The Providence Wiggle

Reader(s) outside of Providence, I apologize if this post may bore you, but I feel that it is important to relay this information as a public service to cyclists traveling between Downtown and Wayland Square (or other parts of the East Side). First some background info.

San Francisco, like many North American cities has done quite a bit in the last few years to improve infrastructure for its cyclists. They’ve added bike lanes, designated more bike routes, and probably done some other stuff too, probably some sharrows or something (what? do I look like a journalist to you? do I really need to “research” these blog posts?) I’ve only ridden a bike in San Francisco once, and it was quite enjoyable. Of course, there are still a few obstacles to cycling in SF, namely those durn hills! But those resourceful Californians have created something to assist in climbing those hills and help them get from one side of their fair city to the other. And because they are a bunch of dirty hippies, they gave it a whimsical name: “The Wiggle.” I guess they didn’t create it so much as they discovered it, or mapped it out. Whatever, it’s a good way to minimize the hill in getting between the east and west sides of town.

The Wiggle has its own Wikipedia Page, Yelp Page, and coming soon, its own PSA including a jingle.

And while the hills of Providence certainly lack the monumental nature of the hills in San Francisco, they are still an impediment to everyday cycling. College Hill, one of the steepest, lies between my office and my home. Here’s the most direct route.

The map indicates that this is an official “bike route.” What you can’t quite tell from this map is that the hill gets to something like an 8-12% grade for a few blocks right around where it says “Rhode” in “Rhode Island School of Design.” It’s so steep there’s even a mini-switchback at one point. So, unless I want to pretend I’m attacking on the Alpe d’Huez, I go around:

This adds about 1 mile to my trip, but it’s definitely worth it. There are many different variations that one could take, but the main point is that you head down to Wickenden Street, and then attack college hill from the south where it is much less steep. Not only is it less steep, one also avoids the highest point of the hill. There’s a slight issue in that there is no way to completely avoid the act of “wasting hill” that is, one goes up a hill, just to go down it again.  But just repeat to yourself what the good book says, “You gotta get up to get down,” and all will be well.

Here’s a close-up of the more wiggly part of the wiggle:

This is my preferred route for wiggling, but every once in a while I like to take a different route.


I like to turn from Wickenden on to Brook Street, while Spouse prefers to go up Wickenden and turn at Governor Street.  I feel that Wickenden is steeper and has more cars on it and due to the parked cars it’s difficult for a car to pass [UPDATE FOR DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY PURPOSES: the parked cars are only on one side of the street, still I feel that it makes it difficult for cars to pass a cyclist]. Spouse prefers Wickenden’s straight shot aspect and lack of stop signs.  I’ll also admit that I take Brook street in order to glance at the display window of Legend Bicycle, Spouse has less interest in doing that. [ADDITIONAL UPDATE: the choice of Pwiggle route continues to be a point of contention in the CarFreePVD household and although Spouse has her points, I’d like to point out that I take this route every day while Spouse only takes her Wickenden route a couple times per week and in non-peak rush hour direction]. For the inbound route, I go straight down Governor to Wickenden because it is downhill and requires fewer turns and stop signs. But really, all manner of variations are possible in this area, and the Providence cyclist is free to wiggle anywhich way the heart desires, unlike those San Franciscans who have signs telling them what to do.

Spouse's preferred outbound route. Coincidentally, the preferred inbound route for both of us.

For the downtown section of the route, there are two options. One can take the “bike path” which is really a walkway along RISD combined with sidewalk along the WWI and WWII memorials.

The hiccup for this option comes at around the second arrow where one must transition from the path to the street. I’m not much for curb hopping, so I don’t really like this so much.

The on-street option requires moving from the right lane to the left lane and then waiting for a left turn signal.

Lately, I’ve been using the on-street option more, mostly because I don’t like the curb hopping. Your results may vary.

There’s seven turns in the Providence Wiggle (or Pwiggle, if you prefer) and I’m only counting the section from Wickenden Street to Wayland Square. It turns out there’s only 6 in the San Francisco Wiggle (which I will now call the Swiggle). Although our hills may be less steep, our wiggles are evidently more epic. Point: Providence.


17 responses to “The Providence Wiggle

  1. Yep, I concur with the Pwiggle. When I bike to work, I go along the RISD corridor, but usually out to the street to make the left. Sometimes when I’m biking down to the Community Boating Center, I’ll follow the sidewalk to South Water, but the first ramped curb cut isn’t until the garage below Hemenway’s, then I like to get on the right side of the road. Tricky place there…

    • Yeah, it is tricky. I too take the curb cut at Hemenways when I go that route. I guess the idea was that someone would go up the ramp, then back to the crosswalk and then across the street and down water street on the sidewalk. Great, that wasn’t very clear, now I’m going to need to create another post.

  2. The routes I take don’t often leave room for the pwiggle. I go from around Miriam to women and infants a few times a week on a child laden big dummy, there’s no real way that going home that doesn’t involve a long uphill. It’s just made me much stronger on a lighter bike. But it’s made the pwiggle less necessary on other routes.

