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Letter: The South Water Street bike lane is ill-advised

To the Editor:

When I was an undergraduate, my local transportation was a bicycle. In my freshman year, I lived in King House (located at the corner of Brown and Barnes, just south of Hope High School), a freshman dorm that was deaccessioned shortly thereafter. My academic program required six 8 a.m. classes in Whitehall (also no longer in existence, in this instance, demolished). Making that trip in a reasonable time was greatly aided by the mechanical advantage afforded by a bicycle. 

Expeditions farther afield were also made more convenient with bike transportation, even though there were very few (read: almost no) bicycle racks at the destinations. Usually, a simple through-wheel lock sufficed, and my first bike wasn’t stolen until several years after I graduated. But the Brown and Pembroke campuses are at the top of a rather challenging hill. The only way I ever managed to ride all the way up College Hill was to go up North Main Street, taking advantage of the gentler slope from the Episcopal Cathedral to the top, turn right on Olney Street, and then right again on Brown Street. The alternative was cheating — to walk with my bike into the Providence County Courthouse through the front entrance on South Main, get on the elevator (operated by a human), get off at the fifth floor and walk out the back door onto Benefit Street. From there, I would walk the rest of the way up College Street, get back on the bike and ride back to the Pembroke campus. 

I am happy that bicycles are more popular now, and am generally in favor of measures to improve bike accessibility. However, the new bike path on South Water Street is an exception.

Forget that traffic will probably be slower and likely congested at evening rush hour. Forget that the path will impede access to the businesses that have their main or service entrances on that thoroughfare. But be terrified at the possibility of an emergency in one of those buildings, some of which are tall enough that a ladder truck might be needed. With only one traffic lane available, and no real escape route for vehicles suddenly being followed by flashing lights and a siren, this is a disaster waiting to happen. The lack of an alternate access route for emergency vehicles was thus a major oversight of the South Water Street bike lane project.

The river is a really attractive location for a bike path. But I do wish that the city could have imlemented the project more thoughtfully, even at the cost of paving over some of the grassy strip separating South Water Street from the (immovable) river. That way, we could both maintain two lanes and install a much-desired bike path.

Barbara Beeton ’61 MA’72






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