Category Archives: Walking

The Ambiguity of Street Signs: The Corner of Olney and Camp/Brown

Before I get to the case study mentioned in the title of this post, I have to talk about the street naming issue in New England. This post is about a particular intersection in Providence, where Olney Street intersects with Brown Street to the South and Camp Street to the North. If this were a normal part of the country, I could just call this the corner of Olney & Camp, but no, this is New England, where we change the name of the street every few blocks, just to confuse the outtastaytas. The worst offender is Angell Street as it descends into downtown Providence. After crossing Benefit, it becomes Thomas Street (for one block), then Steeple Street (for one block) and finally Exchange Terrace. Well, not really finally because that only lasts about a quarter mile, then it’s Sabin Street. But it’s less than a quarter mile before one finds oneself on Broadway. And then there’s the lack of street signs. Would it kill somebody to put up a street sign that’s large enough to read at more than 20 feet away. It’s always entertaining to see someone with California license plates driving around Providence with an exasperated look, alternately speeding up and slowing down, looking up at the tiny street signs, trying to figure out where the hell they are.

Okay, now that I’ve got my pet peeves out of the way, let’s get back to the corner of Olney & Camp/Brown. Fuck it, I’m just going to call it Olney & Camp. Here it is:

Let’s get closer:

Aaaanndd a little bit closer.

This is a two way stop intersection. Camp Street (running north-south or vertically in the image) has stop signs from both directions. Olney Street, (east-west, or horizontal in the image), is the more major thoroughfare and thus does not have stop signs. Instead, there’s one of these in each direction for the traffic on Olney:

redundant sign is redundant

One must always stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. I guess people need reminding, since I saw this lady waiting in the crosswalk as many cars went past.

I was going to get all “crossing-guardy” on the the negligent motorists, but there was a break in the traffic just as I arrived on the scene and she was able to cross. I was thus denied an opportunity to exercise my smugness superpowers.

Here’s a photoshop-knockoff-freeware-enhanced version of the satellite view of the intersection in question:

The red lines indicate the location of the stop signs and the yellow lines indicate the locations of the redundant “Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk” signs.

Even though most motorists won’t stop for pedestrians here, I have witnessed a curious phenomenon many times. If there are cars stopped at the stop signs, sometimes a motorist on Olney will get confused and stop at the intersection when they do not have a stop sign.

Here’s the view from Olney street facing east:

Corner of Olney & Camp, facing east.

And here’s a view of from Camp Street (actually Brown Street) facing north:

Corner of Olney and Camp, facing north

This phenomenon is more likely to occur when a motorist on Olney is forced to pause in order to turn left onto Camp. Sometimes the driver behind the left-turner decides that they should also stop and let the Camp street drivers through. I’ve also seen a few times where there is an exasperated driver on Camp street, trying to pull out onto Olney, but in that driver’s view, all of the drivers on Olney are completely blowing through a stop sign.

I’m willing to chalk up much of the confusion to motorists’ ignorance of what’s going on around them. But I can also imagine the thought process of these motorists: “People are slowing down, sometimes people even stop to turn left, and there are these strange markings on the street that I’m used to seeing at a four-way stop. Why won’t anyone stop for me?!?!” Well, those strange markings on the street are pedestrian crosswalks, and although every intersection is a pedestrian crosswalk, sometimes the traffic engineers need to re-emphasize this to the motorists. Then they need to stick a “stop for pedestrians” sign for one direction because almost none of those people are actually stopping for the pedestrians. The only thing left to do is put in another sign:

I’ve seen these signs in many parts of the country, but never in Rhode Island, where there are many opportunities for a sign like this to dis-ambiguate an intersection. There’s another example not far away on Thayer Street which I will save for another day.

And now that I’ve been crabby for a while about signage, I’d like to be crabby about something else. It was a nice warm weekend and although the roads were still wet in places, I decided it was time to take out the road bike for the first time since January 5. I was low on work snacks (now that I bike so much, I have to eat almost constantly), so I headed out to Trader Joe’s in Warwick via my usual route: the Washington Secondary Bike Path. Unfortunately, the path was covered in sticks and branches from recent wind storms. On top of that, there were several big patches of ice:

Some of these required dismounting and portaging my bike around the ice. On the way home, I took the regular roads, which were mostly empty. With a nice tail wind, I was able to get up to 30 MPH. It was so good to be back on the road bike. So good that when a motorist honked at me, I just smiled and waved.

Worst. Intersection. Ever. (gets worsterer)

I’ll get to that worst intersection in a minute, but first a couple of illustrative examples of snow removal at sidewalk that feature a corner curb cut.

