About

Alex Krogh-Grabbe

Alex believes that cities are complex and messy, but dense smart growth with strong alternative transportation infrastructure is the best medicine for climate change and for our unsustainable car dependence. He also believes that good policy balances input from many different perspectives, especially traditionally oppressed low-income communities and the local business community. Everyone’s perspective is valuable, even though it’s impossible for policy to please everyone all the time.

He lives and works in Providence, RI, to which he relocated in June 2014 from Amherst, MA. Upon completing his master’s degree from Tufts University in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Alex served as the founding Executive Director of the Amherst Business Improvement District. Since moving to Providence, Alex has immersed himself in his new city, managing a City Council campaign and organizing the Providence Symposium weekend. He currently works as Program Director for the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, the organization’s first staff position.

RI Budget 2017 – bond language comparison

Last night at 1:30am the Rhode Island House of Representatives’ Finance Committee finished voting on their version of the FY2017 state budget. While we saw the Governor’s budget proposal on February 2nd, the House’s version was secret until last night.

I’ve been very active through RIBike working to make sure voters get a chance to vote on the Green Economy Bond in the fall, which has $10 million for bike paths in addition to a bunch of other important investments. So I was really interested in the article of the budget with all the bonds in it. The House made some changes, but mostly the bonds stay intact. See below for a side-by-side comparison:

Governor’s budget House budget
Sections that were the same between versions of the budget are shown here spanning the whole width; sections that differ are shown side-by-side
ARTICLE 5
RELATING TO CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

SECTION 1. Proposition to be submitted to the people. — At the general election to be held on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November 2016, there shall be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection the following proposition:”Shall the action of the general assembly, by an act passed at the January 2016 session, authorizing the issuance of bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes of the state for the capital projects and in the amount with respect to each such project listed below be approved, and the issuance of bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes authorized in accordance with the provisions of said act?”
Project

  1. Veterans Home $27,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue its general obligation bonds, refunding bonds and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) for the construction of a new Veterans Home and renovations of existing facilities.
  2. Leveraging Higher Education to Create 21st Century Jobs $45,500,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed forty-five million five hundred thousand dollars ($45,500,000) to make capital investments in higher education-related projects, to be allocated as follows:

    1. University of Rhode Island College of Engineering $25,500,000
      Provides twenty-five million five hundred thousand dollars ($25,500,000) to renovate and construct an addition on Bliss Hall, one of the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering’s oldest buildings. This project is the second phase of a comprehensive program to replace outdated buildings with a major new building and to renovate and build additions to the existing complex of buildings serving the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering.
  1. Innovation Campus at a Rhode Island-Based University $20,000,000
    Provides twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) to build one or more innovation campuses involving a university/business collaboration where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services and businesses.
  1. University of Rhode Island Affiliated Innovation Campus Program $20,000,000
    Provides twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) to build one or more innovation campuses involving business collaborations with the University of Rhode Island and may include other higher education institutions where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services and businesses.
  1. Port of Davisville Infrastructure at Quonset $70,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed seventy million dollars ($70,000,000) to fund infrastructure modernization and repairs to the Port of Davisville at Quonset, including Pier 2.
  1. Port of Davisville Infrastructure at Quonset $50,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to fund infrastructure modernization and repairs to the Port of Davisville at Quonset, including Pier 2.
  1. Green Economy $35,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) for environmental and recreational purposes, to be allocated as follows:
  1. Historic State Park Development Program $7,000,000
    Provides seven million dollars ($7,000,000) for major capital improvements to State properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.
  1. Historic State Park Development Program $4,000,000
    Provides four million dollars ($4,000,000) for major capital improvements to State properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.

[I understand that this decrease will be canceled out by a commensurate increase elsewhere, so it is not a reason for concern.]

  1. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides four million dollars ($4,000,000) for the State to acquire fee simple interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands with matching funds from federal and private entities. Funds would be leveraged on average 1:3 of state to other dollars.
  1. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides four million dollars ($4,000,000) for the State to acquire fee simple interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands.
  1. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the State to design and construct bikeways, including the completion of the Blackstone River Bikeway and the South County Bikeway.
  1. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the State to design and construct bikeways.
  1. Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfield remediation projects.
  2. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program $3,000,000
    Provides up to seventy-five percent (75%) matching grants for public, private and/or non-profit entities for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  1. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $2,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  1. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  1. Local Land Acquisition Matching Grant Program $4,000,000
    Provides fifty percent (50%) matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements on open space and urban parklands in Rhode Island.
  1. Housing Opportunity $40,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed forty million dollars ($40,000,000) for affordable housing.
  1. Housing Opportunity $50,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) for affordable housing, urban revitalization, and blight remediation, to be allocated as follows:

