The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has proposed eliminating, reducing, or significantly delaying about $20-$37 million in funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition has all of the details on this.
On August 15, 2019, I went to the public comment meeting about this proposed change and saw many people speak against the change. It was great to see so many people articulate the variety of reasons why this change is the wrong thing for the State Transportation Improvement Plan. There are so many reasons, but this is what I could put down in an email to the Transportation Advisory Committee. If you would like to do the same, please see RI BIKE’s easy instructions on what you can do. I don’t get involved in public activism much, but I feel like we all must do what we can to on every front to fight for every environmental improvement we can.
Dear Mr. D’Alessandro and Members of the Transportation Advisory Committee,
Thank you for holding the two meetings for public comment regarding STIP Major Amendment 19. I was able to attend the meeting in Providence on August 15th where I gave my public comment. I have also emailed my comments to you previously, but after seeing many members of the public speak against this amendment, I wanted to add to my comments.
I urge you to vote against STIP Major Amendment 19. Funding for bicycle, pedestrian, and ADA infrastructure is small enough as it is. This money was designated for these projects and we shouldn’t funnel it into RIDOT’s highway, bridge and other projects. According to some calculations, this amendment would eliminate or delay $20 – 37 million from bike and pedestrian projects.
$37 million goes a long way for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. At the same time as this amendment is proposed, RIDOT is proposing to add a lane to a small section of I-195 for an estimated cost of $70 million. That’s almost double the cost of the proposed bike and pedestrian budget cuts. RIDOT says that the additional lane on I-195 will help provide “congestion relief.” Decades of research has shown that adding lanes to a highway does not relieve traffic congestion because the additional capacity is quickly swallowed up by more people driving.
RIDOT is also on course to spend hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding the I-95 viaduct and add a lane there as well. They are using “congestion relief” as the justification for adding a lane onto I-95 as well. When RIDOT wants to expand a highway, they have no problem finding the money for it. But when it comes to bike and pedestrian improvements (at a fraction of the cost), they have a much harder time finding the money, claiming that it is needed to repair deficient bridges. Meanwhile, they spend tens of millions of dollars expanding bridges which will only make it more expensive to repair in the future. It may be beyond this committee’s purview to stop RIDOT from spending money on unnecessary highway lanes, but you should at least do your best to make sure they spend every penny on bike and pedestrian infrastructure possible.
In a recent article in the Boston Globe, RIDOT director Peter Alviti said, “We have deficient bikeways in the urban core that get much higher use than a trail out to Connecticut.” This is obviously true, and RIDOT has often stood in the way of creating good bikeways in our urban core. We must create protected bikeways, the kind that have been proven to increase bicycle ridership. RIDOT touts its spending on bike and pedestrian infrastructure, but includes bike routes that are only marked by shared roadway markings (also known as bike chevrons or “sharrows”). Shared roadway marking do nothing to make cycling more safe, and do not encourage more people to ride a bike instead of driving a car. Recreational bike paths (officially “multi-use paths), like the trestle trail connecting to Connecticut are also an important part of our our overall bike infrastructure.
I’ve been commuting by bike in Providence for about 12 years, and I’ll ride on just about any street where it is legal to do so. (I prefer to use bike lanes when they are available, and I’ll go out of my way to do so, but there is no way to go more than a mile in town while riding only on bike lanes). I didn’t start out as a confident cyclist. I started as a 10 year old, riding my Schwinn BMX on a bike path in suburban Kansas City. When I turned 16, I started driving everywhere instead, and that’s what I did for the rest of my teens and twenties. But it was a recreational bike path that got me back on my bike. I started riding on paths, then I’d ride to work occasionally, and soon enough I was riding everywhere. Recreational paths like the Washington Secondary and Trestle Trail are a key part of getting more people on bikes, which leads to less car congestion and pollution.
For all of the small reasons above, you should recommend against approving this amendment. But there is a much bigger reason as well. According to a Washington Post analysis of national temperature data, Rhode Island is the fastest-warming state in the lower 48 states, with a 2 degree Celsius average temperature increase since 1895. We must significantly reduce carbon emissions in the next few years in order to avoid the more catastrophic effects of climate change. Can this committee stop climate change on its own? No, of course not. But at the very least, it must not be a contributor to climate change. It can assist RIDOT in being part of the problem, or it can be a small part of the solution. Highways are carbon infrastructure, just like coal or natural gas-fired electric plants. Funding bike and pedestrian infrastructure is your opportunity to do something better.