Providence Needs Protected Bike Lanes

By JAMES KENNEDY

PROVIDENCE — The next mayor must re-envision our city streets by supporting protected bike lanes. Westminster on the West Side is the first place Providence should start the transformation.

Providence doesn’t have cavernous streets like Los Angeles, but many of its streets are much wider than streets in other East Coast cities ... but without bike infrastructure. While Philadelphia has buffered bike lanes that are 8-feet wide on streets that are around 24-feet wide, there are no such lanes on the West Side’s Westminster Street, which is about 40-feet wide.

It would be nice if the city implemented bike lanes on Westminster because:

Bikers already use Westminster, but at their peril. Although a 25-mph street, cars routinely are traveling about 40 mph. Parked cars mean that bicyclers have to “take the lane” on a street that is too fast for them to ride safely and comfortably in mixed traffic.

Westminster is home to several schools, including three high schools. Protected bike lanes would help students get to school more independently and safely.

Protected bike lanes would be a great improvement over less advanced infrastructure that already exists on Broadway. Studies show that elderly riders, small children, disabled persons and people who are less athletic are much more likely to use protected infrastructure than narrower lanes that are next to parked cars. Protected bike lanes also prevent dooring.

Studies also indicate that bike lanes are good for business. Cyclists spend more money on average than non-bikers, because of the money saved on transportation. While biking infrastructure would improve the business climate of Westminster Street, it would also provide an affordable way for low-income residents to continue to enjoy the neighborhood. We need transportation solutions that improve our neighborhoods, but don’t price people out.

I propose that businesses be able to test out these bike lanes as temporary infrastructure. I feel confident that the neighborhood will like the change if they get a chance to see it. Important projects like the closure of Times Square in New York City to cars happened first as temporary projects. They soon proved so popular that they are permanent, and are inspiring change in cities around the world.

Providence resident James Kennedy runs the blog Transport Providence.