  • I’m interested in the traffic light removal. Indeed I once suggested RI have a traffic light designalization program. Too often motorists speed up to make green lights just near intersections where that can be problematic. Sometimes a roundabout is better to slow traffic without the stopping and idling lights cause, often with no cross traffic. And I cannot understand why traffic lights are not better coordinated. Before computers one-way avenues in Manhattan had lights coordinated so that if you could maintain 23mph you made all the lights, this discouraged a lot of speeding. When I first came to PVD in the 1960s, Angell and Waterman had a similar system, better than having to brake and stop on steep hills or speed up to make the uncoordinated lights. We also had a lot of flashing yellows on main streets (flashing red on the sidestreet) during night hours of low traffic which avoided wasting energy when the rare sidestreet traffic stops the main road.

  • This would never work in Providence or Rhode Island in general. I find drivers here to be some of the biggest assholes around. We used to joke it was Massachusetts drivers when all along it’s RI drivers that are the worst.

  • Barry, it wasn’t that long ago that many of the lights in the city went to flashing. I wish they still did in most of the city (like the lights on Smith Street have no reason to stay active all night long). But I bet they’d never do that with the lights that have cameras because people are more likely to run a red light when there’s no traffic and the city wants the money.

  • While we’re at it, can we please add “Remove Beg Buttons from Pedestrian Signals” to our wish list?

  • DPW and DOT go into a total panic about this every time it gets mentioned. Someone in a car might have to wait an extra 10 seconds if the walk light comes on automatically.

  • Something of this sort was achieved at least once by local custom: In the bad old seventies and eighties I remember if you were approaching a multilane arterial like Northern Boulevard in eastern Queens you were expected to know -or else- when you ought to stop even at a green signal. Many drivers on main roads routinely ignored red lights at minor intersections after midnight. I do not know if this practice remains in effect.

  • Jef – A pedestrian waiting to cross in one direction would also have to wait longer if the walk light for the other direction comes on automatically without any pedestrian demand. What’s the big deal with pushing a button?

    Barry & Jim – Putting signals in flashing mode at night leads to more crashes. FHWA has recently been advising strongly against the practice –

  • mp775 :

    1) Does the button work?
    2) Will I be given a walk signal on the next green phase going my direction, or is a full cycle of waiting for all phases required?
    3) Is the button anywhere near/obvious to where a pedestrian positions themselves to cross the street?
    4) Which of the buttons is the correct one to use for the direction I’m going?
    5) 1, 2, 3, and 4 all lead to people completing ignoring the pedestrian signals and crossing when they see fit on any phase, or with the green phase going their direction.

    I’d say I’m willing to wait several seconds longer on every phase if I know that on the next appropriate phase, I’ll get the same consideration.

    Try walking aroundCapitol Hill section of Washington DC or downtown Nashville, TN sometime. Not many beg buttons to be seen, heavy traffic everywhere, and people walking (and mostly obeying) the little white walk signs and countdown timers.

  • mp775, you’re assuming that pushing the button might make the light cycle more quickly, but I don’t think that’s true in most cases, especially downtown. The lights go at a timed cycle and pressing the button just makes the walk signal come on as opposed to saying “don’t walk” while you’ve got the green light anyway.

  • Newer signals downtown (i.e., almost all of them) are not pretimed; they all have vehicle detection.

    Obviously keeping the buttons in working order and installing them in the right locations are essential. The correct button is the one parallel to the crosswalk. I do know of a few in Providence that are wired wrong.

    Audible push buttons are also a proposed ADA requirement. It’s not mandatory yet, but it would be especially unpleasant to install new signals without buttons and suddenly be out of compliance when the requirement passes.

  • When I walk to an intersection, if I do not make it to the button before the street I need to cross turns yellow, then I don’t get a walk light and have to wait for two-cycles (maybe more depending on the intersection) to get a walk light.

    When I drive to an intersection, it is red, green, red, green… I do not need to push a button, there is no chance of me missing a green if I don’t get to the stop line on time.

    Why is our city built for the convenience of cars but pedestrians… meh?

    If the audible walk light went off at every signal, there would be no need for buttons. No need for visually impaired people to find a button.

    There are scores of walk lights throughout the city that do not work. If a traffic light goes out, heaven and earth are moved to get it working. One of the walk lights at DePasquale and Broadway has been completely gone (due to a car going on the sidewalk and wiping it out) for months. Same at Atwells and Service Road, and that is just my walk to work. These conditions repeat across the City and the State.

    Cry me a river for a driver that needs to wait 20 seconds (while they sit in an easy chair in a climate controlled entertainment center).

  • You should only have to wait one cycle to get a walk signal. Pushing the button is the same as a car arriving and being detected. If you don’t get a walk signal but you’re able bodied and can safely make it across the street, just cross.

    Audible signals coming on every single cycle would be a nuisance to people living near the intersection. Also, the locator tone on the button isn’t just to tell blind pedestrians where the button is; it also tells them where the ramp and crosswalk are. (Yes, I’m aware that Providence has a lot of intersections where the button isn’t in the right place.)

    When you drive to an intersection, your car is detected. If you didn’t drive to it, it may not have been green. It’s more convenient for cars to be detected automatically because it isn’t practical to have a button that’s reachable by someone in a car. On the other hand, a pedestrian isn’t a chunk of metal that can be detected magnetically and doesn’t contrast enough with the surroundings to be detected by video. There is microwave pedestrian detection, but there are problems with its reliability.

    I disagree that heaven and earth are moved to fix a traffic signal. I’ve seen plenty left malfunctioning for a long time.

  • You should only have to wait one cycle to get a walk signal. Pushing the button is the same as a car arriving and being detected. If you don’t get a walk signal but you’re able bodied and can safely make it across the street, just cross.

    And get yelled at, things thrown at me, threatened to be run down because I’m crossing without a walk light. Like the time a cop threatened run me over then to arrest me for crossing when the walk light didn’t come on.

    There’s no reason the walk light can’t just come on.

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