Inclusive Infrastructure: Creating Space for Buses & Bicycles
Across the country, transportation systems are transforming in response to profound changes in the American economy and cultural and generational expectations. The focus is shifting away from an automobile-centric system to one that considers the multiple transportation needs of a city’s diverse inhabitants. An inclusive system that integrates automobiles, public rapid transit, bicycle infrastructure, shared cars, and safe places for pedestrians can attract residents, improve the health of the population and environment, and grow the local economy.
Rhode Island and its largest city, Providence, face the challenge of transforming an infrastructure system originally designed for the priorities of a different time period. The system is now in disrepair, with the state’s roads and bridges rated among the worst in the country.1 Instead of rebuilding following existing patterns, this could be viewed as an opportunity to reassess the transportation system and its alignment with current needs. More diverse, modern infrastructure could be an asset to the state by lowering costs, opening new funding sources, reducing travel times, and providing citizens with a range of transportation options.
This article explores the value of an inclusive transportation system and what steps cities and states can take to achieve it. In particular, we examine how to build robust bicycle and bus infrastructure through the use of designated lanes. We analyze other cities’ experiences improving their bicycle and bus systems and discuss options for Providence and Rhode Island.
The Benefits of a More Inclusive Transportation System
Cities across the country are moving to diversify their transportation options and promote inclusive systems that integrate driving, walking, biking, and public transit. These communities see a commitment to inclusive transportation policies and green lifestyles as a way to attract businesses and skilled young workers.2 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel views bicycle infrastructure as a means of enhancing the city’s quality of life and promoting its economic development. Meanwhile, Memphis, Tennessee is installing nearly 25 miles of protected bike lanes to dispel the notion that the city is stuck in a “time warp.”
These cities recognize that the Millennial generation has shifted from a car-owning culture to one that favors varied transportation modes and cost effectiveness.2 Young professionals and families are attracted to areas that support a robust public transportation system and provide an accessible bicycle network.(a) In addition to attracting skilled workers, inclusive transportation systems benefit the economy by reducing automobile ownership and the costs associated with personal driving. The money that individuals and families save by not owning a car can be put back into the local economy in the form of retail or food purchases or housing costs.(b)
(a) A diverse transportation system not only serves the young but also helps the elderly stay independent once they can no longer drive. This is important in a state like Rhode Island that has a large elderly population.
(b) On a typical day, residents of Portland, Oregon drive 20% less than the average American. This reduction is estimated to produce an out-of-pocket fuel savings of $1.1 billion dollars per year, along with an additional savings of $1.5 billion due to reduced congestion and expanded work time during commutes.
Fig. 1 The Cost of Car Ownership
Source: AAA (2014), BLS (2015).3
Alternative transportation systems also help the environment and have a positive impact on public health. Since the transportation sector produces nearly 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in Rhode Island, its transformation must be a critical part of reducing pollution. Alternative transportation also promotes a healthier lifestyle supported by active, human-powered transportation such as walking and biking. Neighborhoods benefit from a reduced number of vehicles on the road, making their communities safer and quieter, and reduced traffic flows have even been shown to foster higher property values.4
Shifting Transportation Modes
An inclusive transportation network creates health, environmental, and economic benefits by encouraging people to shift transportation modes – for example, biking to work instead of driving their car. People’s willingness to “mode shift” varies according to scheduling, weather, cost, and other factors. They will only move away from cars when inexpensive, convenient options are available and circumstances make these alternative modes more attractive than driving.
Mode shifts remain difficult to predict, but one key factor is creating a first-class system of inclusive, convenient transportation options. Consider the commuter who lives in Providence and works in Boston. Nearly 2,500 people choose to make this trip each day via commuter rail, perhaps because they find it more convenient and less expensive than the prospect of driving in Boston traffic and paying for parking. These commuters have shifted their transportation mode to rail, even though public transit requires adherence to a set schedule and additional travel at either end to and from the station. For these commuters, the benefits of shifting from private automobile to public transit outweigh the inconveniences.