How To Do It:

Olney Street Baptist Church demonstrates proper snow removal at a corner

How Not To Do It:

Olney Street National Grid building just leaves a big pile for you to climb over.

These two examples are from the corners of Olney and Camp streets (the pictures were taken the first week of February, a couple days after a major snow storm). The church seems to understand that it’s not enough to clear the snow from your sidewalk if the corner is blocked. They’ve blazed a wide swath across the corner curb cut in order to allow pedestrians to cross the street with relative ease. Meanwhile, on the opposite corner, National Grid did a half-vast job of clearing the snow from their sidewalk, then they just left the giant piles on the corner thus making it difficult to use the sidewalks. As people who write letters to public radio stations like to say, “Shame on you!”

I’ll admit that shoveling out a corner can be quite difficult. The city plows tend to dump more snow there than anywhere else. However, the people who don’t shovel out their corners seem to have no problem shoveling out their driveways which contain a much larger volume of snow. But hey, they’ve got to get their cars out so they can get to work, right?

On to the WORST INTERSECTION EVER. I did a full post on this intersection a while ago. Feel free to check out that previous post so you can fully appreciate my fury. To briefly summarize, in order for a pedestrian to travel from the University Heights area to Providence Station, one must take this route if one wants to observe the marked pedestrian crosswalks:

Just like water seeks the easiest way downhill, pedestrians seek the shortest distance between two points and take this route:

What could make this anti-pedestrian monstrosity even worse?

3 feet of snow and ice thus providing zero access to the sidewalks!

You can just barely see a pedestrian up by the traffic light on the right side of the road (not observing the AWORS BRIML SYCJOW rule!) On the left, the sidewalk is completely covered in several feet of ice and snow. There’s a little bit of a footpath worn into the snow, but that has become an icy mess. I like to complain about people not shoveling the sidewalk in front of their homes, but I think that the worst offender in this regard is the city. Sure, the pavement around City Hall is cleared of every last molecule of snow and ice, but there are many examples of uncleared sidewalks on the bridges, traffic islands and other places around town. So I say, “SHAME ON YOU, CITY OF PROVIDENCE!”

The good folks at Roger Williams National Memorial at least make an effort:

That makes me feel a little bit better, although this well-plowed sidewalk turned into an icy lake further down Canal Street.

I have a quick bit of stupidity left to mention. On this same walk to work, I came across this truck trying to make his way up Star street.

Star Street reaches near-San Francisco levels of steepitude. Plus it’s very narrow (but not marked as a one-way, oddly enough). On a good day, I wouldn’t recommend driving a big truck up this hill. On an icy day, well the truck was spinning its tires for over a minute, backing up into N. Main before trying to get up the hill. This would block traffic for a while until the truck go a few feet up the hill and a couple of cars would try to scoot past before the truck slid back into N. Main and blocked the street. I was expecting a disaster at any moment. I knew that I didn’t want to walk behind this truck, so I crossed the street in the middle of the block and walked through a snowbank in order to avoid any potential hazards. The blocked motorists were remarkably sanguine, with only a few honks. After a few tries, the truck’s tires got purchase and it made it up the hill.

I was happy to be back on my bike the next day. I hate walking.

Front Page News: Snow Gets In The Way of Driving

The front page of today’s non-virtual Providence Journal featured dueling stories on the effects of the recent storms: Shoveling is not for weak of heart, and Mounds make getting by impossible. The first covers the perennial issue of people having heart attacks because the only exercise they get is shoveling the driveway once a year. The second covers the effect of snow mounds on driving. Some roads have been narrowed by as much as 4 feet. This makes drivers slow down. [Jeff Nickerson at GCPVD explains why this isn’t such a bad thing.] The ProJo doesn’t seem to have much coverage of my favorite snow removal issue – the lack of proper sidewalk clearance. It is briefly mentioned in a reader comment to the “Mounds” story. I’m tempted to throw my own comments into the mix, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hit the exclamation point key the minimum 5 times required to submit a comment to the ProJo. Buried on page A7, there is a brief mention of sidewalk clearance and its effect on mail carriers in the story, Weather slips up mail carriers. [aside: for these 3 stories, the ProJo reporters talked to doctors, firefighters, bus drivers and mail carriers – it’s like the ProJo imagine the same occupations that a three-year old knows] From the article – “And three other carriers walking in streets because sidewalks were not cleared were struck by passing cars, [a spokeswoman] said.” I wonder if anyone is bothering to keep track of the non-mail carriers who are struck by cars because they have to walk in the street. Remember folks, AWOTRS BRIML SYCJOW! Evidently, this spokeswoman is for RI and southeastern MA, but there is no time frame given. Is that 3 mail carriers hit from the last storm? Three this entire winter? Didn’t the reporter learn about the 5 W’s?!?!