    1. Affordable Housing Development $40,000,000
      Provides forty million dollars ($40,000,000) for the state to develop affordable housing opportunity programs through the redevelopment of existing structures and/or new construction.
    2. Urban Revitalization and Blight Remediation $10,000,000
      Provides ten million dollars ($10,000,000) for the state to provide funding for the improvement of properties that are blighted or in need of revitalization, including residential and commercial properties and public and community spaces.
  1. (5) School Construction $40,000,000
    Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed forty million dollars ($40,000,000) to be placed in the School Building Authority Capital Fund to repair, upgrade, and modernize Rhode Island public schools, with a focus on high priority projects that demonstrate immediate need (urgent health and safety projects) and those that reflect investments in science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and math (STEAM), and career and technical education learning spaces.
Legalese that stayed the same in both budget versions
SECTION 2. Ballot labels and applicability of general election laws. — The secretary of state shall prepare and deliver to the state board of elections ballot labels for each of the projects provided for in section 1 hereof with the designations “approve” or “reject” provided next to the description of each such project to enable voters to approve or reject each such proposition. The general election laws, so far as consistent herewith, shall apply to this proposition. SECTION 3. Approval of projects by people. — If a majority of the people voting on the proposition provided for in section 1 hereof shall vote to approve the proposition as to any project provided for in section 1 hereof, said project shall be deemed to be approved by the people. The authority to issue bonds, refunding bonds and temporary notes of the state shall be limited to the aggregate amount for all such projects as set forth in the proposition provided for in section 1 hereof, which has been approved by the people.
SECTION 4. Bonds for capital development program. — The general treasurer is hereby authorized and empowered with the approval of the governor and in accordance with the provisions of this act to issue from time to time capital development bonds in serial form in the name and on behalf of the state in amounts as may be specified from time to time by the governor in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed the total amount for all projects approved by the people and designated as “capital development loan of 2016 bonds,” provided, however, that the aggregate principal amount of such capital development bonds and of any temporary notes outstanding at any one time issued in anticipation thereof pursuant to section 7 hereof shall not exceed the total amount for all such projects as have been approved by the people. All provisions in this act relating to “bonds” shall also be deemed to apply to “refunding bonds.” Capital development bonds issued under this act shall be in denominations of one thousand dollars ($1,000) each, or multiples thereof, and shall be payable in any coin or currency of the United States which at the time of payment shall be legal tender for public and private debts. These capital development bonds shall bear such date or dates, mature at specified time or times, but not beyond the end of the twentieth state fiscal year following the state fiscal year in which they are issued, bear interest payable semi-annually at a specified rate or different or varying rates, be payable at designated time or times at specified place or places, be subject to expressed terms of redemption or recall, with or without premium, be in a form, with or without interest coupons attached, carry such registration, conversion, reconversion, transfer, debt retirement, acceleration and other provisions as may be fixed by the general treasurer, with the approval of the governor, upon each issue of such capital development bonds at the time of each issue. Whenever the governor shall approve the issuance of such capital development bonds, he or she shall certify approval to the secretary of state; the bonds shall be signed by the general treasurer and countersigned by the manual or facsimile signature of the secretary of state and shall bear the seal of the state or a facsimile thereof. The approval of the governor shall be endorsed on each bond so approved with a facsimile of his or her signature.
SECTION 5. Refunding bonds for 2016 capital development program. — The general treasurer is hereby authorized and empowered, with the approval of the governor and in accordance with the provisions of this act, to issue from time to time bonds to refund the 2016 capital development program bonds in the name and on behalf of the state, in amounts as may be specified from time to time by the governor in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed the total amount approved by the people, to be designated as “capital development program loan of 2016 refunding bonds” (hereinafter “refunding bonds”). The general treasurer with the approval of the governor shall fix the terms and form of any refunding bonds issued under this act in the same manner as the capital development bonds issued under this act, except that the refunding bonds may not mature more than twenty (20) years from the date of original issue of the capital development bonds being refunded. The proceeds of the refunding bonds, exclusive of any premium and accrual interest and net the underwriters’ cost, and cost of bond insurance, shall, upon their receipt, be paid by the general treasurer immediately to the paying agent for the capital development bonds which are to be called and prepaid. The paying agent shall hold the refunding bond proceeds in trust until they are applied to prepay the capital development bonds. While such proceeds are held in trust, they may be invested for the benefit of the state in obligations of the United States of America or the State of Rhode Island. If the general treasurer shall deposit with the paying agent for the capital development bonds the proceeds of the refunding bonds or proceeds from other sources amounts that, when invested in obligations of the United States or the State of Rhode Island, are sufficient to pay all principal, interest, and premium, if any, on the capital development bonds until these bonds are called for prepayment, then such capital development bonds shall not be considered debts of the State of Rhode Island for any purpose from the date of deposit of such moneys with the paying agent. The refunding bonds shall continue to be a debt of the state until paid. The term “bond” shall include “note,” and the term “refunding bonds” shall include “refunding notes” when used in this act.
SECTION 6. Proceeds of capital development program. — The general treasurer is directed to deposit the proceeds from the sale of capital development bonds issued under this act, exclusive of premiums and accrued interest and net the underwriters’ cost, and cost of bond insurance, in one or more of the depositories in which the funds of the state may be lawfully kept in special accounts (hereinafter cumulatively referred to as “such capital development bond fund”) appropriately designated for each of the projects set forth in section 1 hereof which shall have been approved by the people to be used for the purpose of paying the cost of all such projects so approved. All monies in the capital development bond fund shall be expended for the purposes specified in the proposition provided for in section 1 hereof under the direction and supervision of the director of administration (hereinafter referred to as “director”). The director or his or her designee shall be vested with all power and authority necessary or incidental to the purposes of this act, including but not limited to, the following authority: (a) to acquire land or other real property or any interest, estate or right therein as may be necessary or advantageous to accomplish the purposes of this act; (b) to direct payment for the preparation of any reports, plans and specifications, and relocation expenses and other costs such as for furnishings, equipment designing, inspecting and engineering, required in connection with the implementation of any projects set forth in section 1 hereof; (c) to direct payment for the costs of construction, rehabilitation, enlargement, provision of service utilities, and razing of facilities, and other improvements to land in connection with the implementation of any projects set forth in section 1 hereof; and (d) to direct payment for the cost of equipment, supplies, devices, materials and labor for repair, renovation or conversion of systems and structures as necessary for the 2016 capital development program bonds or notes hereunder from the proceeds thereof. No funds shall be expended in excess of the amount of the capital development bond fund designated for each project authorized in section 1 hereof. With respect to the bonds and temporary notes described in section 1, the proceeds shall be used for the following purposes:

