Category Archives: bike lanes

Majority Leader Ryan, Will You Support Bike Lanes on Smith Street?

In late summer 2019, Providence installed a two-way protected bike lane on Eaton Street, near Providence College. Some people who lived near Eaton Street felt that the bike lanes made Eaton Street dangerous to people driving cars on Eaton Street or walking on the adjacent sidewalks. I disagree with that opinion and I attended a public meeting on September 4th to express my disagreement. The effort to remove the bike lanes was led by Providence City Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan, of Ward 5. This morning, Majority Leader Ryan sent an email saying that the city was now planning to remove the bike lanes and re-stripe Eaton Street. I’ve pasted that email below, or you can see her announcement on her Facebook page.

Here’s what I sent to Majority Leader Ryan. (I addressed her as Councilwoman Ryan, but I’ll be sure to address her as Majority Leader from now on. I apologize for the error).

Dear Councilwoman Ryan,
I was dismayed to learn that the city will be removing the bike lanes from Eaton Street. Because these lanes used a new design that has not been seen in the city before, I can understand that some people were afraid that the lanes would cause safety issues. By narrowing the street, these lanes caused people to drive more slowly. This was a significant safety improvement. If the Eaton Street lanes had been left in, drivers would have gotten used to them and we would all come to appreciate the safety benefits for people in cars, people on bikes and people walking.
Unfortunately, as you said in your email, the city is going to return Eaton Street to its previous configuration. I think this is a bad decision, but I guess it’s already done. I hope that you will take this opportunity to learn more about the benefits of protected bike lanes and work to implement them on other streets in Providence.
I attended the September 4th meeting at St. Pius V and if I remember correctly, you said that you are not against bike lanes, that you were just against how these bike lanes were designed and implemented. Several people at the meeting suggested that Smith Street would make a better location for a protected bike lane. From what I’ve heard from city officials, RIDOT controls Smith street because it is designated as a state highway. The city officials have also told me that RIDOT is resistant to the idea of building a protected bike lane on Smith Street.
As an elected official, you have a great deal of influence. You have used that influence in what you saw as a service to your constituents in getting the Eaton Street bike lanes removed. Will you will use that influence again to convince RIDOT to install protected bike lanes on Smith Street? I admire the amount of effort you put in to return Eaton Street to its previous configuration. Will you work just as hard to create a protected bike lane on Smith Street?
(I signed it with my full name and address, but I don’t like to post that information on this blog)
Here’s the text of Majority Leader Ryan’s email sent this morning:
Dear Neighbors,
I wanted to let you know that Eaton Street will be repaved to its original traffic pattern.
Making our streets safe and accessible to all is one of my top priorities. We need to balance all new initiatives with the needs of the surrounding community, particularly when it is a matter of public safety. After hosting two community meetings and hearing your incisive observations, I am pleased to report that the Mayor has agreed with us.
I want to personally thank you for working together to address these genuine issues of public safety. Our voices were heard loud and clear. This change is happening because of you, and that is something to be proud of.
The work on Eaton Street will begin in a timely fashion, and when I have the full details, I will let you know so that you are prepared for any potential delays that may occur due to the restriping.
Also, I want to thank Mayor Elorza, and I applaud his vision for a City that is responsive to multimodal transportation. Although the plan that was rolled out for Eaton Street did not fit or serve our community’s needs, I genuinely thank Mayor Elorza and his Directors for their professionalism and their willingness to engage with us to reconsider this plans implantation.
Therefore, due to these recent developments, the community meeting that was tentatively scheduled on October 2, 2019, at St. Pius V Church has been canceled.
As any additional information regarding this important community issue arises, such news will be shared on the City Council web page and social media:
You can follow the City Council on Facebook @PVDCityCouncil, Twitter @PVDCityCouncil, Instagram @PVDCityCouncil, and on the web at
Thank you for being vocal and caring community members! I appreciate you and your willingness to engage on these important issues.
If you have other neighborhood concerns, I invite you to join us at my monthly community meeting which is held the first Monday of every month (if Monday is a holiday it falls on Tuesday of the same week) at Mt. Pleasant Community Library from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM.
If you have other concerns, you can always call my office at 401-521-7477.
Jo-Ann Ryan, Majority Leader
Providence City Council
Councilwoman – Ward 5

Bay Area grab-bag pt. 2

Some more pictures from my trip to SF (way back in January, what can I say, I’m a bad blogger).

I can make all the jokes we want about the smug liberalism of the Bay Area, it’s still California, and the excesses of car culture are on full display.

That white SUV is a Mercedes Benz G class, with an after-market conversion for a convertible top. That is, it’s an expensive, ugly SUV, modified to make it even more expensive, less practical, and less safe. I can think of 4 cars I’d rather have that total up to the price of one these. (or about…. I dunno, 20 bikes?) I’ll admit that the sharrows on the street in front of this house help mitigate the ostentatious display of wealth in that driveway.

I took a ride around SF one day and happened upon this scene outside of a private elementary school:

That’s a few dozen cars double parked (with idling engines) waiting to drive the kids home from school. I think it was Gary Kavanaugh (aka @GaryRidesBikes) who first said something like: you know gas is not too expensive when you see people sitting in their cars with the engines idling for 15 minutes. Good thing I was on bike so I could just filter through the cars!

On to more positive things. I attended something called the East Bay Bike Party!

It takes place at night, so it’s difficult to take a picture, but there are well over a hundred cyclists there. They gather at one park, ride through the streets (safely, and largely obeying traffic laws), stop at a second park, have a little party at that park, ride through the streets to a third park, party some more. Many of the cyclists have trailers with sound systems, and there was even one that had a giant suspended disco ball.

