Tag Archives | Commuting

News & Notes


Eddy Street in Providence. Image from Google Street View.

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

Unfortunately, trained to expect this sort of behavior, highway engineers apply the same logic to the design of city streets, where people behave in an entirely different way. On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?

When lanes are built too wide, pedestrians are forced to walk further across streets on which cars are moving too fast and bikes don’t fit.
All of these factors matter, and others, too. The simplest one to discuss, and probably the most impactful, is lane width. When lanes are built too wide, many bad things happen. In a sentence: pedestrians are forced to walk further across streets on which cars are moving too fast and bikes don’t fit.

As with most other State and County road departments across the country, RIDOT mostly insists that all roads should strive for 12′ lanes and the Providence DPW does not much disagree.

BuzzFeed News: The Hidden Reason Why Rent Is So Expensive In Cities: Parking Spaces

While many factors contribute to drive up the price of rents, parking is among the most significant, according to University of California Los Angeles professor and renowned parking guru Donald Shoup. BuzzFeed News sat down with Shoup during the CityLab 2014 conference in Los Angeles Monday to talk about how parking makes housing more expensive. His point: “It’s unfair to have cities where parking is free for cars and housing is expensive for people.”

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News & Notes

Kennedy Plaza

Two ProJo articles last weekend about Kennedy Plaza:

The Providence Journal: A View from Providence: Hangout or hub, Kennedy Plaza certainly is quirky

People get off buses. Others get on. Some stand in line, others stand around. They wear headphones and backpacks, some carry bags.
The plaza draws folks from all walks. Students. Workers. Homeless. Peddlers. Visitors.

The Providence Journal: Some argue that good parks and public spaces can revitalize RI economy

In Kennedy Plaza, bus and vehicle traffic compete with people wanting to use the park. There is too much hard surface; too few trees. There’s too much noise; too little to do.

“If you leave public spaces barren you get this blight,” Wood said. “You create a draw for all sorts of undesirable activity.”

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Providence has 10th highest percentage of people walking to work, and growing

Cambridge - Harvard Square

Harvard Square in #1 ranked Cambridge, Mass. Photo (cc) Wally Gobetz

Nationally, only a small fraction of people primarily walk to work – the measure the Census Bureau estimates in its annual American Communities Survey. In a select group of cities, though, recent data illustrates the extent to which walking has emerged as an everyday means of commuting.

Providence ranks 10th with 10.8% of commuters walking; 69.9% commuting by car, 9.2% by public transit, 5.3% by bike/taxi/other*, and 5% working from home.

Providence also sees the 10th highest rise in people commuting by foot, going up 1.5% from 2007 to 2012. Imagine if we were actually actively working somehow to encourage people to walk the way number 1 ranked Cambridge does!

*What do we thinking the others are commuting by.


Wickford Junction Station and the Route 2/102 Park and Ride


Park and Ride at Routes 2 and 102. Image from Google Maps.

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

On Tuesday, January 15th there was a meeting of the Rhode Island State Properties Committee, where the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) requested clarification regarding a Request for Proposals (RFP) to sell the Route 2/102 Park and Ride lot near Wickford Junction Station. The original RFP offered to sell the land for private development, but stipulated that the Park and Ride lot would have to be relocated and rebuilt at the expense of the developer.

RIDOT asked for clarification on whether the intent of the RFP would still be valid, if the agency dropped the requirement that the Park and Ride lot be relocated and rebuilt. The committee indicated that they would not support that change. They felt that it would be a clear departure from the original RFP and would create unnecessary hardship on the public that relies on the free lot to access public transit or to park cars when people car pool. The committee chair also said that they had been told in the past by RIDOT that the Wickford Junction Parking Garage would not be available for free.

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News & Notes

TriMet: MAX and Bus on Portland Mall

MAX train and bus in Portland, OR. Photo (cc) TriMet.

The Atlantic Cities: Can Light Rail Carry a City’s Transit System?

We often think of light rail as a single component of a larger transit system, but if it’s done right it can just as soon serve as the foundation. Since 1981 a dozen American cities have built light rail lines atop bus-only systems. In five of them — Dallas, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, and San Diego — light rail now accounts for at least 30 percent of all transit ridership in the metropolitan area, even as it covers less than that much service space in the region.