Question 1 relating to bonds in the amount of twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) will provide funds to the Office of Veterans’ Affairs for the construction of a new Veterans Home and renovation of existing facilities in Bristol, Rhode Island. Question 4 of the November 2012 Ballot authorized the issuance of general obligation bonds of up to ninety-four million dollars ($94,000,000) for the construction of a new Veterans Home, but the authorizing language limited the amount of bonds that could be issued by the amount of any federal funding received for this project. The federal government is expected to contribute up to sixty million, five hundred thousand dollars ($60,500,000) for this project, which would authorize the state to issue only thirty-three million, five hundred thousand dollars ($33,500,000) in general obligation bonds under the 2012 ballot authorization. The overall project cost is estimated to be one hundred twenty million, five hundred thousand dollars ($120,500,000). This new bond authorization would allow the state to issue an additional twenty-seven million dollars ($27,000,000) in general obligation bonds, which when combined with the thirty-three million, five hundred thousand dollars ($33,500,000) from the 2012 ballot authorization will provide a total of sixty-one million dollars ($61,000,000) for the completion of this project. The total borrowing for the project from this proposal plus the maximum amount allowed to be borrowed under the 2012 ballot authorization will be thirty-three million five hundred thousand dollars ($33,500,000) less than the ninety-four million dollars ($94,000,000) authorized on the 2012 Ballot.

Question 2 relating to bonds in the amount of forty-five million five hundred thousand dollars ($45,500,000) to be allocated as follows:

(a) University of Rhode Island – College of Engineering $25,500,000 Provides funds to renovate and construct an addition on Bliss Hall, which is one of the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering’s oldest buildings. This project is the second phase of a comprehensive program to replace outdated buildings with a major new building and to renovate and build additions to the existing complex of buildings serving the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering. In addition to constructing an addition to historic Bliss Hall, the project will restore the building and upgrade building systems, improve classrooms, modernize teaching laboratories, and provide advanced research facilities for the next generation of Engineering students and faculty.