“When more than a quarter of workers take transit, more than 10% go on foot. When fewer than 5% take transit, fewer than 3% go on foot. It isn’t just that transit users walk more, but that non-transit users also walk more in cities that are shaped around transit. For the most part, cities support either driving or everything else.”– Jeff Speck, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time5
While Rhode Island’s commuter rail system has its own infrastructure, bicycles and buses in the state are forced to use roads made for cars, discouraging people from shifting to these modes of transportation. The majority of the bicycle infrastructure consists of shared lane markings, known as sharrows, which require bicyclists to join in road space with automobiles.(c) Buses in Rhode Island face a similar problem, as they are at the whim of the flow of automobile and pedestrian traffic and have to pull out of traffic and then merge back in to exchange passengers. In both cases, poor infrastructure may be discouraging travelers from shifting to using bicycle or bus as a mode of transportation.
(c) In Providence, there are only three striped bike lanes designated exclusively for cyclists: on Blackstone Blvd, Allens Avenue, and Broadway. None of them enter the city center maintaining their integrity, which creates a disjointed network that lacks safe, consistent connections through desirable urban and semi-urban areas.
Fig. 2 Bike Paths in Providence
Source: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (2013).6
Source: RIDOT (2015).7
The Need for Dedicated Lanes
One way to encourage bus and bicycle use is to give each mode its own space and right-of-way on the road. Research shows that the level of bicycling is strongly related to the robustness of the bicycle infrastructure in a city.8 Separate bike lanes are particularly important, since most city streets have speed limits of 25 miles per hour while cyclists typically travel at speeds closer to 11 to 12 miles per hour. Many people do not feel comfortable or safe cycling in the roadway with cars and will not mode shift to cycling without better infrastructure. Around half of Americans report being interested in bicycle commuting but held back by concerns about riding conditions.
Fig. 3 Types of Bicycle Lanes
Source: People for Bikes (2014).9 Image Credit: Eric Fischer
In cities across the U.S., the creation of designated bike lanes has been shown to increase the number of cyclists on the routes where lanes were installed.6 Madison, Wisconsin, for example, has 268 miles of bike lanes, including 152 miles of protected lanes. The city has a platinum ranking in the League of American Bicyclists’ list of Bicycle Friendly Communities, and 5.3% of its 237,000 residents commute by bicycle. Providence, in contrast, has only 38 miles of marked bicycle paths, 13.8 miles of which are protected. Only 2% of Providence residents commute by bicycle. Despite this poor performance, Providence’s 2013 bicycling master plan focused primarily on the development of shared lanes rather than separate paths and only recommended one new designated lane over the next decade that wasn’t already under development.6
“For decades, most bike advocacy organizations focused on the problems faced by existing bicyclists, that 5-10% of people brave, broke, or committed enough to ride through harrowing urban traffic. The vast majority of the time advocates focused on people who were white, male, and well off, and used to asserting themselves in often-dangerous situations. These days, though, bike advocates… are thinking about the people who aren’t yet riding bicycles, but might like to try it some day.” – Bill Lindeke, MinnPost10
Dedicated lanes are also an essential part of a fast and efficient Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. According to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), a transportation think tank, an effective BRT system requires lanes exclusively for buses, ideally in the center of the roadway so as to avoid turning vehicles.11,12 It is also important to have intersection treatments that speed the movement of buses by preventing cars from turning across bus lanes and giving buses priority at traffic signals.(d) These features allow buses to move quickly by avoiding single-occupancy vehicle traffic and associated delays.(e)
(d) Other key features of a successful BRT system help speed up passenger boarding. These include platform-level boarding, with the bus floor at the same level as the roadway or station platform, and off-board fare collection, where fares are paid and tickets checked before boarding.12
(e) Due to traffic delays and passenger loading and unloading, buses typically operate at just 60% the speed of other vehicles.
Fig. 4 Key Features of an Efficient Bus Rapid Transit System
Source: ITDP (2014)12
Currently, Rhode Island’s bus system has only partial implementation of dedicated lanes and other BRT standards. The Providence/Pawtucket R-Line, one of the busiest routes, is equipped with transit signal priority, allowing buses to hold a green light upon approach, as well as the occasional queue-jumping lane that gives buses preference at an intersection. However, the R-Line buses do not have a dedicated right-of-way and, in fact, are required to use the slowest lane position along the curb.
