No Rhyme or Reason to Providence’s Bike Lanes, Paths

Providence plans to begin or complete construction on a hodgepodge of six bike lanes this year (yellow). The lanes will have little relation to each other or existing bike lanes in the city (blue).

Providence plans to begin or complete construction on a hodgepodge of six bike lanes this year (yellow). The lanes will have little relation to each other or existing bike lanes in the city (blue).

By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Once the city's six bicycle-lane projects are completed this year, no additional bike-path projects are planned, either through the state Department of Transportation (DOT) or the city's planning department. DOT does plan to complete a signing project on the Northwest Bike Trail from Francis Street in Providence to Lyman Street in Johnston during spring 2016.

According to Robert Azar, the city's director of planning, bike paths in Providence are only considered in situations where roadwork is planned and conditions are right for such a lane. There currently is no protocol for identifying an area of bike-infrastructure need and adding that project to a list based on its individual merits, he said.

Azar said Bike Providence, the city’s 7-year-old bike master plan, is out of date and needs to be upgraded so it better aligns with current thinking concerning bicycling infrastructure. The plan was fully implemented in 2008, and the final project of the original plan was completed in fall 2011 with the striping of bike lanes on Broadway. He said bicycling thinking has evolved since Bike Providence was finalized in fall 2011 and that the city is headed toward more proactively adding bike infrastructure than it was ready to do previously.

Azar predicted that the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) will likely become a vehicle to more proactively identify specific bike path and infrastructure opportunities even when a lane is unrelated to upcoming road work. He cited Dean Street, where it crosses over the 6-10 Connector, as a street that the public and BPAC have identified as being an area unsafe for biking.

ecoRI News has reported on a variety of planned bicycle lanes and paths in Providence during the past two years, but none have come to fruition. Here is an update on each project:

Broadway to Kennedy Plaza. At a July 2013 public meeting about phase 3 of the Downtown Circulator Project, Azar discussed connecting the eastern terminus of Broadway’s existing bike lane to Kennedy Plaza.

Azar, who spoke at a recent BPAC meeting, said the plan would be implemented during “the coming construction season.”

Azar said sharrows will escort eastbound cyclists on Broadway over I-95 and through a safer, redesigned intersection at Lasalle Square — in front of the Hasbro Building and Trinity Brewhouse — to Fountain Street. Once on Fountain Street, a 0.2-mile buffered bike lane, the city’s first, will provide bicyclers safe passage to Dorrance Street. The buffer will probably be built of budget-friendly planters rather than an expensive curb, according to Azar. Sharrows will resume on Dorrance Street to move bikers the rest of the way to Kennedy Plaza.

Fountain Street will be reduced from three to two traffic lanes, while Dorrance Street will be changed from three one-way southbound lanes to two southbound lanes and one northbound lane. Similarly, Empire Street will be extended as a two-way street all the way to Broadway.

The westbound ride from Kennedy Plaza to Broadway is less defined — and less safe. In one scenario, bikers would follow sharrows from Kennedy Plaza to Sabin Street to Broadway. After crossing I-95, they would meet up with the existing bike lane.

Alternatively, because of an abundance of space available on Fountain Street, bikers would turn from Dorrance Street against the flow of one-way traffic onto a westbound bike lane on Fountain Street. Once at Empire Street, bikers would turn right at the newly squared-off Lasalle Square intersection and follow sharrows to Broadway, where sharrows would lead them over I-95 to the existing westbound bicycle lane.

Azar, and others at the March BPAC meeting, acknowledged the awkwardness of sending bicyclers the wrong way down a one-way street.

In response to a question asked at the meeting about why a westbound bike lane couldn’t be included on Sabin Street instead of Fountain Street, Azar said the Rhode Island Convention Center wouldn’t allow it. When asked why the Convention Center had a say in deciding the best use of the public right of way on Sabin Street, Azar responded, “There are fights that you can take on, and fights you cannot. The city was not going to take on that fight. I am being very frank in a public meeting.”

In addition to the redesigned intersection at Lasalle Square, the unintuitive Emmett Square intersection, where Exchange Street, Dorrance Street, Francis Street and Sabin Street collide, will be redesigned to better accommodate pedestrians. In both instances, Azar said pedestrian safety is overriding expected traffic congestion during peak driving hours. Initial plans to widen the southern sidewalk on Fountain Street have been removed from the project for budgetary reasons.

According to Azar, the delay between the Fountain Street bike lane’s announcement and implementation is because city resources were diverted to the recently completed Kennedy Plaza renovation.

South Main Street/South Water Street and Dyer Street/Eddy Street. At a September 2014 public meeting about the pedestrian bridge planned to cross the Providence River on the existing pilings between the Point Street Bridge and Crawford Street Bridge, officials from the DOT and Providence Planning & Development announced that designated bike lanes would be added to South Main Street and South Water Street on the east side of the river and on Dyer Street and Eddy Street on the west side. They also announced that sharrows would be painted on Clifford Street and Friendship Street.

According to Azar, the northbound bike lane on South Main Street will stretch from Point Street to James Street — a stretch of 0.2 miles — with sharrows continuing thereafter. The corresponding southbound route will include sharrows from the Crawford Street Bridge to Packet Street, after which a designated lane will continue until Point Street — a stretch of 0.4 miles.

The South Main Street and South Water Street bike lanes will be striped this summer 2015, after paving is completed on these roads, according to Rose Amoros, DOT’s chief public affairs officer. The sharrows will be added to South Main Street as part of a resurfacing project scheduled to begin later this year, she said.

On the other side of the river, bike lanes will be painted on Dyer Street and Eddy Street between Clifford and Elm Streets, a stretch of 0.3 miles, with sharrows continuing from either end. Weather permitting, striping is scheduled to begin in April.

Washington Bridge. Last November, ecoRI News reported that the bike lane and linear park crossing the Washington Bridge between Fox Point and East Providence — parallel to I-195 — was on schedule to be completed by the end of 2014. The bridge bike path is still closed.

The Blackstone River path is at the top and the Washington Bridge path is at the bottom.

The Blackstone River path is at the top and the Washington Bridge path is at the bottom.

According to Barry Schiller, a Rhode Island transit and bicycle advocate who attended a February DOT roundtable meeting at which Michael Lewis, the DOT director spoke, incomplete work includes some paving and the renovation of the switchback that brings people from street level to the level of the linear park on the bridge. Work is expected to resume this spring, with the ribbon cutting pushed off until summer, putting the project three seasons behind schedule.

These roundtable discussions have since been suspended, according to Schiller.

Blackstone River Bike Path. Construction of segment 1A of the Blackstone River Bikeway — the 0.6-mile portion that will connect Richmond Square near Waterman Grille to Gano Street near the I-195 exit ramp via Gano Park — is expected to begin later this year and will take about a year to complete, according to Amoros.

The timing of this project is dependent upon the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) granting a permit and right-of-way acquisitions, she said.

CRMC approval is needed because the plan for the bike path, as submitted by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and DOT, recommends filling a small portion of the Seekonk River near the I-195 exit ramp to make room for the bike path.

“The filled portion would be limited to a small, manmade inlet with little vegetative life,” Amoros said. “As such, there is minimal environmental impact.”