Guest MINDSETTER™ Sam Bell: $21 Million Bike Path Project is Offensive to Cyclists
Monday, August 06, 2012
In recent years, Rhode Island has made some pretty good improvements to our infrastructure. The I-Way project, for instance, has made Providence a better city. However, when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, all common sense is abandoned. The most extreme example is the current plan to spend $21 million to close the Washington Bridge Bike Path for two years for renovations.
A previous article billed this as something the bicycle community supports. Let’s be clear. The bicycle community does not support this project. In fact, as a bicycle commuter who sold my car a few months ago, I am offended by this project. Setting cost concerns aside, this project makes things worse, not better, for bicyclists because closing the bridge for two years more than offsets making it slightly wider in the future.
So how does the DOT take the cost of this project into the stratosphere? By adding completely unnecessary features that have nothing to do with bikes. There is no need for a separate walkway for pedestrians. As every existing bike path in Rhode Island shows, pedestrians and bicyclists can actually share paths quite easily if they are wide enough. There is definitely no need for benches. No need for a median. No need for a scenic outlook. No need for landscaped planters. No need for decorative lights. No need for informational kiosks.
As anyone who has ever been on that bridge knows, the highway is extremely loud. This point cannot be overstressed. No one in their right mind would ever want to hang out there, no matter how many granite benches and informational kiosks you put up. I honestly cannot think of a dumber place to put a park in the entire state of Rhode Island short of an active landfill.
This project represents a broader anti-bicycle attitude in this state. Bicycle infrastructure in Rhode Island is mostly designed for either traffic control or aesthetics, not as a legitimate means of transportation. There are a number of bike routes within the state, but without fail they do not connect up with each other, and they do not actually service places where people go to work or school. This is a shame because bike infrastructure is notoriously cheap. In terms of value for money, there are very few ways the government can spend its money better. With $21 million well-spent, we could very easily fix bicycle infrastructure in Providence.
Here’s what we’d do: We would extend the East Bay bike path to downtown, creating a paved path through India Point Park and the I-95 land. We would then connect the East Bay bike path to Blackstone Boulevard. Most importantly, though, we would build bike lanes in South Providence. We would build a dedicated bike path connecting the Washington Bike Path, which terminates at the Cranston police station, to downtown Providence, serving Classical High School along the way. We would also build a bike route servicing the airport. Large portions of most of these routes have already been constructed. All you would have to do is connect up those isolated segments. It would be difficult to spend more than $10 million on all of these projects, since bike paths are very cheap and bike lanes are even cheaper, but I would not be surprised if the DOT found a way. If the DOT were vaguely competent, the extra money could be used for more ambitious projects, like waterfront bike paths servicing tourist areas like Newport, Jamestown, Little Compton, and Narragansett. But the DOT is not competent when it comes to bikes, as the Washington Bridge boondoggle clearly demonstrates.
As the State Coordinator of the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, I assure you I do not say this very often, but on this issue the Ocean State Tea Party does not go far enough. Spokeswoman Lisa Blais calls the idea “great” but the cost “extremely excessive.” She is wrong. This is not a good idea with a preposterous price tag; it is a bad idea with a preposterous price tag.
Sam Bell is the Rhode Island State Coordinator for the Progressive Democrats of America.
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