Thompson and Brown settled on three key factors in the success of these systems. First, a great light rail system anchors a transit network that’s dispersed throughout a metro area. Second, it acts as an express regional alternative to the local bus network. And third, it promotes transfers between the bus and rail systems. The researchers believe these traits can serve as guides for future light rail planners “by setting forth attributes that these services need to possess in order to attract substantial ridership.” Car-free commuting push pays off in Kendall Square

Doug Taylor used to get to work the way most Americans do, driving alone. Then he switched jobs to one of the many Kendall Square companies that offer financial incentives for employees to leave their cars at home. After trying the commuter rail, the 48-year-old Medford resident soon discovered he could pocket even more by biking.

Taylor is part of a set of statistics so surprising it looks like a mistake. ­Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last ­decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.

Not for nothing but, modern day Kendall Square is a model City and State leaders are looking toward in regards to the (so-called) Knowledge District. Though leaders have not been looking enough at the transportation aspects of the area.

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No more excuses, back on the bike.

Morning CommuteWe may not be past solstice yet, but it sure feels like spring is here. Now that we have a bit more daylight in the evenings, I’m out of excuses; it’s time to get back on the bike.

Yesterday I did my first bike commute of the season. The morning ride to work wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected despite sand on the roads and a relatively new scrap-metal yard on my route.

I live in Providence, but my office is in Warwick on the oh-so-bicycle-friendly Jefferson Boulevard. This last stretch of ride is the only time I find safety in riding on a sidewalk. No, it’s not ideal, but sharing the right-most of 4 lanes with tractor-trailers, pothole craters, and sand is just too scary for this guy. Instead, I trudge through about a mile of sandy sidewalk, weaving around grossly parked cars in adjacent lots, before ducking into the safety of a parking lot and side street that leads to my building.

I felt great on the ride in, such a beautiful morning. In the evening, it was even warmer. When I hopped back on the bike and headed down the street, I quickly realized which muscles had not been maintained over the winter…

I recently got my first GoPro camera, so I look forward to making some videos of my adventures. This video, by my friend Peter, not only got me interested in these cameras, but seriously makes me realize I need more Rule #5 want to get back on the bike every time I watch it.

Six Days to Glover from Peter Gengler on Vimeo.

Today, am I sore, but I am excited to be back at it. I need somebody to make me a shirt to wear while I’m biking that says “I’m blogging this.”


News & Notes


Photo (cc) Dave Fayram

News & Notes Safety Keeps Pittsburgh Cyclists from Becoming Bike Commuters [Transportation Nation]

There is a bit of a catch 22 to increasing cyclist numbers though. Until cycling is widely considered safe, new cyclists won’t start riding to work. The solution, Pucher argues, is infrastructure. Pucher says the absence of bike lanes means only a small segment of the population is willing to ride to work.

Why small cities are poised for success in an oil-starved future [Grist]

So how do these small cities, long derided as provincial and irrelevant, prepare for the future that Tumber sees coming? She focuses on several broad topics: controlling sprawl and redeveloping the suburban fringe, developing agriculture in and around the city, reviving small-scale manufacturing, and redesigning economic networks and school systems. All of these topics involve interlocking policy conundrums that may be more easily navigated in small cities, where relationships are closer and bureaucracy less entangling.

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News & Notes


Photo (cc) nicpic

News & Notes The True Cost of Commuting [Mr. Money Mustache]

I was talking to a couple I had just met, and the topic turned to the beauty of the neighborhood. […] “We should really move here!”.

Then the discussion turned to the comparatively affordable housing, and the other benefits of living in my particular town. By the end of it, these people were verbally working out the details of a potential move within just a few months.

Except their plan was absurd.

Because these two full-time professional workers currently happen to live and work in “Broomfield”, a city that is about 19 miles and 40 minutes of mixed high-traffic driving away from here. They brushed off the potential commute, saying “Oh, 40 minutes, that’s not too bad.”

Yes, actually it IS too bad!

Turns out, this couple would end up spending $125,000 over 10 years for their “not so bad” 40 minute commutes. Visit the link to see the math.

The Importance of Comprehensive Planning in a Down Economy [Planetizen]

The slowing in the pace of development has given those planners who remain something precious: time. Especially in America’s fastest-growing places, the pace of development at the height of the housing boom often left planners with little time to engage in planning that was not focused on the here and now. As a result, in many jurisdictions important work to update archaic zoning ordinances or old comprehensive plans was left undone. Comprehensive plans in particular suffered, as fast-paced development changed the face of towns and cities in ways not anticipated by plans of an earlier age. Except in those states where comprehensive plans are binding, the first hints of irrelevance (real or perceived) are often the death knell for a comprehensive plan’s effectiveness.

