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Guest Post: Exit-stential Problems for Federal Hill & Smith Hill

dean-6-10

Dean Street interchange with Routes 6/10 center, Federal Hill to the left, Smith Hill to the right.

Reader James Kennedy writes about establishing better non-automobile connections between Federal Hill and Smith Hill. Follow James on Twitter: @TransportPVD.

Providence has too many highways, and I wouldn’t be an opponent of removing some entirely. But if we’re going to have a highway system snake through the city, let’s at least make it useful. The Dean Street exit ramps should be removed, in my opinion, and a multi-modal boulevard should replace the highway-let that the street currently is.

As a bike commuter, I hadn’t really experienced rush hour traffic on Routes 10 & 6 until I had the recent occasion to sit motionless on a school bus with the kids I was transporting from Nathan Bishop Middle School to Del Sesto M.S., for a basketball game. It seemed an oddly short route to have to be taking a highway, I thought, and seeing how traffic was, I thought I’d probably could have gotten the kids faster there on bikes moving down local streets.

The Dean Street exit can’t possibly be doing any motorists any favors. It’s only a stone’s throw from several other exits in Smith Hill, Federal Hill, and Downcity.

When we design a highway, it’s supposed to be fast. With so many exits, we’re encouraging people to use the highway for local travel, and that’s probably a big part of why speeds at rush hour are so slow. If you’re only going from Downcity to Federal Hill, or from Smith Hill to Federal Hill, you don’t need a highway to get you there. The nearest I could possibly imagine someone needing to have an exit on the highway from Downcity would be somewhere near the edge of town along the Cranston border. Having all these tiny little exits scattered everywhere makes the highway useless for it’s stated purpose.

If that was the only problem to having exit ramps on Dean Street, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal. But the ramps are huge, and eat up prime real estate in Federal Hill that could be developed. With a generous tree sound buffer planted between it and the highway, the remaining land from the former exit could become a new section of historic Federal Hill, designed to be walkable and small business-friendly.

Once, on a whim, my partner and I took Exchange Street from where it intersects with Sabin, to see whether it was a bikeable route. It was beautiful until we got to Dean Street, and then it felt almost like there was nowhere to go. Exchange Street could be carried through this new neighborhood as a bike-friendly route, and bring Federal Hill a tourist-friendly connection to the convention center area.

Providence doesn’t have all that many options for traveling between Smith Hill and Federal Hill, so Dean Street is also a prime target for change because of how important it could be to connect multimodal transportation between the two as yet alienated neighborhoods. Dean Street is wide enough that it could maintain a car connection north-south over the highway, while bus-only lanes and protected bike lanes could be put into a new Dean Street bridge to speed traffic for non-car users.

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General Assembly approves Complete Streets legislation

Rhode Island State House

General Assembly Press Release:

Assembly OKs ‘complete streets’ bill

STATE HOUSE – With passage in the House yesterday, the General Assembly has approved legislation aimed at ensuring future road construction projects are developed with an eye toward the safety and ease of all types of users.

The legislation (2012-S 2131, 2012-H 7352) sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. Peter Martin, requires the state to use “complete street” design features in all federal- and state-funded road construction projects, with an eye not only toward motorists, but also bicyclists, public transportation users and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

The goal is to plan streets that encourage people to use healthy, greener transportation modes whenever possible, contributing to their own health as well as the well-being of the environment.

“Cars shouldn’t be the only consideration when public roads are being built. The health and environmental benefits of walking, bicycling and other active modes of transportation are well known, and we should be building our roads in ways that are safe for those activities and encourage people to choose them,” said Senator DiPalma, (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton).

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Pedestrians everywhere actually

Pedestrians Ahead

I posted this photo of this sign last night on our Facebook page where it got a big response. I labeled it as, “shouldn’t this sign be everywhere?”

Where it happens to be is on North Main Street just north of Steeple Street, the pedestrians ahead that it is talking about are trying to cross at Park Row at the corner of the Roger Williams Memorial, while traffic barrels up North Main Street like a bat out of hell.


View Larger Map

I can’t recall if a crosswalk was actually painted here to accompany the signs, but really, the way traffic moves here, and the weird geometry of the intersection (how Meeting Street and Park Row are offset but traffic tends to move through as if they are not, even moving the wrong way on North Main at times to get from Park Row to Meeting), there needs to be more thought here than signs and paint.