Looks like I’m almost ready for the ProJo comments section.

Speaking of blind rage, a cyclist in London keeps his helmet cam on all the time.

Looks like a good idea when dealing with the White Van Man of London.

Winter Riding Tips / Video Round-Up

One of these days, I’ll get a helmet cam and create thrilling videos of my daily commute for all of you to enjoy. In the meantime, I’ll present you with three cycling-related videos that were recently posted on the internet.

The first is an earnest, but fun look at winter cycling tips in Chicago:

BikeSnobNYC did his usual job of mocking the video frame by frame, so I won’t attempt that here. I’ll just point out that the video was shot and edited by my former classmate, Elizabeth Press, seen here in the middle of putting on layer after layer of winter clothing.

This video does bring up the issue of cycling in the winter, something I have not yet addressed. It seems like many of the “other” bike blogs have already addressed this in earnest, prescribing all manner of wool (both technical and traditional), silk, gore-tex, gore-mex, splats, &c. My commute is very short, so I’m not sure that I have the best advice to give w/r/t winter cycling, however, I lived in the frozen wilds of Edmonton Alberta for two winters, where I did pick up a thing or two. Actually, I picked up four things during my Canadian exile that I consider essential to my winter commute.

Thing 1: Waterproof Pants.

These aren’t the exact ones I have, but they look pretty close. I prefer waterproof pants that go over whatever I’m wearing to the office that day. Then I just whip off my pants, and I’m ready to go. So to speak. These are useful in warmer seasons as well because I don’t really like getting my pants soaked by the rain.

Thing 2: Face Mask

I wear this when the temperature gets below 30 degrees or so. That’s not such a low temperature, but my ride includes speeds up to 25 miles an hour, so there is often more windchill than one would experience while walking.  Some riders might prefer a Balaclava.

Thing 3: Thin Balaclava, Headband or Skull Cap

I have a thin balaclava that I fold up over my head so that I get a thick layer around my ears, but a little bit of a stovepipe effect to release heat out the top of my head. Some people prefer to just have a headband to keep their ears warm, then have a full stovepipe out the top of their helmets. These people are crazy.

Thing 4: Lobster Gloves

These provide the warmth of mittens, and the dexterity of a lobster. Some people just use mittens, although it can be difficult to use some shifting systems without lobster-levels of dexterity. Either way, most cyclists will tell you that regular old gloves aren’t going to cut it when it gets really cold.

Keeping with the earnestness theme, what could be more earnest than social justice advocates’ concern with immigrant communities’ transportation needs?

There’s not much footage of people actually riding bikes, but what footage there is features people riding on the sidewalk.

This is certainly something I see around here: cycling on the sidewalk instead of in the street. I understand why people are tempted to do it, riding in traffic can seem more dangerous, but it is almost always safer. Cycling advocates like to spend a lot of time focusing making cycling safer for people just like them (mostly white, mostly middle class). I’m reminded of when I helped RIBike with the “light up the night” event. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s something that could use more attention. And since I’m not sure where I’m going, I’m going to shut up before I put my foot in my mouth.

I forgot to mention earlier, that I also wear a jacket in the winter. I think it would qualify as a “snowboarding” jacket. It’s mostly water repellent, but not 100%. It’s not particularly noteworthy except for the fact that it is not a very heavy coat.  Even with my short commute, I can generate quite a bit of body heat while cycling. A medium-weight jacket over my work clothes is plenty on most winter days. When it gets particularly cold, I add a hoodie for one more layer of warmth.

This jacket was one of those bargains you always remember. It was originally $90, then marked down to $50 because it was out of season, then marked down to $25 because it had been on the racks for a while. It’s served me well for about 10 years now, but I guess I could get rid of it in favor of a $400 cycling jacket from Mission Workshop:

We begin this film with our hero riding a ferry from one part of Amersterdam to another. I’d say that he is on his commute, but it doesn’t look like he actually does any work during the rest of the day.

it's cold out here, luckily I have a $400 outer jacket to wear over my $235 inner jacket. I'd better put the hood up.

After I get off the boat, I'll take a gratuitous shot of row after row of Amsterdam bikes

Could you do this with any normal jacket? I don't think so.

