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News & Notes

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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

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Kansas City. (cc) Zach Werner

The New York Times: Millennials Going to Kansas City, to Live and Work

On one of the hottest days of the year in mid-July, Michael Knight, a real estate developer, made note of the torn-up street outside Commerce Tower, which opened in 1965 as this region’s first modern high-rise office structure with a glass curtain wall.

Workers were preparing the road for Kansas City’s $100 million streetcar starter line, which will begin running in 2015. It will include a stop right outside the 30-story office building, and the streetcar is one reason among many that the Commerce Tower Group, of which Mr. Knight is a partner, acquired the property just 70 days after he walked through it for the first time a year ago.

In October, the company plans to begin converting the 500,000-square-foot tower into a $90 million vertical city of residential and office space, and retailing and restaurants. The renovation will also include a Park University satellite location, which already operates in the building, and an early childhood school, among other amenities like a fitness center and a rooftop gathering spot.

I think it is cool that Knight Rider went into real estate.

The number of people living in the central business district has increased about 50 percent, to 20,000, since 2000, according to the Downtown Council of Kansas City. Apartment developers added more than 6,130 units from 2002 through 2012, and occupancy is above 95 percent, according to the Kansas City office of Cassidy Turley, a real estate brokerage firm.

Officials would like to see the current number of downtown residents double.

Officials in Providence seem to have no goals whatsoever about increasing the population in Providence, even with similar demand for downtown living as what is seen in Kansas City.


Governing: Do Cities Really Want Economic Development?

So many cities and regions continue to struggle economically. Even within nominally well-performing places there are pockets that have been left behind. Most of the have-nots in the current economy have been struggling for an extended period of time, often in spite of enormous efforts to bring positive change.

Why is this? Perhaps we need to consider the possibility that these places are getting exactly the results they want: Maybe they actually don’t want economic development.

Jane Jacobs took it even further. As she noted in The Economy of Cities, “Economic development, whenever and wherever it occurs, is profoundly subversive of the status quo.” And it isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

This is a something that I’ve been hearing more of around Providence lately; some feel that people in Rhode Island don’t actually want anyone to be successful, especially if those people are from away. I think of the General Assembly reading the Jacobs quote.


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News & Notes

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Bloomberg: Icahn Urges Family Dollar CEO to Seek Sale ‘Immediately’

The retailer has been struggling to compete with rival discounters, drugstores and big-box retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. To combat slumping sales, Family Dollar embarked on a review of its business this year. As part of its turnaround plan, the company is closing about 370 underperforming stores and opening fewer new ones. It’s also lowering prices in a bid to entice shoppers.

‘Consistently Underperformed’

Family Dollar has “consistently underperformed its peers” in same-store sales, total revenue growth, sales per store, sales per square foot, operating margins and capital-structure efficiency, Icahn wrote in the letter, which opened by remarking on the “cordial nature” of the previous night’s discussion.

Meanwhile, in Providence we’re throwing out our zoning regulations to accomodate the “proven business model” of this “consistently underperforming” retailer. Olneyville risks ending up with an empty big box more craptacular than the building that was torn down to make way for it.

Providence Business News: Solomon proposes citywide 15-year tax stabilization plan

“I want to send a loud and clear message to the development community that Providence is open for business,” Solomon said in the news release. “If we don’t bring certainty to this process we are losing a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow our tax base, grow our population and create much needed jobs. I plan to reach out to the developers who have expressed frustration with the process to assure them my plan will remove the politics and uncertainty that has plagued this city for far too long.”

The new system would be based on recommendations issued earlier this year by an economic development task force formed by the city council partly in response to the continued vacancy of the Industrial Trust building.

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News & Notes

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Photo (cc) Cristina Valencia

The Washington Post: Actually, cyclists make city streets safer

In the hysteria that predated the launch of New York’s bike-sharing system last year, many critics cried that the bikes would make the city’s streets less safe. All those cyclists wouldn’t be wearing helmets! They’d have no insurance! Accidents would skyrocket, and with them lawsuits against the city. Fatalities would triple!

