Greater City Providence

James Kennedy: The Elorza Challenge


Mayor Elorza at Bike-to-Work Day, from his Facebook page.

[box type=”note”]This post was written by James Kennedy and was originally published on his website Transport Providence and[/alert]

Mayor Jorge Elorza bikes to work everyday, and takes part in frequent night rides with community members. By all accounts the mayor is supportive of bicycling. However, Providence has made next to no progress on bike infrastructure during the two years the mayor has been in office. This needs to change.

I want to be really clear about what I’m saying. I can’t fully diagnose what the internal politics of why Providence hasn’t gotten infrastructure are. It’s very possible that an intransigent Providence City Council, inter-agency struggles with state-level institutions like RIDOT, or some other cause is to blame. When I say that the mayor needs to step up, I’m not trying to insult the difficulty of being mayor, or saying that the mayor is a bad person.

But Providence has seen the mayor step up on some issues, and his vocal leadership has had an effect. Just recently, Mayor Elorza spoke eloquently to the harm of liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plants, a move which put him in direct contradiction with Governor Raimondo. This move came after the Sierra Club of Rhode Island challenged the mayor to speak up clearly on the issue. I am making the same request.

Where is the bike infrastructure, Mayor Elorza? We cannot expect mass cycling to take root in Rhode Island without our core cities establishing bike routes that are suitable for eight year olds, eighty year olds, and everyone in between. If we’re going to provide routes that are safe for people in wheelchairs and rascals, we need bike routes, like what the Dutch and Danish have. Doing this can help us make more efficient use of our school bus funding, our sidewalk funding, our parking, and improve business outcomes for small business.

The mayor has pushed some reform. The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission currently receives advanced notice of city street projects, and its review of those projects has brought piecemeal changes to sections of street as they’re repaved. Many project reviews include only tiny sections of street, and nothing has yet been accomplished beyond paint, either through door-zone bike lanes, or even worse, sharrows. But this is not enough. To be frank, if Providence is not going to become a charming patch of shallow ocean in the next century, we need concerted action now.

What do community members demand?

A demand is a challenge that comes as an honor only to those politicians who warrant it. Mayor Elorza has objectively not accomplished what needs to be accomplished in his first years of office, however, he has demonstrated himself to be someone who, with pressure, might accomplish those goals. Be honored, Mayor Elorza. You’re being called to the challenge.

The mayor must work to design a full network of protected bike lanes on the major arterials of the city. A starting point for this would be 50 miles of infrastructure, which we estimate would take only 3% of on-street parking to achieve.

The mayor must also work to create “bike boulevards”, routes that are low-traffic and low-speed, off of the major arterials. These are not substitutes for protected bike lanes, which are needed to reach jobs and shopping opportunities in commercial areas, but they are majorly important improvements to help make our neighborhoods safer for school children.

The Mayor’s Office has been supportive of remaking the 6/10 Connector as a boulevard, but as yet has not sought public conflict with RIDOT and the governor’s office about their intransigence to community needs. We need the mayor to pick this fight, in a direct way, just as he did on LNG. It’s understandable that the mayor wishes to advocate behind the scenes, but what will bring life to this issue is a top official speaking openly about the poor priorities RIDOT is putting forward. Without that, the 6/10 Connector continues to take a back-burner position in the news cycle. Speak up, mayor! Put the state government on notice!

These projects must be funded. The city’s 40 million dollar bond includes transportation and non-transportation priorities, but among transportation priorities only 17% of funding is going to non-car priorities, mainly sidewalks. The city must spend in proportion to its population of non-car owners (22%), and it must make good use of those funds to make sure that biking is considered a high priority.

We’ve seen you act before, Mayor. We have faith in you. Step it up! We need you to take action. The bike rides aren’t enough. We’re here to vote for you and to back you up when you are ready to do this.

It’s time.

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