OP-ED: Providence needs more urban trails

By Jacob Evelyn

February issue of Providence monthly featured an editorial on the upcoming Hope Street Urban Pathway – a temporary pathway for pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, scooter and wheelchair users on Hope Street this spring. This project would allow residents and business owners to experience this potential street redesign in person and provide input on the permanent changes to come. I am not involved with the project or the organizations supporting it, but I live near Hope and would be affected. Unfortunately, urban trail proposals in Providence like this have repeatedly been met with fearmongering and misinformation.

The truth is that urban trails – including the recently completed ones on South Water Street and Empire Street and the current one on Broad Street – are good for just about anyone. Pedestrians and cyclists avoid dangerous encounters with vehicles. Drivers benefit from less traffic and less competition for parking as more people use other means of transport. Taxpayers spend less on road maintenance because fewer cars mean less wear and tear on the road. And despite the fears of some business owners, their establishments are thriving with increased foot traffic. (I’ll say it again: Decades of data overwhelmingly show that even when some parking spots are removed, urban trails bring in more revenue for businesses.)

I guess if you’re an oil baron you might be upset, but everyone will benefit. There is no shortage of real issues in the management of a city: education, housing, employment, public health and safety. Can’t we just celebrate that this one is a clear win-win? For those still unconvinced, I encourage you to head over to CyclingFallacies.com and see if your anti-urban assumptions are actually backed by evidence.

Aside from the many benefits of urban trails, opponents suggesting that we should only build our cityscape for those who can afford the cost of a car insult the many residents of Providence who struggle to make ends meet. The cost of a bus ticket, bicycle, scooter, skateboard, wheelchair, stroller, pair of inline skates or shoes racing is all it takes to get around our small, dense city quickly and safely. I’m lucky to have access to a car once in a while, but I prefer to walk or ride a bike – it gives me fresh air and exercise, doesn’t cost gas and often takes the same time as a car once you factor in parking. But it can also be scary: I’ve been yelled at and chased off the road by aggressive motorists who don’t seem to realize that riding a bike on the street is both legal and convenient.

Some people point to the fact that Providence doesn’t have as many cyclists as Amsterdam as proof that “no one wants to cycle here”. But actually, it’s remarkable that we have as many cyclists as we do given how dangerous some of our roads are with buzzing vehicles. And as a driver, it’s also stressful – it’s not always obvious where the safest place to pass a scooter rider is, and being stuck behind a slow bike can be frustrating. That’s why it makes sense to separate vehicles from everyone else on our busiest streets, like the Hope Street Urban Trail would. And data shows that when American cities build protected bike lanes, cycling increases significantly.

Mayor Elorza’s Great Streets Initiative has done more to gather feedback from residents, business owners and other city stakeholders than virtually any other city would have bothered to do, and the overwhelming response was positive. (In contrast, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation just pledged to spend $750 million of our federal transportation dollars without a single opportunity for oral public comment.) 2021 survey found that 70% of Providence respondents would like to cycle more often, 71% would if there were protected bike paths like the Hope Street Urban Trail, 63% think there should be more urban trails even if it reduces car lanes or parking, and 80% believe that developing alternatives to the car is the best way to reduce traffic problems. All of those percentages have increased since the same survey was conducted in 2019. And a 2020 national poll by researchers from five universities found that Rhode Islanders named climate change their second most pressing issue after COVID. -19 (vehicles are the biggest source of carbon pollution in our state).

Opponents of Providence’s current and future urban paths like to paint the picture that there is a small but vocal minority pushing for these changes. What the data shows is that they are in fact the minority. Instead of letting them direct the future of our city, let’s build a Providence for all.

About Robert James

Check Also

‘Do Better’: Newsom Halts $1 Billion in Homeless Spending – GV Wire

California’s plans to reduce the nation’s largest homeless population aren’t good enough, Democratic Gov. Gavin …