The system’s safety record quickly turned out to be less sensational. But this was as bike advocates expected. Biking — as with walking — offers a prime example of the power of crowds. As more people bike and walk, cycling and pedestrian fatalities actually decline. That’s because the more people bike and walk, the more drivers become attuned to their presence (either on sidewalks or road shoulders), and the more cities are likely to invest in the kind of infrastructure explicitly meant to protect them (all of which further encourages more cyclists and pedestrians).


The Boston Globe: Boston’s parking solution is not more parking

Northeastern University professor Stephanie Pollack has studied gentrification around transit stops across the country, and she’s found that one of the biggest mistakes municipalities make is requiring too much parking. Pollack’s data show that, given the choice, residents will self-select: Heavy drivers choose to live in homes that provide parking, and residents who don’t own cars will choose transit-oriented, low-parking homes. This is especially true for renters. So the answer to an urban parking crunch isn’t adding supply. It’s recognizing that parking demand isn’t monolithic. Urban parking is a choice, and if Boston really does have too many cars already, the answer isn’t to build room for more.

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ProJo: Pedestrian safety on Providence’s Federal Hill takes giant step forward

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In 2013 the state, in cooperation with the city, installed on Atwells 14 sidewalk “bumpouts,” 7 neon green crosswalk signs that are supposed to be more vivid than the standard highway orange, and other signs; upgraded some pedestrian-crossing signals; and restriped to create a 3-foot buffer zone on both sides of the avenue.

Nothing has been done to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Atwells and Dean, which is basically an extention of the Route 6/10 highway off-ramp.

Scheduled this year are the installation of additional traffic signal improvements, including 12 unusual pedestrian crossing signals; the painting of “25 mph,” the speed limit, and “PED XING” on the pavement; and the painting of 11 additional crosswalks.

The pedestrian crossing signal, called a “rectangular rapid flashing beacon,” would be unique in Rhode Island. It is a pedestrian-activated LED array attached to a pedestrian crossing sign that irregularly flashes an amber or white light that Urso said is impossible for a motorist to ignore.

Now if we can just stop people getting stabbed to death and drunks driving up on the sidewalks, it’ll be a nice place.

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Snowing again! Parking ban at 6pm, more…

Posted on February 15, 2014

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You know the drill, info from the City:


Providence Declares Citywide Parking Ban Beginning at 6PM Tonight, Saturday, Feb. 15

Travel is discouraged this evening due to near blizzard-like conditions.

In preparation for a snowstorm that is forecast to intensify from 5PM – 11PM this evening with near blizzard-like conditions, the City of Providence has declared a citywide parking ban beginning at 6PM tonight, Saturday, February 15. The parking ban will remain in effect until further notice. Cars in violation of the citywide parking ban will be ticketed and towed to ensure that roadways can be plowed. Cars parked in school parking lots overnight will also be ticketed and towed.

Snow is forecast to intensify dramatically during the evening hours, with possible rates of 1-3 inches per hour. Whiteout conditions are expected with an increasing northeasterly wind. Travel will be hazardous. Drivers and pedestrians are advised not to travel this evening given the rapidly deteriorating conditions.

The Department of Public Works has prepared all equipment and personnel to respond to the storm. The City’s Emergency Operations Center will be partially activated with Providence Emergency Management staff.

Residents can stay up to date on the latest storm developments from the City by using the filter #PVDsnow on Twitter and following the accounts of Mayor Taveras and PEMA.

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Temporary traffic changes coming, maybe they should be permanent

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The City is instituting some traffic changes for the days following Christmas due to expected high levels of pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area of the Convention Center and Providence Place:

Temporary Traffic Changes Planned for Three Days Following Christmas

PROVIDENCE, RI – To accommodate an anticipated increase in pedestrian and vehicle traffic following Christmas Day, the City of Providence has planned traffic changes and increased police details for downtown Providence on Thursday, December 26, Friday, December 27, and Saturday, December 28.

On those three days, from 11AM to 7PM, vehicles will be prohibited from making a left-hand turn onto Francis Street from the I-95 highway ramps. Vehicles will also be prohibited from taking a left-hand turn onto Francis Street from Finance Way.

