Op-Ed: Bike Path Survey Sparks Controversy

East Siders weigh in on an upcoming bike lane trial on Hope Street

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With the recent announcement that Hope Street on the East Side is about to “test” a new bike lane that will extend down a portion of the street, especially through the entirety of its commercial districts, the ongoing battle between cyclist and proponents of the Mayor’s increasingly controversial Great Streets initiatives is about to be rekindled. Even if this trial is a huge success, there is no immediate plan or money to pay for it!

When a bike lane suddenly appeared around Providence College last year, the backlash was immediate with the lane that was removed wasting over $125,000. Then came the South Water Street ambush where no commercial businesses (restaurants) or institutions (Brown and RISD) knew anything as a major artery was reduced to one lane to accommodate a bike lane. Both the City and the local Councilman insist that there was ample notice, but somehow none of the major stakeholders nor RIDOT had any advance knowledge.

Advocates are taking a different tactic on Hope Street by offering an online survey that anyone can answer. While the validity and value of these types of surveys do not meet professional standards, the results are often used to promote projects. All of the “surveys” conducted by the Great Streets Plan have been in this category.

The major problem with the Hope Street survey should be less disingenuous and more inclusive if it is to be what it should be…a barometer of all the neighbors as to the depth of their understanding and concerns about the project. Admittedly, in today’s increasingly polarized world, nothing will ever satisfy everyone.

The current questionnaire poses over a dozen questions for those interested in having their feelings known about the new bike path plan. Most are fine: where respondents live relative to the new path, whether they ride bikes or not, their general thoughts on what an ideal Hope Street might look like. Although questions on race, gender, and income are inappropriate. But then they get down to specifics and things get a little more wobbly. Here’s a current question for example: 

When you are using Hope Street, do you follow issues that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable? (Check all that apply.)

  •  Drivers speeding
  •  Lack of separation between
        cyclists/scooters and cars
  • Lack of visibility at night
  • Lack of cleanliness/trash
  • COVID related concerns

Note the ‘NONE’ seems to have been deliberately omitted.

In our mind, this is a classic example of what is called “push polling” when a telephone survey is conducted among likely voters before an election to push you with questions designed to convince you that their candidate is the best choice.

If the above question is used, another question should be added aimed at adjoining neighbors that might be worded this way:

 

If you live on a street that is parallel to, or intersects Hope Street and this plan were implemented, would you be okay with these changes? (Check all that apply).

  • Less available parking
  • Higher traffic for people  
        trying to avoid Hope Street
  • Higher speeds on your street
  • Increased litter
  •  Wouldn’t bother me

New York and many other cities have been wrestling with these issues for over a decade. While their vehicular and pedestrian issues dwarf anything our little City has to deal with, there are no easy answers, and safety enforcement for pedestrians (and other bikers) is one of the glaring issues. Walking in New York, because of inexperienced rent-a-bikers, restaurant and commercial delivery services, or just commuters rushing to and from work, bike riders themselves have become weaponized. If pedestrians who have the right-of-way don’t carefully check both directions before crossing, they run the risk of becoming potential roadkill.

A decade ago New York began a citywide program called “Neighborhood Community Oversight Process” where any bike path proposals are carefully and publicly vetted before being approved. Maybe it’s time something like this needs to be considered in the interest of both fairness and the inclusion of ALL our residents and stakeholders and not just special
interest groups.

Perspective and transparency are critical. According to the analysis by ‘People for Bikes’ 66 percent of Providence’s workforce drive to work, little over 10 percent walk to work, and less than 1 percent (.03 percent) ride a bicycle as their primary mode of travel. Yet, the .03 percent is leading the parade.

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  • stuart

    This is great to know.

    Friday, June 17 Report this