    • Going to or from Miriam wouldn’t really be helped by the Pwiggle. I had been considering writing a post about that sort of route as well. Do you go up North Main most of the way? I used to do that when I was headed in that direction (it is a signed bike route after all), but these days, I would rather go up Meeting to Benefit, then Olney street to Camp street and take that for most of the way. It’s almost completely empty, much more comfortable to ride on than North Main.

      And by the way – Yay for the child-laden Big Dummy! I think I may have seen you at the farmer’s market before (how many child-laden Big Dummies could there by in Providence). It always makes me happy to see a cargo bike with a kid on it.

  3. Whoever decided what the official “signed” bike routes should be in the city didn’t think about avoiding hills, or busy roads. Hopefully the next version of the city bike plan can include the Pwiggle as an official Fox PointWayland route.

    As has been mentioned: Camp/Summit/Brown streets are an excellent option for avoiding traffic and traffic controls and relatively gentle climbing. My longitudinal mini-Pwiggle is Wickenden, Brook, Bowen ,Brown, Camp, Forest/Evergreen/Larch, Ivy, Summit (heading to lippitt? Add Brewster and 8th to Hope)

  4. I definitely make use of a very similar route on my daily commute from Wayland to Point St. I’m new to Providence and laughed that Angell was labelled a bike route when I first saw that hill.

    Since moving to Providence, I’ve wished that Google maps would come up with some way to include elevation changes in their suggested bike routes. How cool would a map function that provided the least-hilly option adding less than 1 mile (or whatever distance) to your route be? Especially here, where so many streets on the East side are very bikeable (whether or not they are labelled bike routes)…

    • Google doesn’t have it yet, but does have a selector to change the strategy for including hills, as well as a preference for selecting any road, or preferring trails. unfortunately, there are other usability issues with the open.mapquest site, most particular, its georeference lookup system.

      • It might work for other routes, but when I punched in the appropriate addresses and selected “avoid up hill”, it suggested going straight up the switchbacks of Waterman.

        You’ve got to like the fact that it allows you to select for “favor up hill” – for all those masochistic roadies out there!

  5. You probably saw me, big guy, bushy beard, very active toddler: we’re there most weeks. And to answer your question, there are two dummies in Providence, or at least around the East side. Jack said he sold one to a guy in Olneyville too but I’ve never met him. Allen carries around his older boys on his dummy and there’s mine.

    For routing, I usually parallel hope st. The hill is a bit higher, but traffic is lighter. I go Summit to Ivy, cut over to Hope till Brook, then Brook down by the hospital. Though going down Brook is to hit up Legend. Other than Brown students on fixies or walking out in the street, you tend to avoid the worst traffic hazards that way and those hazards are far worse in September and October. I don’t like that blind hill right before Whole Foods and going directly up the hill to Benefit street is steeper than I care to do. That and pretty much every bad interaction that I’ve had with a driver has been on North Main means that I route around it even if it is a harder route. Since Hope is two wide lanes there’s room for parking and bikes and cars and people are less likely to treat it as a freeway than other places in Providence.

    • Yep, definitely you. I sometimes help out with the Recycle-A-Bike valet.

      With all the response this post is getting, I’ll have to start a series of “bike routes that are better than the bike routes on the map.”

      • I’ve re-read your comment, and now I understand what you do. I forgot that you could go all the way down to Wickenden and wouldn’t have to worry about the super-steep hill up to benefit.

  6. Oh, and I agree with what you said about North Main. That big hill up to N. Main and Olney will really slow you down, then you get cars hassling you at 35 MPH when the speed limit is 25. Not so much fun.

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  9. I think the “P Wiggle” is a great idea, and I’ve written to RIDOT to suggest a route. I think one of the big problems with navigating around that part of the city is that if you’re coming along Westminster, you naturally end up getting boxed into going up Waterman. I looked at a map to figure out how to get around the one-way cunundrum of S. Main Street/Waterman intersection, and found that Water St. works well if you turn off of Westminster early onto Custom House. But, that route isn’t really all that obvious.

    I came previously from Philly, a city that has its problems but which is definitely getting there in terms of bike infrastructure, and my Philly brain has difficulty wrapping itself around the mish-mash of one way streets here. We Philadelphians brag that we “invented” the grid (even before New York; take a look at the more archaic sections of Lower Manhattan to see which came first. . .), so our one way streets don’t confuse the fragile brain of a biker so much. I think, in the longterm, what needs to happen is that Water St. and S. Main St. need to both be made two-way. This would have a calming effect, as well as making things easier to navigate.

    The other thought I have is the perhaps the canal-adjacent brick-covered walkway part of “Water Street” that isn’t actually a street, could somehow be widened, signed, and so forth, to make it into a mini-bikeway to connect bikers to the rest of Water Street. This would leave intact the one ways.

    In any case, fight on! I hope we can get Providence to Portlandia-like bike levels soon.

    • On some maps, the brick-covered walkway part of “Water Street” (between RISD and the river) is identified as a bike path. The problem comes at the southern end where it joins up with the real Water Street and there is no immediate curb cut to get a cyclist back on to the street. I think that one is “supposed to” backtrack to the pedestrian crossing there, cross the street, and head down the very wide sidewalk. That’s what I did for my experimental Sidewalk ride.

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