Providence Celebrates Great Streets and Slower Speeds
November 1, 2021
PROVIDENCE — One week after Rhode Island Department of Transportation rescinded its threat of legal action over a new South Water Street bike lane, Mayor Jorge Elorza announced the city’s “Great Streets” are open for safe bicycling.
At an Oct. 28 ribbon-cutting, the city celebrated four years of steady pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements under the Providence Great Streets Initiative. Since 2017, the initiative has added or improved more than 33 miles of urban bike trail across the city, officials said, and implemented traffic-calming features on neighborhood streets.
“We know that cars aren’t the only way to get around the city,” Elorza said at a podium overlooking the Providence River pedestrian bridge and the new South Water Street bike path. “In fact, our city is the perfect size to get around on foot, on bike, on scooter, skateboard, or whatever it may be.”
Studies by the city have shown that 71 percent would bicycle more frequently if protective barriers divided bike and car traffic, Elorza said. He dismissed criticism over the bike lanes that came from some businesses and stifled the South Water Street project earlier this fall. He said planners took their feedback into account and “made as many modifications as made sense,” but challenged critics to embrace the change.
“Once people start seeing the effect, the benefit that [bike lanes] provide to the community, I believe we’ll be off and running,” Elorza said. “And so hopefully this project will lay the groundwork and make the next project that much easier.”
According to Liza Burkin, lead organizer for the Providence Streets Coalition, there has already been an 84-96 percent decrease in the number of vehicles exceeding 30 mph on that stretch of South Water Street. It’s a “live-saving measure for vulnerable road-users,” she said.
Jakub Lis, who works downtown, said the bike lane has made a difference for his morning bike commute. He rides along South Water Street most days, enjoying the community waterfront and relishing the fact he doesn’t “have to deal with parking.”
“It’s wonderful to see something that has made that safe and easy, convenient,” Lis said. “I couldn’t find my car keys the other day … because I literally hadn’t driven in a week.”
For Catherine Taylor, state director of AARP Rhode Island, these safety advances mean greater accessibility of city streets not just for cyclists, but for all users, including those in wheelchairs and those on motorized scooters and other mobility devices.
“This area has become a magnet,” Taylor said, “attracting people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and it is a safe place to gather and enjoy the riverscape, especially in a time of COVID.”
Maurice Collins, owner of the Wild Colonial Tavern on South Water Street, said he had long pleaded with the city to reduce speeding along a road frequented by families and business-goers using whatever means necessary — whether speed bumps or grizzly bears.
“In our 23 years, we’ve watched this stretch of road become an antidote,” Collins said. “This bike lane is part of that transformation, and it’s way, way better than a grizzly bear.”