Opinion

For Bicyclists in R.I., It’s Both the Best and Worst of Times

May is Bike Month, a month in which it is a joy to ride, but Rhode Island's stalled bike program takes some of the fun out of it. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

It is the best of times: May is Bike Month, a month in which it is a joy to ride. There has been an increase in riding, especially with electric bikes coming along. There is a new infusion of possible federal support for biking; the state has adopted an ambitious and visionary Bicycle Mobility Plan (BMP) to promote bicycling around the state; we have a vibrant bike community; and a climate crisis for which bicycles can well be part of the solution.

But it’s also the worst of times: Our bike program has largely stalled; we have a hostile state Department of Transportation (RIDOT) that has transferred funds away from biking and walking, delaying much of the BMP.  Opposition to bike projects from some abutters has killed some bike improvements, and many of those who deal with climate change only see electric cars as a way to address transportation emissions.

But we’ll concentrate on the good, especially with spring in the air and the speed of a bicycle being such an appropriate way to enjoy it. A bicycle is fabulously efficient. One European estimate of its life cycle emissions, including manufacture and maintenance, is that a bike emits 7.6 grams of carbon per passenger kilometer, an e-bike 16.1. In comparison, an electric car emits 92.4; a gas car, 208.3.

Bicyclists can extend their reach by using public transit — both RIPTA and MBTA commuter vehicles carry bikes at no extra charge. The MBTA allows bikes on 13 of its 15 weekday trains to Boston (eight of them start at Wickford Junction) and all nine of its Saturday and Sunday trips. They still have a $10 weekend pass that allows use of the entire MBTA commuter rail system for an entire weekend. See mbta.com for details.

RIPTA’s bike racks can get you to the East Bay Path (Routes 32, 33, 34, 60), South County (64, 66), Quonset (14), Blackstone (71, 75 ), West Bay (13 17, 30 31), and Woonsocket (27, 28).

We have a fine network of bike shops, including Olneyville’s remarkable nonprofit Recycle-A-Bike, that is “building community by connecting people and bicycles.” Our vibrant bike culture includes the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council and Bike Newport that promote education and advocacy and schedule rides — the latter has a May 21 Elliot’s Ride coming in which Ocean Drive in Newport will be closed off to cars. Wow!

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition coordinates statewide advocacy and they have a grand Bike Summit planned for Friday, June 3, at Roger Williams University in Bristol. In Providence, we have the Providence Streets Coalition to promote the city’s visionary Great Streets plan. Bike safety is taken seriously by RIDOT’s Office of Traffic Safety, our local AAA, and others in the Traffic Safety Coalition, and bike fatalities here have become rare.

The legislature passed the Act on Climate law, which will require large reductions in transportation emissions, giving residents another reason to bicycle. And though Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) leadership is in charge of implementing last year’s law, the agency seems to be ignoring bicycling — it was dropped again from the proposed Green Bond, but DEM will be asking for public input.

The legislature may follow up, as under consideration are bills to authorize a bond to fund the BMP (H8113, thank you Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown) to promote bike safety and e-bikes, (H7899 and H7839, thank you Rep. Rebecca Kislak, D-Providence), and to exempt bikes from the state sales tax (H6634 and S2266, thanks Rep Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, and Sen. Alana DiMario, D-Narragansett).

Barry Schiller is a North Providence, R.I., resident.

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  1. RIDOT did create “temporary enhancements” to the East Bay Bike Path in the area around the two closed bridges in Barrington and Warren. For a while, bikes had to ride across the road bridges on the street, but now there are “boardwalks” on the east side of both bridges that keep bikes isolated from vehicular traffic. Still hoping that the old bridges will get repaired/replaced, but this is better than nothing.

  2. Agree with the comment that Barry tells it like it is! I’ve known and appreciated Barry as an unswerving bike and transit advocate for the 20 years I’ve lived in RI! Back in the day, I used to attend the Transportation Advisory Committee meetings, often as the lone member of the public willing to sit through the sessions. After pro forma requests for comment on the agenda, which typically were dismissed, and pro forma requests for comments on the business at hand, also dismissed usually with rolled eyes or blatant indifference, the committee would proceed to do exactly what DOT wanted them to do.

    It’s pathetic that government responds to the national moaning over gas prices by working to increase drilling for oil and gas (which won’t address the current price gouging by the fossil fuel industry) and proposing to reduce the gas task — all this rather than promote alternative transportation modes and favoring development that enables those modes. Add to this the legendary fixation of RI residents on being able to park for free directly in front of wherever they want to be.

    How about instead of treating bus riders like afterthoughts or burdens (few bus shelters, poorly aligned routes and schedules),how about making mass transit a viable and convenient choice? There are creative ways to accommodate people with disabilities, with kids, with different schedules. Can we at least try? The planet would thank us.

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