  1. University-Backed Innovation Campus Program $20,000,000
    Provides funds to build one or more innovation campuses involving a university/business collaboration where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services, and businesses. The State will run a competitive selection process to determine the location and type of campus or campuses to build. A winning proposal must involve a Rhode Island-based university, more than match the state’s investment with private or federal funds, include at least one business partner, and spur a substantial number of new jobs at a variety of skill levels. Preference will be given to proposals that include a state university as a sponsor.
  1. University of Rhode Island Affiliated Innovation Campus Program $20,000,000
    Provides funds to build one or more innovation campuses involving business collaborations with the University of Rhode Island and may include other higher education institutions where cutting-edge research can be turned into new products, services, and businesses. The state will run a competitive selection process to determine the location and type of campus or campuses to build. A winning proposal must involve the University of Rhode Island, more than match the state’s investment with private or federal funds, include at least one business partner, and spur a substantial number of new jobs at a variety of skill levels. Preference may be given to proposals that include multiple higher education institutions.
Question 2 relating to bonds in the amount of seventy million dollars ($70,000,000) to modernize the port infrastructure at the Port of Davisville in the Quonset Business Park, including Pier 2. The Port handles a majority of shipping imports into Narragansett Bay and supports one of the largest auto importers in North America. A primary goal of this program will be modernizing of Pier 2, which has exceeded the 50-year lifespan for which it was originally designed. Question 3 relating to bonds in the amount of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to modernize the port infrastructure at the Port of Davisville in the Quonset Business Park, including Pier 2. The Port handles a majority of shipping imports into Narragansett Bay and supports one of the largest auto importers in North America. A primary goal of this program will be modernizing of Pier 2, which has exceeded the 50-year lifespan for which it was originally designed.
Question 3 relating to bonds in the amount of thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) for environmental and recreational purposes to be allocated as follows:

  1. Historical State Park Development Program $7,000,000
    Provides funds for major capital improvements to state properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.
  2. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides funds to acquire fee interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands with matching funds from federal and private entities.
  3. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides funds for the State to design and construct bikeways, including the completion of the Blackstone River Bikeway and the South County Bikeway.
  4. Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfields remediation projects.
  5. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program $3,000,000
    Provides up to seventy-five percent (75%) matching grants for public, private and/or non-profit entities for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  6. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $2,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  7. Local Land Acquisition Matching Grant Program $4,000,000
    Provides fifty percent (50%) matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements on open space and urban parklands in Rhode Island.
Question 4 relating to bonds in the amount of thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) for environmental and recreational purposes to be allocated as follows:

  1. Historical State Park Development Program $4,000,000
    Provides funds for major capital improvements to state properties, including Fort Adams State Park, Brenton Point, Colt State Park and Goddard Memorial State Park.
  2. State Land Acquisition Program $4,000,000
    Provides funds to acquire fee interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands.
  3. State Bikeway Development Program $10,000,000
    Provides funds for the State to design and construct bikeways.
  4. Brownfield Remediation and Economic Development $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to public, private, and/or non-profit entities for brownfields remediation projects.
  5. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program $3,000,000
    Provides up to seventy-five percent (75%) matching grants for public, private and/or non-profit entities for projects that reduce stormwater pollution.
  6. Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program $5,000,000
    Provides up to eighty percent (80%) matching grants to municipalities to develop public recreational facilities in Rhode Island.
  7. Local Land Acquisition Matching Grant Program $4,000,000
    Provides fifty percent (50%) matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and non-profit organizations to acquire fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements on open space and urban parklands in Rhode Island.
Question 4 relating to bonds in the amount of forty million dollars ($40,000,000) to promote housing opportunity programs through redevelopment of existing structures, new construction and/or foreclosure assistance. Question 5 relating to bonds in the amount of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) to promote affordable housing opportunity programs, urban revitalization, and blight remediation, to be allocated as follows:

  1. Affordable Housing Development $40,000,000
    Provides funds for the state to develop affordable housing opportunity programs through the redevelopment of existing structures and/or new construction
  2. Urban Revitalization and Blight Remediation $10,000,000
    Provides funds for the state to provide funding for the improvement of properties that are blighted or in need of revitalization, including residential and commercial properties and public and community spaces.
Question 5 relating to bonds in the amount of forty million dollars ($40,000,000) will be used to repair, upgrade, and modernize Rhode Island public schools, with a focus on high priority projects that demonstrate immediate need (urgent health and safety projects) and those that reflect investments in science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and math (STEAM), and career and technical education learning spaces.
midwest_combined

Mapping the Midwest

How we define regions is fascinating. There are all sorts of cultural gradations that make one place more or less like another, and yet we articulate those difference with names that frame the differences as black and white.

In the past two years, I have enjoyed two blog posts looking at how different people define the American Midwest. The first, by Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight, surveyed 1,357 people on SurveyMonkey about which states count as “The Midwest”.
hickey-map-midwest2

Indiana, Iowa and Illinois appear to be the core of the Midwest, each pulling more than 70 percent of the vote (that may partly be because of their substantial populations). Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota each pulled at least 60 percent of the vote, so we can probably put them in the Midwest without too much fuss. Ohio, Missouri and Kansas each got more than half.