You might be thinking, “sounds like critical mass, right?” Wrong! First, I am on the record as being against critical mass, and I stand by that statement. First, this started around 8PM, and the streets were largely empty. All of the rush-hour traffic was done. The cyclists obey the law (for the most part, there’s over a hundred people, and you can’t control everyone). The group splits into multiple groups, stopping at lights and allowing cars to pass and cross.  The group rides through neighborhoods and many people come out onto their porches to watch the cyclists go by (kids especially love it). It was great to see so many people on all sorts of bikes. Like I said, the streets were pretty much empty. For part of the ride, we were on some pretty wide, major streets. And they were empty, just a couple hours after “peak rush hour.” It made me think that we’ve overbuilt our infrastructure – at least our car infrastructure.

Luckily, there’s some good bike infrastructure around. The picture above is from the San Francisco Bay Trail: my friend and I enjoying an afternoon ride.

Cambridge does it wrong

Ahhh, Cantabrigia, a fantastical land full of graduate students, biotech companies, public pedants, and bikes, bikes, bikes! I recently visited the city which is distinguished by classical learning and new institutions to dine in one of its fine establishments, specifically, Rendezvous. It was the best restaurant I’ve ever been to that used to be a Burger King.

But, as usual, I digress. And I’m about to digress some more into a reverie of memory because on this most recent trip, I realized that Cambridge was the first city I’d ever been to that had actual lanes in the road designated for use by bicycles. Picture the year 1999: Dot-com bubbles were frothing away, and Prince was on the radio everywhere you went. For the Fourth of July, I was visiting a friend who lived in Somerville (Cambridge’s slightly shabbier neighbor). We rode our bikes from the Davis Square area down to the Charles River, not far from MIT, in order to watch the fireworks. After the show, we hopped back on our bikes and made our way through the crowd. I’ll have to admit that it was a lot of fun, weaving through the pedestrians on Memorial Drive as a few cyclists would form a mini-peloton, only to scatter around a clot of slow walking families. I’ll also have to admit that we probably looked like a-holes to the people just trying to walk back to their cars. I wasn’t biking particularly fast, but probably fast enough to scare a few people in the dark. What can I say, I was a young man of 25. I’ve learned better since then.

The car traffic near the fireworks was at a standstill, so it was great to be on a bike and completely avoid all of that. Eventually, we made our way up to Mass Ave and headed back to Davis Square. There was some traffic on Mass Ave, but certainly less than at rush hour. As we made our way between Harvard and Porter Squares, I noticed that we kept passing the same cars as they waited at lights. These cars would then pass us between lights and we’d catch up to them again at the next intersection. If I remember correctly, there were bike lanes on Mass Ave at the time (I think they have been replaced with sharrows since then). Back and forth we went with the cars for about a mile.

This was a real “lightbulb” moment for me, seeing that a bike could be just as fast as a car in an urban environment. Coincidentally, I was reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler which spends a lot of time on how placing the automobile at the center of city planning has helped to ruin American cities (etc.) There’s a fair amount of BS in that book (and the author is a real jerk, evidently), but it was eye-opening to someone who grew up in a car-centric suburb and had trouble imagining a different world. Staying in Somerville while reading a book about New Urbanism was certainly the best place to do it since Somerville is a great example of “Old Urbanism,” in that it is densely populated with neighborhoods where people can walk to places of business and transit. I’ll have to say that I was inspired. After my visit to Somerville, I returned to Troy, NY and was determined to ride my bike more. Then I tried to go up that damn hill.

Anyhoo…. back to today…

As inspiring as Cambridge might have been to me back then, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, I was a little disappointed on my most recent visit. Enough with all these words, let’s go to the pixels!

Here we have a nice looking bike lane, keeping our happy Cantabrigian cyclists safe from all the big, bad cars, right? Well… there’s a little problem which can best be seen if we ENHANCE!

Hmm, I can see two cars with their tires on the line of the bike lane. Even if all of the cars were parked closer to the curb, the placement of this bike lane makes it a “door zone lane.”

That is, if one were to ride anywhere in the orange zone, one risks being hit by someone opening their car door before looking to see if a cyclist is coming. Any cyclist can tell you about being doored or near-doored. (“Winning the door prize” is another popular name for it). So far, I’ve only had near-dooring experiences. (My apologies for the haphazard photo edit. Gary Rides Bikes has a much better illustration of door zone lanes in California.)

So, what’s a cyclist to do? I caught it on camera just to show my reader(s):

Okay, this cyclist is kind of just avoiding the pedestrian, so let’s take a look down the street:

A motorist might be thinking, “there’s a bike lane right there and that cyclist is riding in MY lane!” But really, the cyclist is just avoiding a road hazard. It’s an unsafe bike lane. In fact, a cyclist was killed in 2002 a few yards from this spot when she was doored and then run over by a bus. I know that Cambridge was an early adopter when it came to putting in bike lanes and that’s great, but it may be time to revisit some of them and make them more safe. You can’t really make Mass Ave any wider, so the only thing to do would be to remove parking on one side of the street and re-stripe so that the bike lanes are out of the door zone. This would result in the loss of a few dozen parking spaces, but back when I was driving, I was always able to find a parking spot in Central Square within a 5 minute walk of my destination. I think a little bit of inconvenience for the motorists is a fair trade for the safety of everyone.

That, or you could go with sharrows.