Vehicles approaching from the I-95 highway ramps will continue east on Memorial Boulevard and be directed to turn left onto Exchange Street, left onto Finance Way, and right onto Francis Street. Vehicles approaching from Finance Way will be directed to turn right onto Francis Street. Pedestrians and drivers should look for message boards and temporary signage.

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State defiantly moves ahead with surface parking

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In spite of Providence Zoning rules and Capital Center rules forbidding it, the State is moving ahead with plans to expand a surface parking lot on the State House grounds and building a new surface parking lot adjacent to the State House.

ecoRI reports that the Department of Administration (DOA) has already started work on expanding the Assembly Members parking lot on the State House grounds. “Work on the two tiers of new parking to the east of the Statehouse, along Smith Street, will replace 2,000 square feet of grass with some 40 parking spaces.”

Meanwhile, as we discussed in July, the DOA has spent $3.1 million purchasing property along Francis Street next to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium for even more surface parking.

The Chairman of the Capital Center Commission, Deming Sherman is none to happy about all this. Sherman told The Providence Journal that there should be less parking around the State House, not more and that a parking garage should be built behind the DOA building.

When the State restarted the project to expand the parking lot on the State House lawn in June of this year, Sherman contended that the plan had to be submitted to the Capital Center Commission for review, the DOA claims that their authority supercedes the Capital Center Commission (which was created by the State) as well as City zoning.

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Interim pedestrian safety improvement at LaSalle Square

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From the Mayor’s Facebook page:

The City completed traffic changes to the intersection of Empire and Fountain Streets earlier today. Motor vehicle traffic proceeding from Empire Street is now required to use the traffic signal to turn left onto Fountain Street, improving pedestrian safety in the area.

This interim step will calm traffic coming from Broadway and Atwells Avenue into LaSalle Square making the pedestrian crossing on Fountain Street outside Hasbro safer and easier. Next spring, the City will begin work on the Downtown Circulator Phase III which will rebuild LaSalle Square and other area streets entirely.

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Barry Schiller: Providence Planning Hosts Meeting on Kennedy Plaza, Downtown Circulation

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Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

Overall: good ideas on the parts of the project about 2-way streets and pedestrian and bike improvements around downtown, but on Kennedy Plaza, a net loss for bus riders, but not as much as once feared.

The project: extend 2-way on Empire, 2-way on Dorrance in front of the Biltmore, and on Exchange Terrace on north side of Burnside Park; narrow Fountain Street by widening sidewalk, maybe include a bike lane and add “public space” at the squares on both ends (La Salle Square, Emmet Square) to slow traffic and be much more pedestrian friendly;

Kennedy Plaza: no change in RIPTA waiting room but the adjacent plaza will have much more public space by eliminating the inner berths and bus lanes. Thus we’d go from 8 bus-only lanes to 4; possible amenities added such as more seating, plantings, public art, and maybe more shelters if funding permits. The 16 current bus berths there now (4 sets of 4 each) would be reduced to 10 – 4 eastbound on the north side, 5 (one more than now) westbound on the south side, and one new one on Exchange Street across from the court house. The loss of berths would be partly made up by another bus berth up the hill on the little street where the trolleys now stop, and another new berth behind the Q stop on Exchange St where the Newport buses stop. Thus there is a net loss of 4 berths. If more berths are ever needed, likely to be on north side of Burnside Park on Exchange Terrace, or up Exchange Street near Memorial Blvd by the undeveloped triangle of land there.

Unresolved issues: what to do with intercity Peter Pan/Greyhound buses; whether there will be a fence separating the bus lane from Washington Street traffic which could help direct pedestrian crossings; funding for more shelters; who is in charge of snow removal.

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Real life Frogger

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This police officer on her phone in her cruiser was no help to me as I was forced to play a real life game of Frogger crossing Atwells and Dean this morning when the traffic lights were out due to the storm.

The officer at Atwells and the Service Road was only slightly more helpful.