The second article, by Aaron Renn of Urbanophile, gives a sampling of different attempts to map the Midwest, including Hickey’s.

What is the Midwest? There’s been a lot of debate about this question among folks passionate about such thing. But it defies easy definition. Here are eleven ways various people have taken a crack at drawing the map.

So here’s what I did

Following FiveThirtyEight’s suggestion that averaging different data points tends to get you a more accurate guess than looking at individual data points, I plunged into ArcGIS to combine all the maps cited by Renn into one map. I coded the different regions 1 or 0 if it was a clear “Midwest/Not Midwest” map, or intermediary values like 0.5 0.33, or 0.66 if it was a little fuzzy (e.g. it’s silly to say that the Great Lakes states aren’t part of the Midwest). I averaged all those together (let’s call this “AVERAGE 1”), and then I added some more!

  • A map of dollar bill circulation boundaries, suggesting natural social cohorts
  • A map of football fandoms based on which has the most Facebook likes per county.
  • A map of where people call, similar implications to the dollar bill circulation
  • A map of American dialects (apologies for the harm to your eyes that map may do; surprisingly it’s not the worst map of its kind). When a lot of people think of the Midwest, they think of the accent (a la Fargo). However, I anecdotily noticed that these dialect categorizations didn’t map well onto other delineations of region.

For these four maps, I didn’t code them manually as before, but took the average “AVERAGE 1” value for each region. In essence, this reverted the counties’ values to a mean based on their regions from these last four maps, weighting those delineations but not judging how Midwest-y they are.

Then I took “AVERAGE 1” and averaged it together with these four new values, producing “AVERAGE 2”, which is here mapped:
midwest_combined
Some observations:

  • Yes I like averages.
  • Of course this process was not as statistically sound as it could’ve been, but this was just about getting a sense of social understanding, not seeking hard fact.
  • There’s no way that Western New York is more Midwest-y than northwestern Pennsylvania, is there?
  • While there’s less agreement on the southern counties of Indiana & Ohio, there’s a lot of agreement that Kentucky is not part of the Midwest. See how short the distance is between the 50% area to the <33% area there.
  • Are there gradations of Midwestern-ness in Central Kansas? Am I just an ignorant New Englander to not have any sense of that variation?

So yeah! Hope you like it!

Pronunciation of PechaKucha

CLIH2qRWwAA5_5u

PechaKucha is an international event series, organized locally, where presenters provide twenty slides that are automatically cycled through, twenty seconds each. It is a short, fun, casual environment, with a “contractually obligated Beer Break”. I have presented three times at the Providence chapter (which, according to local organizers, may be the only chapter to hold an event every month.)

The Providence organizers always pronounce the name of the series (which is Japanese for “chit chat”) by stressing the second syllable, the “cha”. However, Rhode Islanders do pronounce things in strange ways sometimes, and it is unsurprising that Americans also often pronounce the word by stressing the third syllable, “ku”.

I did some internet sleuthing, and quite quickly found this page, which has audio of a number of native Japanese speakers pronouncing the word. Of the seven samples that were posted at the time of writing, one could plausibly be interpreted as stressing “ku” while the other six all stressed “cha”. Another distinction from default American pronunciation of the word, though, is that the clips mostly de-stress the third syllable, essentially pronouncing it as three syllables: “PechaK’cha”.

6-10 Connector

Q&A on the 6/10 Connector

6-10 Connector

First published on Rhode Island Future 6/4/15

With Governor Raimondo’s recent push for transportation funding, people are talking about patching up the 6/10 Connector vs. replacing it with a boulevard. Best practice in urban design recommends replacing urban highways with boulevards. But that would be something we haven’t done before in Rhode Island, so it’s understandable that some people have concerns. Here are a few questions I thought you might have about updating the 6/10 Connector for the 21st century.

  1. That’s a big change. Wouldn’t it be expensive to remove the highway?

    Governor Raimondo is proposing a tractor-trailer toll that would allow the State to bond for $700 million. $400 million of that (plus another $400 million RIDOT wants to get from the Feds) is earmarked for the 6/10 Connector repairs. That is expensive.

    Prices vary a lot for building highways, but urban highways with as many overpasses as the 6/10 Connector tend to be on the high end of the scale (and $800 million is quite high). Boulevards (think Memorial Boulevard in Providence, but more multimodal) tend to have a cost roughly ten times lower than an urban highway. Imagine how many structurally-deficient bridges we could make safe with an extra $360-720 million? That’s a very rough cost comparison, but what we can be sure of is that replacing the 6/10 Connector with a boulevard (even tripped out with the best complete streets features you can think of) would cost dramatically less than rebuilding it as a highway.