Bump outs are needed on the sidewalks so that pedestrians can see oncoming traffic, and oncoming traffic can see pedestrians trying to cross. I find, as much as we talk about how terrible Rhode Island drivers are, if someone sees me, they have a tendency to stop if they can.

But really, this sign should not read “Ahead” rather it should read “Everywhere.” Within the city, there should not be any areas where drivers are given special notice that there might be pedestrians, it should be an assumption that drivers in the city make about everyplace. We’ve built this section of North Main in such a way that we make drivers forget there are pedestrians and we’re forced to put up signs then to remind them.

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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.

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News & Notes

→ I want to bike and walk but… [Coalition for Transportation Choices]

For Earth Day 2010, CTC member Audubon Society of RI challenged students grades 3 – 12 to respond to the lead-in “I want to bike and walk but…”

The students addressed their essays, poems or raps to their town’s mayor and submitted their work individually or had it selected by teachers from 27 classrooms in 19 municipalities. The students wrote about barriers encountered in walking or bicycling to school or visiting family and friends and suggested solutions.

→ City exploring slimmer, trimmer roads [Chicago Tribune]

Like a bulging waistline, Chicago streets have gotten fat over the years, growing wider from curb to curb to handle more vehicles.

With that additional girth, traffic-related dangers have expanded, too, especially for pedestrians and transit riders trying to cross busy streets and bicyclists sharing the road with cars and trucks. Sidewalks, meanwhile, often have been narrowed to accommodate more traffic lanes.

The unfortunate upshot is that the high priority placed on accommodating vehicles over other forms of transportation has in many cases backfired.

→ Do urbanists hate the automobile? Not this one [MinnPost.com]

But for me driving is a little like chocolate. It’s a wonderful indulgence that is easily overdone. When everyone drives a lot, things get out of hand: traffic congestion, air pollution, storm-water runoff, oil spills, greenhouse-gas emissions, oil dependence, foreign-policy complications that sometimes lead to wars, sprawled development, redundant infrastructure, drive-through lifestyles that lead to bad nutrition and obesity — all of these things can be laid, at least partially, on our need and desire to drive excessively.

→ Better Transit, Even on the Cheap, Doesn’t Always Come Easy [The TransportPolitic]

With the rise of bus rapid transit and the increasing movement for better bicycling facilities have come a new form of community protest — a sense of indignation among some members of the affected areas about abandoning parts of the road they they had once assumed were to be entirely reserved for cars. From New York to Berkeley to Eugene, places more typically known for their liberal politics are becoming battle grounds over the right and wrong ways to use the street.

→ Case Studies of Latino New Urbanism: San Ysidro [The City Fix]

They are places that are layered and altered from the ground up, as opposed to being single-use and organized. James Rojas, an urban transportation planner, describes “Latino New Urbanism” as the sort of place that “derives its character” not from “structures, codes and designs” but from the way Latinos have transformed and adapted American suburban or urban environments to fit the needs of their communities.

→ Streetcars vs. Monorails [Slate]

So the future we thought we were going to get somehow seems antiquated, while the past looks increasingly, well, futuristic. Why is the trolley ascendant as the monorail declines?

→ Flood [City of Sound]

An extensive account of the Brisbane flood from someone on the ground.

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Road Diet: Thomas Street

Thomas Street, Before Diet

Thomas Street

A Road Diet is when the overall width, lane width, or number of lanes on a road is reduced. The goal of the Road Diet is to reduce the speed of traffic and improve safety and or capacity for pedestrians and cyclists.

There are many streets in Providence that need to go on diets, and we will profile some of them here. The first one I’d like to show is Thomas Street.

Thomas Street runs between Benefit Street and North Main Street, connecting Angell Street to Steeple Street. Currently Thomas Street is set up to have up to three lanes, the lanes are rather wide, and there is a right turn lane at the bottom of the street onto North Main. As a result of the wide lane width and number of lanes, traffic tends to move at a very high rate of speed down Thomas Street. Recently a car went through the front of the Providence Art Club taking a street light down along the way.

The sidewalks on either side of Thomas Street are very narrow, the sidewalk on the Baptist Church Street side is only wide enough for one person (when two people pass, one has to step into the street). On the Art Club side, the sidewalk is wider, however steps into buildings and streetlights and fire hydrants and the like make the effective width of the sidewalk similar to that on the other side (i.e. very narrow).

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