May is “National Bike Month,” celebrated nationally and in Rhode Island. And why not, it’s a great time to ride a bike and enjoy spring, maybe best appreciated at the speed of a bicycle. As usual, there will be Bike to Work Day celebrations, in Providence and Newport, this year on Friday May 18.
We know we have a societal interest in promoting more bicycling. Yet bike travel here is still relatively low and its far below its potential for promoting health, the environment, and, since biking doesn’t involve sending our dollars to out of state oil interests, the economy. Biking is also (mostly) fun!
There are plenty of obstacles. Bike paths and even on-road lanes are not connected. Dangerous driving – distracted, drunk, aggressive, deters bike use. It’s hard to compete with the free parking most of us get for our cars and secure bike parking can be hard to come by. Sprawl results in many long trips seen as too far for biking. Rhode Island is hilly, can be cold, hot, rainy. Some towns, Johnston, Smithfield, Jamestown,North Kingstown come to mind, have at times resisted bike infrastructure, partly due to fear of crime.
But there are many reasons to hope for progress.
Experience has shown that fear of crime is unfounded, the Woonasquatucket Greenway is even credited with reducing crime. The Green Economy bond the voters approved in 2016 is helping to extend the Blackstone Bike Path in Providence and Woonsocket, to bring the South County path to URI and closer to the beach. Newport will finally have a separated bike path. All that will boost our tourist economy, especially with the new national park in the Blackstone Valley whose key sites can be tied together by the bikeway. The Providence bike-pedestrian bridge on the old I-195 corridor should be completed this season, giving a safe, convenient connection between the east and west sides of that redeveloping area. Also, some on-road problem intersections are being addressed, better connections in the Olneyville area are planned, as well as repairs to the popular East Bay Bikeway. The Governor has proposed continuing such improvements by recommending another “Green Economy Bond” which would go to the voters this fall if the Assembly approves.
RIDEM and its Task Force charged with reducing greenhouse gases is finally paying attention to transportation, the sector with the largest emissions. Though some in that process are only interested with electric cars, there is reason to think that bicycles, most truly a “zero-emission” vehicle, will finally get some attention in the fight against climate change. Indeed, Statewide Planning is working on the first state Bike Master Plan to prioritize future projects. There will be public workshops on this process this summer. There are funded plans to finally bring the Blackstone Bikeway to central Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket, finish the West Bay path to the CT line, the South County path to the beach, and better bike connections are part of the 6-10 rebuild. There are active community groups in Tiverton, the south coast, and in the Woonasquatucket watershed promoting bike facilities in their communities.
It also helps that the Governor and Mayors in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Newport are supportive of more biking, as is RIDOT whose website has a lot of useful bike info.
An electric-assisted bike-share program run by JUMPbikes, soon to be owned by UBER, is to start up in central Providence this summer. This may result in many more bikes on the streets, so it is even more important to consider highway safety. Addressing distracted driving, the state law prohibiting hand-held cell phone use when driving kicks in on June 1, making it much more feasible to enforce the no-texting-while-driving law. And while the roll-out was problematic, the Providence speed cameras sent a message that speeding is a serious problem. And there are bills in the Assembly being considered to tighten Rhode Island’s relatively loose impaired driving laws.
Also, remember RIPTA’s bikeracks carry bikes at no additional fare, as do all off-peak MBTA commuter trains.
I know RIBike and its partners welcome participation in their activities, but even more important, I recommend enjoying a ride, maybe on one of Rhode Island’s highly scenic and enjoyable bike paths.