  2. So many cars use the connector! Wouldn’t removing it create massive traffic jams?

    Actually many cities have removed excessive urban highways and seen no marked increase in traffic. There are a couple reasons for this. Traffic is created through a process called “induced demand” where if you build more highways, drivers will use them. Conversely, if you eliminate an urban highway, fewer people will use it as a short-cut.

    “But wait!” you say. “I use 6/10 as a shortcut! You want to reduce my transportation options!” Actually, in other cities that remove urban highways, they see the traffic that previously used the highway spread out over the city’s other streets. And there’s less potential for traffic jams when drivers have lots of options. It’s like how bugs congregate around lights on hot summer nights, but out in the dark it’s less buggy. 6/10 is the bug-clogged light, city streets are the cool night air.

    And one more thing: our current transportation network overwhelmingly favors driving; it has big highways that cut swaths through neighborhoods that are uninviting to other ways of getting around. Leveling the playing field by making our street system more comfortable for more ways of getting around (RIPTA, walking, and biking as well as driving) gives you more choices and more freedom. Plus, it means more other people are choosing to walk or bike and they’re not clogging up the road in front of you.

  3. It’ll never happen. We can’t do innovative things in Rhode Island.

    I mean, this isn’t that innovative. And hey, we started the Industrial Revolution and moved rivers to revitalize downtown Providence. I think we have it in us to make a prudent economic decision to give Rhode Islanders more transportation options and safer bridges.

    Plus, you cynics, politicians like ribbon-cuttings and ground-breakings. It’s not as sexy to photo-shoot the replacement of an archaic 1950s-era project as it is to pose for the first complete multi-modal corridor in the State.

We can assume that because the 6/10 Connector is in Raimondo’s investment plan, now is the time that something will happen with it. The State should choose the approach that is best for the neighborhoods adjacent to the corridor, which coincidentally is the option with the best return on investment. Replace the 6/10 Connector with an urban boulevard.

Want to help make this happen? Transport Providence is organizing a walk around the area in question today at 5:15 with Providence City Councilman Bryan Principe. The best thing you can do is to talk to people about this. Which people? Especially your representatives (State, Federal, and City if you live in Providence), the Governor’s office, and RIDOT.

Minor League attendance 3

Minor League Baseball Attendance

Ted Nesi of WPRI 12 today had a good piece about the attendance numbers for the Pawtucket Red Sox (who are interested in building a new stadium in Providence). Ted’s great chart made me interested in digging deeper, so I looked at the attendance over the past ten years for all 14 teams in the International League.

  • Correlation between capacity & attendance? Nope.

    Minor League attendance 1There is 0.22 correlation between the capacity of a stadium in the league and the annual average attendance numbers for that stadium. That’s not much correlation. Basically, people don’t choose whether or not to go to minor league baseball games based on how big the stadium is.

  • A new park can be great for attendance! Or very, very bad.

    Minor League attendance 2Four of the fourteen teams in the league built new stadiums in the past ten years: the Charlotte Knights, the Columbus Clippers, the Gwinnett Braves, and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Three of those saw attendance numbers go up (all three significantly, 5000, 2000, and 2000 per year) but the Gwinnett Braves’ attendance fell significantly after moving to their new stadium, by about 2500 per year.

    Also, the 2015 numbers are not for a very large quantity of games yet. It’s interesting to see that all the teams are down for 2015 in this chart. I take that to mean that the games later in the season are pretty universally more well-attended than games earlier in the season. That makes sense.

  • But what about the popularity of MiLB overall?

    Minor League attendance 3But what about the popularity of minor league baseball in general? How do we account for that when looking at an individual team’s attendance numbers? Here’s how: control for the total league attendance. This third chart, instead of looking at the number of people who came to each team’s games on average, looks at what percentage of the league’s total attendance was contributed by each stadium.

    If every team’s home games contributed equally to the league total, each team would contribute 7.1% of the total. Therefore, we can see which teams are over- or under-performing against the league as a whole by seeing whether their contribution to the league total is above or below that line. In this chart, you can see that the PawSox have been having good seasons for attendance relative to the league average ever since 2008. Their share of the total league attendance has been declining, but it is only in 2015 that the share has dropped below 7.1%. Keep in mind the note from before, though, that this year’s numbers are based on a smaller sample size and have a lot of opportunity to change before the end of the season.

Westminster facade

Westminster Street facade inventory

I live in the Armory neighborhood of Providence, and mostly use the Westminster Street corridor to get from my house to downtown. It’s an up-and-coming commercial district, with the “hottest new bar” in Providence and many new businesses interested in opening on it.