Fig. 5 Bus Systems in Providence and Cleveland
Source: Greater Cleveland RTA (2014), RIPTA (2016).13
The Cost of Dedicated Lanes
The cost to develop Bus Rapid Transit infrastructure depends on factors such as location, complexity, and type of infrastructure.14 A curbside lane in mixed traffic can be implemented for as little as $1 million per mile, while a system that requires tunnels can run into the hundreds of millions.14 Systems that operate in the center lanes or on dedicated guideways run from $4 million to $8 million per mile, depending on the circumstances.14
BRT infrastructure can be funded through traditional TIGER grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation; the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts, Small Starts program; and a variety of other sources of federal funding. When combined, these grants can be used to cover a large share of project costs. For example, Clark County, Washington combined $11 million in Small Starts grants, $4 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, and $28 million in Bus and Bus Facilities grants to cover $43 million of a $53 million BRT infrastructure project. This left the municipality responsible for less than 20% of the project costs.
Bicycle infrastructure is much less expensive to install. In Chicago, prices per mile range from $125,000 for a painted buffered bike lane to $200,000 for a barrier-protected lane. The city has installed 103 miles of bike lanes since 2011 at a cost of approximately $12.7 million, the majority funded through CMAQ grants. Other sources of funding for bicycle lanes include TIGER grants, the Highway Safety Improvement Program, the National Highway Performance Program, the Surface Transportation Program, and the Transportation Alternative Program.
Though new infrastructure may be expensive, the economic rewards can be significant. A study in New York City found that dedicated bike lanes were good for business, improving the sales of local retail stores and restaurants.4 Bicycle-friendly areas can also be a boon for tourism: Colorado estimates that $1 billion is pumped into the state each year from biking and related activities.15 Bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure projects also create more jobs per dollar than roadway projects, since much of a road budget goes to materials while bicycling and walking projects are more labor-intensive.16 Furthermore, with proper planning and coordination, alternative transportation projects should take no longer than typical roadway projects.
Text Box 1: Designated Lanes Helped Small Businesses in New York City
A Collaborative Approach to Implementing Inclusive Systems
The successful implementation of alternative transportation projects requires garnering the support of the public, the business community, and government officials. Merchants and citizens may express concern, for example, if parking spots are being lost to make way for dedicated bike or bus lanes. However, the public can be brought on board through public meetings and presentations about a project and its benefits.
Another key to implementation success is the coordination and cooperation of state, regional, and municipal agencies. Rhode Island coordinates this process through its master planning system. Each municipality in the state must produce a master plan to direct growth in its community, and these plans must be vetted by the state’s planners and adhere to the state’s overall plan.
It is important for the planning process to include experts representing a variety of users and constituencies and to apply procedures and guidelines that will lead to planning that benefits the most users.17 A project may have several potential goals that need to be balanced, from mode shifts and increased accessibility to environmental, health, and economic benefits. These goals can be assessed through multiple lenses that examine the impact for individual travelers, for those living adjacent to travel corridors, for local businesses, and for the community as a whole.
Text Box 2: How Minneapolis Implements Better Bicycle Infrastructure
Dedicated Lanes in Rhode Island
While much of America’s growth had been guided by a car-centric mindset, many of New England’s patterns of development were laid down before the rise of the automobile. The region is uniquely suited for alternative forms of transportation because the scale and spacing of its towns and cities was tailored to travel by foot and horse, and later trolleys, before the car became a factor.
Building on this history, Rhode Island has recognized the importance of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), the cultivation of mixed-use retail and commercial areas around public transit hubs. This represents a natural step for a state that retains historic community centers initially formed around early trade routes, rail lines, and streetcar lines. As the state moves forward in promoting growth around transit hubs, it might consider that implementing Bus Rapid Transit with dedicated lanes is often a more cost effective option than expanding rail or trolley lines.14 Providence recently scrapped $100 million plans for a streetcar in favor of enhanced bus service on the same route, which will cost about one-fifth of the price.
Bicycling infrastructure is another cost-effective way to promote transportation hubs and expand existing networks. The Providence Bike Share Feasibility Study analyzed the latent demand for bicycling and found a pattern that closely resembles the city’s historic development. Demand also aligns with the city’s Phase I bicycle network, its initial attempt to use signage to establish bike routes on major roadways connected to downtown.18 Conversion of the Phase I network into protected paths would go a long way toward making the city accessible to those who may be interested in biking but concerned about sharing the roadway with cars.
Despite this latent demand, Providence’s current bicycling master plan recommends little in the way of dedicated lanes.(f) In fact, its criteria for evaluating potential projects – such as penalties for projects that require the removal or parking spaces – tends to weed out projects in dense areas where the majority of demand is located.6 While the city and state have succeeded in creating protected long-distance paths like the East Bay Bike Path and the Woonasquatucket River Greenway, they have had less success bringing cycling into the city center. Projects like the Providence Pedestrian and Bike Bridge can help connect existing protected paths and provide east-west access to the city core.
