By ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Last month city officials unveiled a draft master plan for an initiative that would guide efforts to create a street system that is safe and inclusive.
The Department of Planning and Development’s Great Streets Initiative is designed to improve Providence’s streets for motorists, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other forms of transportation.
The draft plan includes a range of ideas, from major projects, such as the Fred Lippitt Woonasquatucket River Greenway Project and City Walk, to protected bicycle lanes to smaller improvements that can be folded into scheduled road maintenance.
The initiative also includes the creation of “urban trails” that connect neighborhoods and are easily accessible to people traveling by foot, bicycle, or scooter.
The plan, developed with community input, is meant to guide road maintenance and improvement. It also contains policy recommendations, such as updating laws to make travel easier for people using non-car modes of transportation.
Mayor Jorge Elorza said the Great Streets Initiative will help connect residents and neighborhoods by creating more walkable and mixed-use public spaces. He noted it will encourage intermodal transportation options.
People for Bikes is working with the city and community to help make the Great Streets Initiative a reality. The Boulder, Colo.-based foundation is working with three other cities — Austin, Denver, and New Orleans — to help improve biking infrastructure.
This past spring the city hosted a series of neighborhood meetings to gather input on the initiative, during which some 275 comments were collected from about 180 attendees about topics ranging from traffic calming to street lighting to bike lanes. Comments and ideas gathered at these meetings were then translated into draft recommendations for projects.
The Department of Planning and Development took public feedback, combined with an analysis of crash data and previous traffic-calming requests, to develop a draft master plan that addresses the concerns of community members who utilize city streets in their everyday lives.
The city’s director of special projects, Martina Hagerty, noted that based on Providence’s median household income, the average city household spends about 56 percent of its total income on housing and transportation costs, well above what is considered affordable.
“Reducing household transportation costs by making it safer, easier, and more convenient for people to use lower cost transportation options such as walking, riding bicycles, and public transit is one strategy to help make Providence more affordable for residents,” she said.
In alignment with this effort, the city is installing traffic-calming measures this summer as part of a five-year capital improvement plan that allocated $20 million toward roadway repairs in fiscal 2018 and 2019. In total, 26 permanent and 45 temporary traffic-calming installations are being installed citywide.
A central principle of the Great Streets Master Plan is to connect every neighborhood to a "complete and intuitive Urban Trail Network" that would bring 93 percent of residents and 95 percent of jobs within easy walking distance of the network, according to city officials. This would represent a significant increase to the 21 percent of residents and 37 percent of jobs within easy walking distance of the existing network.
Urban trails are on or off-street paths that are safe, comfortable, and easily accessible for people of all ages and abilities, according to city officials. On busy streets, urban trails are fully separated from vehicle traffic. In other instances, off-road trails and paths such as the Blackstone Bike Path and the Woonasquatucket River Greenway serve as part of the urban trail Network. On smaller neighborhood streets, urban trails take the form of “neighborhood greenways, where a combination of traffic calming and wayfinding provide a consistent, legible, high-comfort experience for people using the trail.”
Recommendations included in the draft master plan include: infrastructure investments in every neighborhood; creating an urban trail along the Woonasquatucket River between Eagle Square and downtown; creating an urban trail along Mount Pleasant Avenue between Smith Street and Chalkstone Avenue; enhancing the accessibility of the Providence Riverwalk and access points to it for people with limited mobility and for people riding bicycles; changes to the intersections of Olney and North Main streets, Elmwood and Atlantic avenues, Hope Street and Blackstone Boulevard, and Westminster Street at Broadway and Valley Street near Olneyville Square; changes to the city’s policies, procedures, and regulations to better align them with the principles of the Great Streets Initiative.