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News & Notes

How to Create a Culture of Public Transit: The ‘Marci Option’ [The Atlantic]

Last week I went to an exurban office park in San Ramon, California where 33 percent of the park’s 30,000 workers leave their cars at home. Despite the fact that Bishop Ranch is 37 miles from San Francisco, a dozen miles from the nearest BART rail station, and home to Chevron’s corporate offices, its parking lots are surprisingly empty, and it has won many awards for transit. Marci McGuire, the program manager for the Ranch’s Transportation center, describes the attitude at the park as “a culture” where it’s cool to have a bus pass. “When you do it right, it’s like a cult,” she says.

Will London’s New Wayfinding System Get More People Walking? [This Big City]

The thinking behind the new system is to encourage more people to walk around London instead of driving or using already overcrowded public transport. By catching people at key decision points – such as tube stations – and providing them with the right information on walking times and local attractions, it is hoped that they will choose to walk.

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Bike Commute Report – Day 1

Friday’s record breaking temperatures and last weekend’s ride on the bikepath had me pretty psyched to get an early start (for me) to the bike-commuting season. As you might expect, the roads are in tough shape. The potholes and sand made for a pretty tricky ride. At minimum, half the width of all the bike lanes along my route were full of sand and debris, and, in some places, craters left from utility repairs.

Even so, it was great to be out there again. I took it at a very leisurely pace. I tell myself it was so that I’d be prepared to stop or swerve from the obstacles ahead, but after a lazy off-season, I’m not sure my body would have propelled me much faster anyway.

As I made my way down Allens Ave (yes, still going that way…), I felt as though I was being teased by the strip clubs smells of home fries wafting from the Seaplane and OV’s diners. Though, my appetite was soon lost as I biked past a dead bird in the road.

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Looking back at my first season of bike commuting

Given the recent discussions about the bikepaths, I wanted to share my story of commuting by bike for the first time this year. Though I live in Providence, my office is not downtown, but in Warwick.

I did it! I set out to bike to work at least once a week during the warmer months, and I did – about 13 miles each way.

The Route

My office is located on a commercial-industrial 4-lane street. Though my company is a small team of (mostly) engineers, our location is in close proximity to many truck-intensive companies such as Waste-Management, UPS, Fedex, and Ryder. The primary means of accessing our location is from the highway. In fact, the northern end of our street (Jefferson Blvd) ends at highway ramps. Needless to say, the last mile would be the toughest.

Though there is a relatively direct route along route 1 (Elmwood Ave) from downtown Providence, this road would involve heavy traffic, many traffic lights, and an overall feeling of bad. This approach would also take me down Post Road which becomes the secondary path to the airport. Again, not a place I feel comfortable on two wheels.

Instead, I found a route that takes me primarily through residential neighborhoods and along the coast. Many of these streets even have bike lanes or at least share-the-road signage. Along this route, I found that for the most part I could avoid the busy streets (Elmwood, Post, 117) and simply cross them at traffic lights when necessary. Parts of this ride are truly spectacular. Narragansett Blvd, through Edgewood and Pawtuxet villages are quite beautiful and include views of Narragansett Bay.

Seriously, there is no better way to get to or from work.

The Fall-back

On a couple occasions, including my first test rides, I either wasn’t quite up for the return trip or the weather was unfavorable. On these occasions, I was fortunate enough to hop on the bus. Luckily in RI, almost all of our buses are equipped with bike racks able to carry 2 bikes. Another blessing is that there is a bus that follows my bike route pretty closely. I think if something should go wrong en-route, I could always hop on the next bus to or from the office.

The Challenges

There are certainly some challenges beyond pedaling 13 miles. The terrain can be a little unforgiving. By that I mean, potholes, debris, glass, and sand clog even the bike lanes. I can only remember one occasion this season where it was clear the streets had been swept.

I already mentioned the traffic I’m up against on the roads near my office. This is probably one of the scariest places, so for this stretch, I hop on the sidewalk. I’m not usually a sidewalk cyclist, but literally no one walks around here, so I have it to myself. Additionally, crossing the four lanes of traffic is so amazingly difficult that I stick to the intersection with the traffic lights and get right in line with the traffic to make sure I’m well seen. Unfortunately, this means I have to be on the sidewalk and on the wrong side of the road for the last mile.

To make things worse, this sidewalk sucks. This road contains a lot of surface parking and the lots abut the sidewalks, so naturally cars overhang into my travel space, and of course those pulling out of the lots never expect to see a bike coming towards them. The sidewalk is also covered in sand in places, and nearest my office, the curb cuts are not ramped.