As the state works to repair run-down road and bridge infrastructure, it might consider ways to incorporate alternative forms of transportation. One project currently under consideration is a proposed rapid transit route along the 6/10 connector. The need to rebuild the roadway also presents an opportunity for alternative forms of transportation to be incorporated. State officials and local transportation groups have proposed the inclusion of dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit, as well as lanes for cyclists and pedestrians.
A Future of Smarter, More Inclusive Transportation
"There is increasing recognition… of the importance and power of transportation to shape the city. In this modern view, cities should plan their transportation systems to help spur the type of development and quality of life that they’d like to see rather than the traditional planning and engineering assumption that the context is “set” and has certain requirements that the transportation system needs to meet.” – New York City Department of Transportation 4
There is a growing consensus that robust infrastructure supporting multiple, interconnected modes of transportation produces greater benefits than the traditional system focused on the automobile. An inclusive transportation system can improve a community’s economy, quality of life, health, and environment. Bus and bicycle systems can be particularly cost-effective and often fit within existing infrastructure, important benefits in a state like Rhode Island that has limited roadway space and is strapped for transportation funding.
If Rhode Island wants to build a more inclusive transportation system, it is not enough to plan partial bike lanes that end in five blocks or bus routes too slow to lure commuters away from their cars. An extensive network of designated bike and bus lanes can help make these forms of transportation a true alternative for commuters, as part of a robust infrastructure system that supports the varied transportation needs of all residents.
1. Martino, Nicole. 2016. “The Road to Better Bridges: Strategies for Maintaining Infrastructure.” Providence, RI: The College & University Research Collaborative.
2. Harris, Jonathan L. 2015. “Millennials on the Move: Attracting Young Workers Through Better Transportation.” Providence, RI: The College & University Research Collaborative.
3. American Automobile Association. 2016. “Your Driving Costs.” Heathrow, FL. The cost of car ownership is the average estimated cost of owning and driving a sedan 15,000 miles a year. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. “Consumer Expenditures – 2014.” Washington, D.C.
4. New York City Department of Transportation. 2013. The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets. New York, NY.
5. Speck, Jeff. 2013. Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. New York, NY: North Point Press.
6. Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. 2013. Bike Providence: A Bicycling Master Plan for Providence. Providence, RI.
7. Rhode Island Department of Transportation. 2015. “A Guide to Cycling in the Ocean State [maps].” Providence, RI.
8. Dill, Jennifer, Nohad A. Toulan, Susan L. Handy, John Pucher, and Edward J. Bloustein. 2013. How to Increase Bicycling for Daily Travel. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
9. Andersen, Michael. 2014. “14 Ways To Make Bike Lanes Better.” Boulder, CO: People for Bikes.
10. Lindeke, Bill. 2015. “Minneapolis is breaking bicycling ground with new protected lanes: Here’s what’s working.” MinnPost, September 3.
11. Weinstock, Annie, Walter Hook, Michael Replogle, and Ramon Cruz. 2011. Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit. New York, NY: The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
12. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. 2014. “The BRT Standard [infographic].” New York, NY.
14. Levinson, Herbert, Samuel Zimmerman, Jennifer Clinger, Scott Rutherford, Rodney L. Smith, John Cracknell, and Richard Soberman. 2003. Bus Rapid Transit - Volume 1: Case Studies in Bus Rapid Transit. Washington, D.C.: Transportation Research Board.
15. Flusche, Darren. 2012. “The Economic Benefits of Bicycling [infographic].” Washington, D.C.: League of American Bicyclists.
16. Flusche, Darren. 2012. Bicycling Means Business: The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure. Washington, D.C.: League of American Bicyclists.
17. One example of such a guide is: National Association of City Transportation Officials. 2013. Urban Street Design Guide. New York, NY.
18. Olson, Jeff, Phil Goff, and Shannon Simms. 2011. City of Providence Bike Share Feasibility Study: Final Report. Arlington, VA: Alta Planning + Design.
19. Pflaum, Don. 2011. Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan. Minneapolis, MN: Minneapolis Public Works.
How can cities and states create more inclusive, sustainable transportation systems?
Type of Research
- Responds to questions of Policy Leaders with research projects that closely align with state priorities
- Provides implications for challenging state issues