Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blackstone Boulevard

For those of you who may be new to the East Side, Blackstone Boulevard is the stately, wide, thoroughfare that runs north-south along the easternmost edge of Providence. Wide travel lanes and the linear park down the center with a well attended jogging path make Blackstone Boulevard a destination for walkers, runners, families, and yes, cyclists. Traditionally the four mile lap, with its ample room and big-ring ripples, have made it a perfect training lap for individual as well as pace-lining cyclists. It is equally usefull as a natural corridor for bicycle commuters between Providence and points north through Pawtucket. There is little reason to wonder why it has been the first choice as the connecting link between the East Bay Bike Path and the Blackstone Valley Bike Path since it was first proposed back in the early 90's.

The opposition to striping a bike lane on this route has been strong over the years for various reasons. Neighbors cited "safety for the cyclists" as their main concern which, at the time, may have been mistaken by those Providence citizens represented by a different council person as "You don't belong over here". In recent years, as the traffic appears to have increased along with vehicle speeds in the form of drivers trying to avoid the current cluster-fu@% related to the new "I-Way" construction, the neighbors seem to have come around. Monday night there was a public meeting to discuss a plan to remove recently placed pavement markings and stripe the Boulevard for cyclists. The paint that went down last fall allowed for two lanes of vehicle traffic and a parking lane in each direction. The City now wants to remove one of the travel lanes and add a bicycle lane.

According to those who stood up to speak at the meeting, neighbors currently want to stripe the lane for bicycles because they feel that it will slow down traffic and reduce the volume of vehicles using this route as a cut-through. Many who spoke at the meeting used the word Bike "path" which conjures up images of roller bladers and mothers with baby strollers. As a avid cyclist who understands the local culture, I know that the pace lining cyclists will avoid the bike lane and continue to use the left hand side of the road, while in the wetter seasons, the strollers and joggers trying to avoid the muddy walking path will find sanctuary in the relative safety of the bike lane. This makes for bad juju for the rest of the legitimate users of the bike lane including the transportation cylists.

While I am all for officially completing the connection of the East Bay Path with the Blackstone Valley Bike Path, I wonder what the neighbors will think as the paint inevitably starts to fade and the cars keep on coming. Will they continue to support the bike lane? Will they see bike lanes in general as a failure because they do not provide the protection from traffic that novice cyclists often cite as a reason they don't ride more? My concern is not the bike lane on the Boulevard or even bike lanes in general. My hesitation is with installing isolated bike lanes (a la Allens Ave.) in a city that doesn't otherwise support cycling. I wish the City would actually look at the big picture of bikes as legitimate transportation option rather than using a bike "path" as a traffic calming device.


Brendan said...

I hear you Jack, winnowing that road down further is asking for trouble. I'm not sure the folks bombing through the area will give a crap. If everyone uses common sense it might be great. The pessimist in me foresees the same folks running 4 abreast pushing me into now only one vehicle lane. At least right now there's two lanes for cars to use to help us jockey for position a little.

On the plus side maybe this will eliminate the clusters of cyclists riding on the inside (left side) of the boulevard. Generally they tend to piss off motorists while creating a corridor for cars to navigate between users on both sides of the lanes.

The etiquette on display on BB is generally weak, but no worse than say the blackstone river bikepath between Lincoln and Manville. No really likes to accomodate anyone else, even for a second.

I can see it eventually running off the riders training in groups as they'll have much less space to occupy. It's hardly ever a paceline, more like a fast moving clump. There just won't be enough room for them if it's down to one driving lane.

Too many aggravated drivers + less driving space = more issues, and probably more idling traffic on the Pawtucket end.

Il Bruce said...


Gotta find something else to keep me busy. These bike geeks make me the crazy.

Jack said...

Hmmm... interesting thoughts il. thanks for sharing.

Il Bruce said...

Who am I kidding?

I am the biggest (by that I mean fattest) geek of all.

I guess I'll just be a speed bump for the richies.

Are you stocking bags? I need a new commuting bag.