But, as with even the best, most vibrant commercial strips in any city, there are some lulls in Westminster’s streetscape. Long, blank walls abut the sidewalk on buildings clearly not interested in people walking. Fences impart a “keep out” message. And the most street-deadening feature of all, parking lots either between a building and the sidewalk or worse, taking up a whole lot. When these subconscious barriers are present in a streetscape, they make the neighborhood less walkable, both by making it feel less safe and like it’s a longer walk than it is.

What features would be more welcoming; what could property owners do to encourage potential customers to stop by and spend money? Commercial buildings can have large unobstructed windows to encourage window-shopping (it works for services as well as products). Parking lots can be tucked behind buildings so they don’t create a vacant feeling on the street. And if a property must have a fence for security reasons, they can steer clear of chain link fences and fences that obstruct pedestrians’ view, instead preferring shorter, black ornamental iron fences. And the best thing of all for the streetscape is the presence of lively businesses that have a lot of people coming and going.

Westminster facade legend

I made a map of the bright spots and dull spots on Westminster Street on the West Side, from highway to highway. These assessments are subjective and perhaps incomplete, but are based on the principles above.

Westminster facade

A few zones of note along the street:

  1. On the east end of the street is Canonicus Square, at the Dean/Cahir crossing. This is the most vibrant part of the streetscape, despite the south side of the street being not especially welcoming to walk on due to the blank facade of the housing tower and the street-adjacent parking lots by the high schools. Why? Because it has a vibrant commercial strip along the north side. Many of these businesses have big windows that invite passers-by to peek and see what’s going on.
  2. The first zone in the middle of the corridor that makes walking less desirable are the one-two punch of the Citizen’s Bank and John Hope House parking lots. These two massive asphalt canyons on the south side of the street make the walk from Winter Street to Bridgham Street seem extremely long. There’s not much across the street from them to invite pedestrians, and John Hope even has an opaque hedge blocking your view. This section of the street sends the message that is for cars to get through as fast as possible and not for people to spend any time.
  3. The second zone in the middle of corridor that could use improvement is the north-side block between Courtland Street and Bridgham Street. There’s one massive vacant parking lot for sale with a big chain link fence around it, Paper & Provision Warehouse that is an active business but features a street-adjacent parking lot and a blank brick facade with no windows, and then another brick building whose facade is essentially blank. The primary two things I can conceive of making this better would be the sale of that vacant parking lot and its development as something people want to walk by, or the renovation of one or both brick building to add bigger windows.
  4. There is a welcoming zone on the western half of the street as well. Between Dexter Street and Parade Street, there are a number of welcoming facades, including the West Side Diner, Community MusicWorks, Loie Fuller’s, and Healing Paws. These good street frontages combined with other facades I classified as neutral (Mi Ranchito with tinted windows, La Perla Fruit Market with covered windows, WBNA set back from the street with hedges obstructing view) make the walk from Parade Street to Fertile Underground seem not very far at all.

Other factors that would make Westminster a more lively commercial corridor would be the addition of bike lanes and sidewalk bump-outs at crosswalks (especially at the wide cross streets Parade & Dexter). Also, it doesn’t take much to fill a dead space on a streetscape. If a really awesome business moved in to either of these dead zones, even across the street from the biggest problem area (e.g. Julian’s Pizza) it would do a lot to enliven the streetscape for the benefit of all businesses and residents of the neighborhood.

lanemap_providence_future

Getting around Providence using only bike lanes

The Washington Post just had a thought-provoking post featuring maps of the bike infrastructure networks in several major American cities. The maps illustrate just how difficult it is to get around safely on a bike in some cities.
lanemap_boston

lanemap_dc

lanemap_miami

lanemap_seattle

I made similar maps for Providence. Here is what Providence’s bike network will look like when several planned projects are completed:

lanemap_providence_future

As you can see, it isn’t easy. They are so far just token bike lanes and paths, rather than a real effort to make a city where everyone feels safe getting around by bike. I am hopeful that that will change and the City and State will undertake many new projects for dedicated and protected bike infrastructure in the next year or two. The Mayor bikes to work most days, which is excellent. The City’s planning department leadership is also excited about bikes. Let’s get Public Works and RIDOT on board too, and get some paint on the streets!

pedestrian-cartoon-imbed

No more traffic deaths in Providence

pedestrian-cartoon-imbedOn Thursday morning, March 26, a nine-year-old girl was hit by a bus and killed on Smith Street in Providence, walking with her father. The tragedy of such a loss cannot be overstated. My heart goes out to her family.

Yet how many people overlooked the tragedy as merely the sort of thing that happens occasionally? Even those who did pay attention would only have seen accusations about whether the victim was to blame (“why were they not in the crosswalk?”) or the bus driver.