This video has more rack focus than a Scorsese film

I think my favorite thing about this video is the fact that he is modeling a cycling-specific jacket, one that is designed for use on a road bike – or some other bike where the cyclist leans forward. But he’s riding a completely upright Dutch city bike. There’s nothing wrong with a Dutch city bike, but if you are going to ride one, you can just wear regular clothes. That’s pretty much the whole point of a Dutch city bike! Okay, back to our story, where our hero has returned to his canal boat home.

Uh oh, what’s this?

This doesn’t look good. The jacket has cable routing for portable audio devices.

phew, it's cold again

I guess I should put up my hood in order to further insulate myself from hearing any noise from the outside world while I....

....haphazardly mount my city bike

Biking through the city while wearing headphones. Always a safe idea. Note the skinny jeans – the perfect complement to cycling-specific jackets. Of course, this is an Amsterdam cyclist, so he is coddled by:

Protected bike lanes! (Note that even the bike symbols in Amsterdam have chaincases.) Alright, now I’m just being a hater. Who wouldn’t want bike lanes like those?

Ahh, now he’s leaning forward about 2 degrees, which utilizes many of the features of the “slim-fit, seam-sealed, waterproof jacket cut for life on the bike.”

Soon he reaches his destination: Pristine – a “Lunchroom/Gallery”

…where the depth of field is so shallow, you need a rack focus to read from one side of the menu to the other.

There are a few other product demo videos on Mission Workshop’s Vimeo Page, all of which are equally entertaining. I’d go through them all, but I’m working at mocking Mission, not providing them tons of free exposure to my dozen of readers.

But I can’t resist one more, the video for the Shed Messenger Bag. This one was filmed in Paris, where our protagonist (let’s call him Claude) rides a fixed gear bike from the top of Montmartre. It even sports an aerospoke front wheel. Epic.

I’m going to skip the part where he packs his MacBook into the bag, but I have to mention that every Mission Workshop video shows and Apple product at some point.

After Claude orders his coffee, the barista rings him up in slo-mo.

maybe it's just that all French coffeeshop employees work very slowly

Almost everything is in slo-mo. I guess owning one of these bags turns every day into an epic urban journey of self-discovery. Just about the only time the video approaches regular speed is right after Claude runs across a fellow cyclist, this one on what appears to be a vintage track bike. They gaze at each other knowingly….

because it’s on!

The film is back up to full speed as we get to enjoy some serious Cat 6 racing action.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you the details. These guys even made a video about installing a product display in a store in Portland. Maybe I’m trying to compensate because I just bought a new jacket from a different hipster-clothing brand based in San Francisco. But I totally needed that. And it was on sale… and it will make me go faster, right? Product review to follow.

Public Service Announcement: Walk Right, er Left!

I noticed that Greater City: Providence had a link to a recent Public Service Announcement from the Mayor’s office regarding removing snow from sidewalks. Here’s an excerpt:

Providence City Ordinance requires that property owners must shovel sidewalks within eight hours after snow stops falling. The fine for failing to shovel the sidewalks ranges from $25 to $500.

Snow-free sidewalks are more than a convenience; they are a matter of public safety. Property owners are urged to shovel sidewalks as soon as possible.

Does this mean that the city will actually enforce the ordinance? Somehow, I don’t think so. Therefore, I have written my own public service announcement directed at the pedestrians of Providence:

It’s winter time in New England, and although you may have suppressed the memory from previous years, winter means snow.  Snow is cold and beautiful, like an ice sculpture, but just like an ice sculpture, it’s difficult to walk or drive through. While there is an army of vehicles dedicated to the task of clearing the snow from our city’s streets, we prefer to use “crowd sourcing” methods to clear the sidewalks for the many citizens who must travel the city by foot.* Fortunately, our city has an ordinance that requires all property owners to clear the snow from their sidewalks in an overly generous time frame (8 hours after the last flake falls). If a property owner fails to clear a sidewalk, they could be fined up to $500! Amazing, isn’t it? Don’t expect it to actually happen, though. The city told the DPW to issue the fines, the DPW wants the police to do it, the police are too busy doing other stuff…. so you know what that means, it’s into the street for you, pedestrian! Here’s an important safety tip: when you are forced to walk in the street because someone failed to shovel their sidewalk, please be sure to walk on the left-hand side of the street, facing traffic. This will allow you to see the cars approaching you and make emergency maneuvers if necessary. You can remember this with a simple mnetronomic device: AWORS BRIML SYCJOW (pronounced AY-wars BRIM-ehl SIC-jow) Obviously, that stands for, Always Walk On the Right Side, and By Right I Mean Left So You Can Jump Out of the Way. Say it with me:


Got it? Seriously, I was shoveling out my walk this morning and saw so many people walking on the wrong side of the street. Although I was slow on the draw, I was just able to catch a picture of this guy:

Let’s take a closer look, ENHANCE SECTOR F-5!

