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PVD City Council pushes back against Great Streets Initiative

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“I have been advocating for more community engagement around city projects since last year – when the two-way bike lane was installed on Eaton Street without notice to neighbors and caused a great deal of stress and outrage in my neighborhood,” said Providence City Councilmember Joa-Ann Ryan. “My neighbors and I have been characterized as being ‘anti-bike’ or ‘anti-bike lanes,’ which is simply not true.”


On Monday the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee took up City Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan‘s proposed changes to the City of Providence’s Great Streets Initiative and Urban Trail Network Master Plan (Great Streets Initiative).

You can see the proposed legislation below.

The Great Streets Initiative seeks to establish a framework for public space improvements to ensure that every street in Providence is safe, equitable and sustainable. Informed by insights generated from analysis of crash data, traffic calming requests, and housing and transportation figures, the plan seeks to transform Providence streets in a way that bicyclists and pedestrians want to see, to the consternation of many motor vehicle operators.

Councilmember Ryan’s legislation would require major street projects or alterations to be treated as Major Land Development Projects as defined in the City of Providence Land Development and Subdivision Regulations. This would put the process under the review authority of the City Plan Commission (CPC). The Commission is charged with ensuring that development in the City is consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and any major street alteration would fall under this open review process if Ryan’s legislation is approved.

The CPC requires three levels of review, technical oversight, complete plans that are drawn to scale, and public information sessions and hearings before a project receives recommended approval and finally sent to the City Council for vetting and passage.


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“I have been advocating for more community engagement around city projects since last year – when the two-way bike lane was installed on Eaton Street without notice to neighbors and caused a great deal of stress and outrage in my neighborhood,” said Ryan in a statement. “My neighbors and I have been characterized as being ‘anti-bike’ or ‘anti-bike lanes,’ which is simply not true.”

Bicyclists and pedestrians filled the hearing room in support of the Great Streets Initiative. Because Ryan revealed a reworded version of her proposed legislation at the hearing no one in the room had adequate time to review her proposal. But there seemed a general sense that involving the CPC added an extra, and unnecessary layer of complexity to improving city streets. Also, despite Ryan’s words, there was a sense that these unnecessary delays were aimed at bicyclists and pedestrians, since they are the ones who will benefit most from the Great Streets Initiative’s goals.

“We’re talking about a lot of bicycle oriented infrastructure here,” said Providence resident Eric Weis, a professional transportation planner. “But if you look at it in comparison to the fact that nearly every street in the city already has sidewalks on both sides, and every street in the city already designed for the safe travel of motor vehicles… we can see that this is less about bicyclists and more about creating a more even playing field.”

“I keep hearing this framed as bikes compared to sidewalks, which is not actually what I’m not seeing at all when I look at the Great Streets Initiative,” said Providence resident Rachel Peterson, a pedestrian and bus rider. “What I’m really seeing is cars being dominant, compared to everyone else. So I want to speak up as a pedestrian who feels I’m being represented in the Great Streets Initiative.”

We should be streamlining this process, not adding more layers to it,” said Liza Birkin, organizer of the Providence Streets Coalition, a coalition of 25 partners and 35 businesses that supports safer streets and more transportation choices. “Cars and trucks make up 30 percent of our carbon emission… We have to provide alternatives to driving so that people can get around without a car. It’s just what has to happen. It is what’s happening in cities around the world.”

As for motor vehicle drivers, “AAA is on our coalition,” said Birkin. “AAA recognizes that cities are choking on traffic. Nobody is enjoying driving in the city. AAA tries to do things for drivers, and part of that is getting anyone who doesn’t have to drive out of a car so that people who do have to drive and do like to drive can get where they’re going without sitting in traffic for a billion years…”

Discussion on Ryan’s bill will continue at a future Ordinance Committee meeting.