Statement from Councilman John Goncalves on South Water Street Trail

Oct 12, 2021 | 0 comments

Statement from Councilman John Goncalves on South Water Street Trail:

Since its inception, I have been involved and aware of the planning, engagement, and implementation of the South Water Street Trail. As somebody deeply concerned about the climate crisis, about safety for people traveling through the City in all ways, and about the long-term economic and public health of our residents and local businesses, green infrastructure projects like this one give me hope for the future. Many of our constituents agree: hundreds joined me in support and proposed feedback and changes to the plan during two public community meetings in 2020, in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic when we all were reminded just how important it is to have places to safely walk and bike in our neighborhoods. 

I strongly urge the State Department of Transportation to truly listen to and engage with the everyday people in my neighborhood and the rest of the city who benefit from and support road safety projects such as this and also listen to the community on flawed and unjust past proposals such as the decentralization of the downtown transit system and the flawed Gano Street on-ramp proposal.

I understand why cars and trucks are the primary priority of highway engineers. But creating well-designed city streets that are accessible and safe for all residents takes far more care and consideration and I am hopeful that moving forward RIDOT will enhance their collaborative approach with us and support City efforts to improve local roads. 

The City of Providence should be building sustainability and equity into the DNA of our streets. It’s been over a decade since the removal of the highway from this neighborhood, and the results have consistently been positive for many people who live, work, and visit the City. This trail is one more step in the direction of building a safer, forward-looking community along Providence’s riverfront for years to come.

I know that some business owners on South Water are concerned about the impacts–– they just survived an incredibly trying few years and it’s entirely understandable why they would be afraid of something new. 

Plans have been in development for two years and were the product of several public meetings from March 2019 to June 2021 according to the City. In addition to postcards sent out from the Council Office, mailings were sent from the Planning Department to adjacent property owners, businesses, and residents twice during the planning and prior to construction. I personally conducted two virtual Ward 1 community meetings with Planning and Development and the City Traffic Engineer in order to engage folks in the process and to get their direct feedback and suggestions about the project. 

Avid supporters and neighborhood abutters of the plan cited the safety concerns, loud music by the Pedestrian Bridge, the street racing as a result of the two-lane drag strip, ATVs, altered mufflers, droves of motorcycles, and other issues undermining the quality of life and the calmness visitors should feel along the waterfront. Simultaneously, we heard about the importance of on-street parking for adjacent businesses and worked together to ensure that on-street parking remains along South Water Street, even with the new trail.

“My wife and my three children live less than 500 feet from the pedestrian bridge on South Water Street, and we enjoy it frequently. Before the bike lane project, the area was not safe for walkers and bikers and attracted dangerous drag racing at night. I support the bike lane project because it will make the area safer for walkers and bikers like us,” stated Sam Salganik, JD, and Elnaz Firoz, MD. 

Fox Point resident Kathleen Gannon added, “I am so delighted that the South Water Street urban trail is finally a reality! S Water is a vital route from my Fox Point neighborhood to many other parts of the city and having a separated active travel lane makes it easier for me to patronize the many businesses and enjoy the parks along the river. I have ridden the trail a couple of times now and love the security and freedom that comes from being completely separated and protected from motor vehicle traffic. I think motorists too, once they get used to it, will appreciate that they can drive on South Water Street without worrying about a slow cyclist, like me!” 

With the infill development, most of which does not include 1-to-1 parking, we’re also hoping to make it appealing for future residents on the I-195 land to have alternative, multi-modal, and convenient transportation options, other than cars, as they work, go to the train station to commute to Boston or patronize businesses Downtown or throughout the City.  

To alleviate the impacts on businesses, we convened a meeting with business owners that raised concerns in August, and we have advocated for several accommodations on their behalf. Additionally, at our office’s request, the City’s Planning and Development department had individual meetings with several business owners to hear their individual concerns. 

After meeting with South Water Street business abutters and hearing their concerns, we made the following changes which were communicated to stakeholders:

  1.       We adjusted the placement of planned flexible delineator posts to accommodate large vehicles utilizing the loading dock at 121 South Main Street.
  2.       We studied potential adjustments to existing loading zones so delivery vehicles would not double park on South Water Street and as a result, DPW plans to install new loading zone signage once the contractor work is complete.
  3.       We explored adjusting the timing of the traffic signal at the Wickenden/South Water intersection to optimize the flow of traffic along South Water Street and will adjust the Wickenden signals to further improve traffic flow.
  4.       We have agreed to delay the installation of any speed lumps (which many residents were supportive of) until the street improvements are complete to assess whether lumps are still needed or not, with the ultimate hope that they may not be needed.

The infrastructure changes on South Water Street and in the City will: 

  • Make our urban South Water Street corridor quieter 
  • Provide a buffer between pedestrians, bicyclists, and speeding cars
  • Calm traffic by reducing road width, which will encourage drivers to slow down 
  • Give residents more choice and autonomy, increase the bike-to-car ratio, and thereby increase mobility for households and residents without cars 
  • Mitigate climate challenges as bikes emit zero carbon emissions or other air pollutants
  • Promote good mental and physical health
  • Increase mobility justice and equity for all

With infill development and innovative workspaces, green transportation like dedicated bike lanes will further attract talent. In fact, many companies and businesses are relocating specifically to areas with good bike infrastructure to recruit workers.

Additionally, as studies have shown, bike infrastructure pays off: In 2005, New York City spent $10 million on bike lanes, widening sidewalks, and re-phasing traffic lights to accommodate pedestrians. A Columbia University study estimated that the “net societal benefit” of these changes were worth $230 million just 10 years later. 

“Making it safer and easier to get around with alternatives to cars demonstrates we have a vision of how modern cities need to grow.  South Water St. is a step in the right direction, I’m eager to see more upgrades like this soon,” added Fox Point resident Jim Salomon who serves as Vice President of  Engineering at AMETEK Brookfield. 

“I’m delighted to see the changes on S Water Street! Infrastructure changes like this make Providence work more like a modern city. These updates are all over NYC, DC, London, and Amsterdam already. I can’t wait to see more of these Great Streets happen in Providence!” added East Side resident Ilona Miko, Ph.D. 

We are optimistic that the South Water Street Trail will broaden the number of people who will consider traveling to the area, and benefit the surrounding neighborhood’s quality of life. We wouldn’t be doing this if we thought it was going to be a detriment to our neighborhood. There will certainly be bumps in the road, as folks get used to the new arrangement, but ultimately, this infrastructure will create a myriad of benefits for neighborhood residents, and I hope that you will join us in embracing the change. 

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