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News & Notes

Transportation for America: Newly approved transportation bill is a clear step backwards

Unfortunately, this final bill moves closer to the House’s disastrous HR7, which was too contentious and unpopular to garner enough votes to pass. This final negotiated bill has been called a “compromise,” but it’s really a substantial capitulation in the face of threats by the House to include provisions with no relevance to the transportation bill — the Keystone XL pipeline, regulation of coal ash and others.

As a result of this “compromise,” the bill dedicates zero dollars to repairing our roads and bridges, cuts the amount of money that cities and local governments would have received, makes a drastic cut in the money available to prevent the deaths of people walking or biking, and ensures that you have less input and control over major projects that affect you and the quality of your community.

Despite record demand for public transportation service, this deal cut the emergency provisions to preserve existing transit service, does little to expand that service and actually removed the small provision equalizing the tax benefit for transit and parking.

See also: Bike Portland: Why advocates are distraught over new transportation bill


Next American City: France Commits to Tramways, A Possible Model for the Future of Urban Rail

The appeal of tramways is easy to understand. The electric vehicles are silent, modern-looking and entirely flat-floor. Their tracks can be nestled in a lawn, creating a grass median through which trains run; if done right, they can be used as a tool to restore the beauty of an urban boulevard, rather than deface it, as do some light rail lines traveling on grade-separated track. In some cities, like Nice, Bordeaux and Orléans, vehicles have been designed with batteries that allow them to travel some distance (such as across a historic square) without the need for overhead messenger wire. In virtually every case, tramways in France have been specifically located on major bus corridors in order to replace overcrowded routes with higher capacity services.


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Dear RIDOT: More lanes do not alleviate congestion

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Ramp from 6/10 Connector at Dean Street

I’m not sure if the Q&A on the RIDOT blog is a new feature, or something I’ve missed, but I read this item on April Fool’s Day and have to respond.

A commuter writes in to complain about the light at the top of the Dean Street ramp off the 6/10 Connector. The writer states that the light is remaining green for Dean Street even when no traffic is on Dean Street and the ramp traffic then backs up.

RIDOT responds (emphasis mine):

A: The traffic signal delays you experienced were due to the installation of new traffic signals. Once the project was completed and the vehicle detection function became operational, the department was able to fine tune and coordinate these two closely spaced traffic signals.

The volume of traffic that uses these intersections during the peak hours, however, may push the limits of the existing road’s capacity. Widening the bridge over Routes 6 and 10 and thereby providing more lanes along Dean Street would alleviate the congestion, but is unlikely to occur because of the department’s limited economic resources.

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Traffic Tsunami?

Providence Emergency Management keeps posting this message on Facebook:

Traffic

I’ve commented in the past to seek clarification, what traffic? Where? How does one prepare? Is a hundred foot wave of cars set to strike the city that day? Should I buy D batteries or will the ones I have left from Irene suffice? Bread? Milk?

How much more unhelpful could that message be? Does anyone know what horrific fate awaits us as a city on October 3rd; and does anyone have any good advice on how we can survive?

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Crossing is safer without the light

The traffic lights have been removed at the intersection of Weybosset, Broad, Empire, and Chestnut Streets.
Traffic lights at the intersection of Weybosset, Broad, Empire, and Chestnut Streets on Weybosset Hill have been removed.

As part of the Downtown Circulator Project, the traffic light at the intersection of Weybosset, Broad, Empire, and Chestnut Streets (Weybosset Hill for short) have been removed. The roads will be rebuilt (with Weybosset and Empire both becoming two-way) and new lights will be installed, probably sometime this fall. Curiously, the intersection, which I walk through multiple times a day, has become much better without the lights.

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News & Notes

Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy [The New York Times]

While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear – to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.


Some local greens on the Greenway [Boston.com]

A public food market in downtown Boston will feature up to 100 vendors of fish, produce, wine, cheese, and other local products in a facility that will feel more like a bustling European bazaar than a grocery store, according to an operating plan released by the state yesterday.

After years of false starts and dead ends, state agricultural officials unveiled a detailed layout and financial plan for the market that will operate out of a state-owned building on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway near Faneuil Hall and the Haymarket pushcart vendors.

Two words: Kennedy Plaza.
Two more words: The Arcade


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