Planning to Make Providence a Bike-Friendly City

By DAVID EVERETT

PROVIDENCE — The city is developing Bike Providence, a bicycle master plan, and is seeking public input. With funding from a state Planning Challenge grant, consultants from the local office of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB), a steering committee and city staff have generated data and input on preferred routes, held a public workshop, and addressed the need for education and culture change in adapting our infrastructure and habits to a more bike-friendly city.

Bike Providence will present a broad vision for bicycle transportation that will have practical applications as city projects occur, from the immediate to the long term. Public input has and will continue to be critical to creating and focusing this vision.

Municipal bike plans are judged based on how well they achieve the five Es: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation. Each of these plays an essential role in making a bike-friendly community, and will be included in Bike Providence’s recommendations.

One of the groups participating in providing input for the plan is the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC). The group has provided forums for project updates and specific topics throughout the development of the plan. Recently, one such topic was the city’s road-paving project and the previously unanticipated opportunity to include low-cost striping, street graphics and signage to accommodate and encourage bicycle travel. Striping can include share-the-road markings (sharrows), potential bike lanes and crosswalks.

Though the larger plan is far from complete, recommendations have already been sent to the Department of Public Works to take advantage of the first-phase paving projects that will begin this spring. DPW agreed to include signing and marking of on-road bikeways in the resurfacing program, provided the work could be accomplished without increasing the overall project budget. These roadways were also selected because they are on low-speed, low-volume neighborhood streets entirely suitable for cycling and will form the backbone of a larger bicycle boulevard network.

Because paving will start this spring, the group focused initially on improvements that can be completed quickly and easily and meet contractual deadlines. This opportunity may well have gone by the boards without the ongoing bike-plan process. Additional phases of the paving program are scheduled for the fall, with more phases in 2014 and 2015. A number of these roadways are under consideration for signing and marking of on-road bikeways in the short term.

Bike Providence has far greater aspirations — the plan will include short-, mid-range and long-term recommendations for appropriate routes to connect all city neighborhoods. The city, BPAC and the hired consultant are currently identifying and evaluating numerous roadways as candidates for bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks and extensions of existing off-road paths. Some projects could require elimination of some on-street parking, curb relocation, utility modifications and/or right-of-way acquisitions. These proposed improvements will be included in the plan as either medium-term improvements or longer-term improvements, creating the infrastructure that we’ll need to be a truly bikeable, walkable city.

Additionally, the plan will address the programmatic and practical sides of biking in Providence. Is some type of a bike-share program feasible? How can we better accommodate bike parking? How can we get motorists and cyclists to respect each other and the rules of the road?

In a very short time, Providence has already become a more bike-conscious and bike-friendly city, but we have a long way to go. Bike Providence will provide the 5 Es framework for getting us there.

The plan is expected to be completed by July 2013.

David Everett, principal planner for the city of Providence, is managing the Bike Providence project. He also serves as staff to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.