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Good news, bad news in the bicycle world



“…around the world, more and more communities are seeing the value in bikes to help rebuild post-virus, promote health, save on the costs of buying fossil fuels, and reduce various forms of pollution including carbon emissions.”

The good news is that even as gyms, playgrounds and golf remain closed, the bike paths are still open, social distancing being relatively easy when riding a bike. In addition, car traffic is down, and the City of Providence has announced miles of “slow streets” closed to thru traffic making it even better for bicycling and walking. All this just as spring is coming on and we need to get outside more for our health and peace if mind.

In the climate change era, its good to remember a bicycle is still the closest to a “zero-emission” vehicle. Oak Ridge Labs once estimated that with the efficiency of wheels, biking is even more energy efficient than walking! And it is healthy, cheap, and fun, and arguably, the speed of a bicycle is the way to see spring.

Our bike path network has been extended a bit recently, notably with a new URI-South County Path connector, and in Providence a new connection between India Point Park and the Richmond Square area that avoids difficult Gano Street conditions. Rhode Island is also blessed with strong bike groups (e.g. RI Bicycle Coalition, Bike Newport, Recycle a Bike, Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council) and a network of 41 bike shops, many open and making arrangements for no-contact sales and repairs.

More generally, around the world, more and more communities are seeing the value in bikes to help rebuild post-virus, promote health, save on the costs of buying fossil fuels, and reduce various forms of pollution including carbon emissions. Places as diverse as Milan, Paris, Oakland, Bogota and Minneapolis are now repurposing some street space for bike and pedestrian travel, a movement that is spreading.

So what’s the bad news? First, problems with state government. Our Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has cut $37 million out of the planned 10-year bike/pedestrian program. RIDOT also discontinued the Director’s quarterly “Roundtables” that, for 20 years, the Almond, Carcieri, and Chafee administrations held with bike and other transportation advocates and community groups. Further, despite 79% support from Rhode Island voters for the 2018 Green Bond that included bike path expansion, this year Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed Green Bond had zero funding for biking. Indeed, bike path development has been very slow in the six years of the Raimondo administration and has often been disappointing with regard to transportation. The pandemic shut-down seems to have put on hold the final adoption of a state “Bicycle Master Plan” and bills to improve safety laws at the Assembly.

Can we please ask a favor?

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It’s not just state government. Local governments in Johnston, Smithfield, and North Kingston have blocked bike paths, and East Providence missed an opportunity to use an abandoned rail line to extend the East Bay path toward Pawtucket, now its mostly paved over for “Waterfront Drive.” Even in Providence there has been push-back against city efforts to improve streets for non-drivers, in particular Councilperson Joann Ryan has led successful campaigns against bike infrastructure near Providence College and Rhode Island College, and sad to say, the colleges did nothing to help bicyclists.

No surprise the Trump administration is hostile; competitive Department of Transportation (USDOT) grants that often went for transit and bike/pedestrian programs in the Obama years now largely just go to highways. Finally, I think it is fair to say climate activists and environmental groups have been slow to show interest in promoting biking, despite its lack of emissions.

The virus has forced the annual Bike to Work Day celebrations to be put off until September 22. However, May is still “Bike Month”and I suggest to all who can, enjoy a bike ride, stay safe, have fun.

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