The Big Idea

Taking It to the Streets

How do we build a more bike-friendly city?

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“Cities that are more bikeable are more appealing to young Americans, a generation less emotionally tied to the automobile,” says Eric Weis, a member of the Providence Bicycle Plan steering committee and appointee to the Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.

With a need to retain more of the talent that passes through our city’s universities every year, and a desire to attract more creative minds to jumpstart the local economy, Providence would do well to make itself more appealing to young Americans. Making the city more bike-friendly is not just a crunchy liberal environmental issue – it’s an economic issue, too. We asked Weis to imagine a more bikeable Providence.

• The most important thing the city can do to encourage more cycling is to encourage better behavior by both motorists and bicyclists. Lots of people are scared off from biking because they’re concerned about being hit by a car. And then there are the fearless cyclists blowing through stop signs – their actions can create a general anger toward cyclists among some drivers, which can lead to aggressive and unsafe driving.

• Smoother roads would be a great first step.  More pavement markings (bike lanes, shared-lane markings) will also encourage more cycling.

• Better bike parking would also help. There are lots of hitching posts for bikes downtown, but not so many out in the neighborhoods or at shopping plazas.

• Being a compact city with many destinations within a short distance gives Providence a great canvas to work on.  Many of those who commute by car could easily make the switch to biking to work.

• Being a college town is also an asset. That’s thousands of young residents who should be able to live car-free, getting around by bike and on foot and using public transit when needed.

• Being a more bike-friendly city can be a factor in retaining college grads. Add to that the fact that tech companies prefer to set up in more livable cities as a way to attract and retain the best young employees. It’s not mere coincidence that Seattle, Cambridge, Boulder and Minneapolis have strong tech sectors and are also notably bike-friendly.

• My wish list: At least twice as many bike commuters. Safe (and well-used) connections from downtown to the Cranston Bikepath, Blackstone River Bikeway and East Bay Bikepath. And a mayor so proud of the city’s new bike plan that he rides his bike to work regularly.