Providence unveils ‘Great Streets’ improvement plan

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration on Wednesday unveiled a draft of its “Great Streets” plan, which aims to better connect Providence’s roadways and improve access for pedestrians, bicyclists and more.

“Every street should be safe, clean, healthy and inclusive,” said Martina Haggerty, the special projects director for the Planning Department.

At a briefing about the multiyear project, Haggerty said Providence households spend 56% of their income on housing and transportation on average. Part of the city’s goal is to encourage modes of transportation that are less expensive than cars, she said.

“Walking, riding bicycles, scooter share and bike share,” she listed as examples. “These can cut down on costs and reduce auto dependency.”

The plan, which is slated to be finalized in August, is centered around a so-called “Urban Trail Network,” which aims to connect every Providence neighborhood so residents can “safely and comfortably travel to schools, jobs, and other important destinations like parks, libraries, and museums,” according to the 94-page draft plan.

Creating the network will involve designing two-way, protected share paths, which are separate lanes for bicycles, scooters and skateboards that are “protected” from cars by something physical like barriers, movable “flexible delineating posts” or even landscaping. (The plan also recommends repealing a 1960s-era ordinance that bans skateboarding in most of the city.)

Haggerty said roadways would not have to be widened to create the new protected lanes, because most Providence vehicle lanes are already wider than required by federal law and could be made more narrow to make way for the bicycle lanes.

Narrowing the driving lanes would also reduce speeding, Haggerty said, as would other “traffic calming” measures in the plan like new speed lumps.

The plan also includes changes to 50 intersections in the city, identified by the number of crashes involving “vulnerable users” like pedestrians or bicyclists. The changes include crosswalk improvements, traffic light coordination and lighting, among other updates.

Another recommendation in the plan that would require legislative changes is the implementation of the “Idaho Stop,” a term for a longtime Idaho law that allows bicyclists to use a stop sign like a yield sign, and also bike through red lights after stopping, if the intersection is clear. (Presently, bicycles are required to act like cars and stop at red lights and stop signs.)

“It’s just a more equitable way to think about how we treat people on bicycles,” Haggerty said.

Some projects are already underway, such as the Woonasquatucket River Greenway project or improvements to San Souci Drive behind Olneyville Square.

The city held 12 neighborhood meetings in March and April to compile the plan, and accepted public comment on an interactive map.

The full cost of the plan, which will take years to implement, was not immediately available. Haggerty said some improvements would be “baked in” to existing scheduled work through the multimillion-dollar five-year Capital Improvement Plan; for example, if a street is already due for repaving and striping, the city will create the new lanes or crosswalks at the same time.

Other projects that are part of the Great Streets plan will have individual price tags, like the $600,000 San Souci Drive improvements. The city will also seek state money and federal grants to pay for certain projects.

At a community meeting to unveil the draft plan on Wednesday night, Mayor Elorza said the goal of the plan is to connect people to more “opportunities, institutions or other people.” He mentioned the new Jump electric bikes being used in the city, along with the Little Rhody autonomous shuttle, which connects Olneyville to the Providence train station.

Residents who attended the meeting hand-wrote suggestions on large poster boards in the back of the room, with input like “more bike racks everywhere possible!”

Suggestions from Providence residents.

Denise Cornwall, a Smith Hill resident who attended the meeting, said she supports the proposal to legalize skateboarding on city streets, because her son is a skateboarder. She also said she wants it to be safer to walk around the city.

“I love walking in Providence,” Cornwall said. “You have to be mindful when you’re crossing some of the streets.”

She said she supports plans to improve crosswalks and calm traffic, which would make it safer for all the various modes of transportation to get around.

“We all need to slow down,” Cornwall said.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had the incorrect dollar amount for the San Souci Drive project. The project costs $600,000.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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