Well, that doesn’t really clear things up, does it? You’ll just have to take my word for it that what is pictured is a middle-aged man walking down the wrong side of a snow-filled, slippery street with heavy traffic, while reading his iPad.

Also, on the left hand side of the un-enhanced photo you can see a driveway full of cars blocking the sidewalk thus making my shoveling job almost completely pointless.

* = FOOTNOTE: Here’s another quote from the Mayor’s PSA:

…it is important that everyone take responsibility for making sure sidewalks are safe and passable. This is especially important to ensure the safety of children who walk to school, and the many pedestrians who regularly walk in Providence. (emphasis mine)

Isn’t everyone a pedestrian at some point?

The Indignity of Walking: Armored Car Edition

After enduring the horrors of walking 1.5 miles to work (and back!) yesterday, I was back on the bike today! I opted for the “long route” to work which features a more gentle slope. This route also gives me one “bonus mile” each way which helps boost my smugness calculation up a little bit. Let’s take a quick look at the SmugCalc to see how I’m doing:

This is from August 21, 2010 to today

Ugh, I’ve got a long way to go after all of that driving I did while visiting the family in Kansas. And it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get in many  40+ mile weekend rides when the roads are in this kind of shape. Instead of comparing bicycle miles to automobile miles, maybe I should combine cycling with walking and transit and call them “smug miles” or something.

Speaking of roads, this morning I took a look at Hope Street, and thought the roads looked pretty clear.  However, they turned out to be rather slushy at points and with occasional ice patches here and there. But traffic was light, and I didn’t have any problems on my ride. It felt good to be back on the saddle, and the old Raleigh proved to be a sturdy steed for winter riding. I only saw one other cyclist out there today. So even if my SmugCalc score isn’t so great, at least I can feel smug about the fact that I am far more hardcore than the rest of you punks!

Another thing I can feel smug about – I’m not this guy:

While it may look like the armored car is making a turn, in fact it is parked right at the corner of Westminster and Dorrance, blocking a wheelchair ramp (not to mention the pedestrian crossing). And yes, there is a completely open parking place right around the corner.

Worst. Intersection. Ever.

Spouse and I often like to visit our friends in Boston. Even before we got rid of the car, we usually preferred to take the MBTA commuter rail instead of driving. I don’t mind driving in Boston so much, but parking can often be an issue, and driving to Boston is very unpleasant. The commuter rail takes pretty much the same amount of time as driving, it’s far less stressful, and you can do a little reading while you travel – generally inadvisable while driving. I don’t like the idea of leaving my bike at the train station for an extended period of time, due to the lack of decent bike parking.

The station is less than a 20 minute walk from our house, so we hoof it for most trips. This has allowed me to fully appreciate the lack of pedestrian consideration that went into creating the intersection of Smith St./Canal St. and Smith St./N Main St.

Here’s an overview of the last few blocks of our route:

The intersection in question is marked with the red “x” of death. Uh oh, I just realized that the red X might be infringing on the trademark of Best Made Company. Whatever, I’ll worry about it when a fixie of fakerjacks shows up at my door wielding hand-painted axes.

Let’s zoom in on that intersection.

Not bad – but let’s ENHANCE!

That’s better. So what’s the problem? Take a look at how the pedestrian crossings are arranged on the western side of the map. If one were to cross the intersection only at the crosswalks, one would need to do this:

Do you know any pedestrians who would actually do that? Each crosswalk is controlled by a traffic light. In theory, a pedestrian would wait for 4 separate walk signals in order to cover this double intersection. Instead, everyone (Spouse and I included) does this:

With this route, we are only crossing the street twice, each crossing is controlled by a traffic light. However, the second crossing has no walk signal so we have to check all of the other stop lights and kind of guess when is the best time to go.

This satellite image happened to catch a car in the middle of a right hand turn, and in the middle of my preferred path. Instead of putting a crosswalk where people would naturally want to cross the street, and giving them a signal button to stop the traffic so they can safely cross, the designers of the intersection have attempted to redirect pedestrians away from cars turning right from Smith onto Canal Street.

That is, instead of doing something simple that would make the intersection safer and more convenient for pedestrians, the designers made the “safer” route more complex, and significantly longer (double the wait for traffic lights), thus insuring that no one would follow it. This was done, no doubt, to allow cars to make right turns unimpeded by pedestrians crossing the street.

Know of a worse intersection for pedestrians in the area? Let me know in the comments.