Another minor challenge is that my office doesn’t have a shower. I wish it did… then again, I wish my office were downtown, too. To get around the shower thing, I basically make sure I shower really well before I leave. I bring a complete change of clothes to work and also something to towel off with. I get pretty sweaty, but I find if I’m clean, I get out of any damp clothes, and I dry off, I’m fairly unoffensive. Just need to brush out the helmet hair.

The Schedule

I commuted by bike about once a week from April until October. In total: 24 round trips; about 624 miles! And according to my iPhone app Cyclemeter, my last ride, both to and from work, were personal records with the ride in taking 53 minutes and the ride home 52 minutes. This was a great way to finish the season!

Unfortunately, October 26th was my last bike commute. Not so much because of the cold, but because of the dark. Though I have blinky lights, bright clothes, and reflectors, I had a scare on one of the last rides where I was moving along pretty well (around 20mph with traffic) when I went over an unseen rock. I didn’t fall, but my heart certainly skipped a beat.

If the roads were better lit, and I didn’t have to worry about potholes, sand mounds, sticks, and general debris, I’d be happy to bike most of the year. I know some people that continue all year, and maybe some day I will, but I still feel like a rookie, and I’m just not there yet.

The Rewards

It’s still pretty cool to tell people I bike to work in Warwick from Providence. Coasting through the city in the morning as people are just getting out is a great feeling. I also love the views just south of Pawtuxet Village. The leaves in the fall are magnificent, and the summer mornings with the sailboats on their moorings are spectacular. I feel pretty good, too. Some days, I just want to keep riding.

The Future

As soon as the winter sand piles are cleaned up on the edge of the roads, I will be back on two wheels this spring. Hopefully this year I can step it up to two or more rides per week, but it’s the after-work schedule that often gets in the way. Not necessarily that I can’t bike to those engagements, but it’s nice to get back before dark, and be able to have a shower when I’m done with my ride.

I’d love to hear from more bike commuters. Does anyone else do a similar route?


News & Notes

avoiding car-centered language: a directive [Human Transit]

Yes, crash sounds emotive while accident sounds cool, so it’s easy to assume that accident is more objective or factual. But sometimes the facts are emotive, and only an emotive word will accurately describe them. The directive even notices that avoiding the emotive word can constitute an emotional bias in the other direction: “Sheila was in a car accident!” “Oh no, I hope she’s OK!” “Well, she killed three cyclists, so she’s pretty upset!” “How terrible! I’ll send her some flowers.”

Human landscapes in SW Florida [The Big Picture]

Save-A-Lot (grocery store) Grows by Targeting Low-Income Neighborhoods [Retail Traffic]

Reclaim Your Streets: How to Create Safe and Social Pedestrian Plazas [Yes!]

Ten tips for planners to convert a shopping center into a village center [New Urban Network]

Driven Apart: How Sprawl Is Lengthening Our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures Are Making Things Worse [CEO for Cities]

Driven Apart ranks how long residents in the nation’s largest 51 metropolitan areas spend in peak hour traffic, and in some cases the rankings are almost the opposite of those listed in the 2009 Urban Mobility Report.

For instance, the UMR depicts Chicago as having some of the worst travel delays, when it actually has the shortest time spent in peak hour traffic of any major US metro area. In contrast, Nashville jumped from 31st to first on the list of those with the longest peak travel times.


News & Notes

FTA authorizes $2 million for Pawtucket commuter rail [The Valley Breeze]

Cardi’s installs state’s first car-charging station [The Providence Journal]

Researchers Confirm Link Between Active Commuting and Better Health [DC.StreetsBlog]

11th Annual RI Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival (Aug. 28) [Pawtucket Arts Festival]

Dispelling the Magic Bullet Myth “While increasing numbers of governments at all levels are embracing the use of new media tools for public participation, there’s less understanding about the fact that technology is just a means to an end. And all too often, the conventional government decision making process is not designed to embrace citizen input. Thus, simply creating an opportunity for input – even using the coolest new social media technology – likely won’t lead to a significant or sustainable increase in citizen engagement on its own.” [Next American City]

Richmond [Virginia] plans conversion of one-way streets downtown [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
Providence is also working on converting a number of one-way streets into two-way streets including Empire and Weybosset; possibly Exchange Terrace, Sabin, and Dorrance; and likely several streets in relation to the rebuilt Route 195 streetgrid such as Richmond and Chestnut.

Wellbeing Lower Among Workers With Long Commutes Back pain, fatigue, worry all increase with time spent commuting [Gallup]