Browse: Home / Bicycling: The best of times, the worst of times?
By Barry Schiller on May 22, 2017
Most are aware that biking is a healthy, non-polluting (almost fossil-free!) and usually enjoyable way to travel. The speed of a bicycle is often best to appreciate your surroundings. So the good news is that progress is being made on bike infrastructure, both on-road (in diverse locations such as Blackstone Blvd and around Olneyville) and with off-road paths. Voters approved $10 million in state money as part of the “Green Economy Bond” so it seems we will see extensions of the South County and Blackstone bikeways, a better bike connection to URI, and finally the beginning of an off-road trail on Aquidneck Island.
There is now general support for bicycling at RIDOT, (see dot.ri.gov/bikeri) by the Governor and Providence Mayor, at DEM and RIPTA. I believe RIPTA was the first bus system in the east to get bike racks for all of its buses, expanding the reach of both biking and transit. There is an active coalition of bike advocates including the RI Bike Coalition (ribike.org), Bike Newport (email@example.com), agency representatives, tourism interests, and neighborhood activists. The Narragansett Bay Wheelmen (firstname.lastname@example.org) has an extensive program of recreational rides. There are programs for refurbishing and distributing bikes, teaching kids how to ride safely, even running summer bicycle “camps.” For examples, visit recycleabike.org or wrwc.org in the Woonasquatucket region. Organizations such as the League of American Bicyclists (bikeleague.org) represent bicyclists on a national level.
Around the country, diverse locations such as upstate New York, Detroit, Indianapolis, south Texas, even cold Minneapolis, have ambitious bike path developments. Bike-share programs are spreading, there are ones nearby in Boston (the “Hubway”) and New York. Providence too is now considering one. Cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen show that with the right policies, large numbers bike safely, improving health, urban quality of life, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So what’s the bad news?
There are increasing push-backs from diverse sources. These include irate motorists who don’t want to be slowed by sharing the road, anti-tax fanatics who don’t want to spend money for anything non-polluting, the national Republican Party whose platform called for eliminating Federal support for bike, pedestrian and transit programs, folks objecting to biking as gentrification while others objecting to biking as bringing undesirable immigrants or criminals to their area. In Rhode Island, diverse towns such as Johnston, Smithfield, Jamestown and North Kingstown have opposed bike facilities. Our legislature has resisted efforts to pass bills that combat dangerous driving that could make the roads safer. Commuting by bike is still relatively infrequent. Bike sales for children have been declining as kids may prefer to play on their computer or be driven everywhere. The state’s environmental community seems to have paid little attention to bicycling, even though as an almost “fossil-free” way to travel it could help reduce climate change emissions in the pesky transportation sector where little progress has been made.
Despite such gloom, this is still a time of opportunity. I encourage interested folks to get more information from, or join with one of the bike groups noted. And, when you can, ride a bike, ride safely, enjoy!
Barry Schiller served on the Board of the Transit Authority 1995-99.
He can be reached at email@example.com