It is time to stop accepting these horrific traffic collisions. It is time to stop blaming the individuals involved and take responsibility as a city for solving the underlying problem. Providence streets are designed to prioritize quick movement of motor vehicles before the safety of people using those streets. It is time for us to flip that prioritization.

We would not be the first city to make this change. New York and San Francisco are the two most notable American cities to have recently adopted what is called a “Vision Zero” plan. Based on a successful program in Sweden, such plans seek to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries for all road users in the city by a certain date. It requires leadership, collaboration, rigorous measurement, and above all, an adjustment of priorities.

I call for Mayor Elorza and his department heads to release a plan for implementing Vision Zero in Providence before another person is killed in traffic in this city. Enough is enough.

When will the snow end in Providence?

FiveThirtyEight, so often an inspiration for data journalism, recently published a piece looking at weather data to show when the last snowfall might be in the 50 largest cities in the United States. Unfortunately, Providence doesn’t make that cut. So I took the liberty of replicating their method to figure out when we can expect to see our last snowfall here:
last-providence-snow
Half of all winters since 1964 have had their last snow sometime between March 1st and March 29th. The average date for a last snow in Providence was March 17, which happens to be tomorrow. Here’s hoping.

parking downtown

Parking in Downtown Providence

In a recent post, I analyzed parking options near the proposed site on the 195 land for a new minor league baseball stadium. I concluded that there are about 7500 parking spaces within a short walk of the location, compared to fewer than 5000 near McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. Many of those spaces are in private surface lots, and following on the work of Greater City Providence, here are other surface lots deadening downtown:

Good news for downtown

There is some positive movement in replacing desolate surface lots with more productive land use. These locations are colored green above:

  1. Recent news indicates that Buff Chace of Cornish Associates is planning to buy the old Providence Journal building on Fountain Street, as well as its two associated lots across Fountain Street. He plans to develop these two surface lots into multi-story mixed-use buildings.
  2. As soon as three purchase-and-sale agreements are complete on the 195 land, development of a parking garage next to Garrahy Courthouse can commence. The emphasis on ground level retail in this plan makes it good news, as structured parking can strengthen the argument for replacing surface lots. Without ground level retail, a garage would be nearly as bad for downtown’s street life as a surface lot.

More work to be done

There is a long way yet to go, however. Real estate development is not easy, and it is based on hard financial numbers. But based on their size and location, here is my ranked list of important surface lots to develop into buildings:

  1. Westminster & Snow: The two lots on either side of Westminster at Snow Street suck the life out of an otherwise vibrant corridor between Empire Street and Dorrance Street.
  2. Orange & Friendship: This intersection is in the middle of a bleak parking crater. The prime location near the river and Johnson & Wales ought to make this the perfect location for some street-activating land use.
  3. Weybosset & Union: The lot directly behind Grants Block receives a lot of exposure due to that parcel’s revitalized use as public space. It is also in one of the most active parts of downtown. A perfect location with many potential customers walking by.
  4. Washington & Snow: Washington Street is planned as a vibrant cultural corridor, and already has many excellent locations making it active. Despite its relatively small size, this surface lot next to the AS220 building sticks out because the remainder of the streetscape is so continuous.
  5. Clemence & Washington: Located behind the svelte, 13-foot-deep Arnold Building currently under renovation by the Providence Revolving fund, this lot is back from the main street (a quality that makes it less bad than lots that do front main streets) but its size and contribution to the sketch-factor of Clemence Street drive it up on my list. Besides, alleys like Clemence are sexy places to activate these days, and a structure connecting to the back of the Arnold Building and with attractive entrances on Clemence would be spectacular.
  6. Broadway, Atwells, and Greene: This intersection feels super dangerous when you’re walking. Part of that is because of the wide roads with a confusing traffic pattern, but it’s also partly because of the two massive lots serving the Providence Public Library and the Hilton Providence. There’s already a pedestrian barrier of the highway right next to these, and they contribute to an unattractive walk between the dense downtown and two of the West Side’s trendiest commercial corridors.

That’s my list for now. There are a number of other surface lots that could also do with redevelopment, especially in the Jewelry District and abutting the 195 land and the highway, but the above parcels are the most ripe for redevelopment.

On-street market pricing

Any mention of parking in downtown Providence would be incomplete without mention of better management of on-street parking. We have outdated meter technology that does not allow for payment by credit card. We have a flat hourly rate for parking, and free parking in the evening, which lead to the most desirable locations being inaccessible during the times when they are most useful. To fix this, we need new meters that allow for easy payment and easily adjusted pricing, and we need City Council to allow parking rates to change based on demand. There is no reason we should have to drive around for 15-30 minutes looking for on-street parking. The City should optimize parking rates for 85% occupancy of each block at all times of day.