Street Stories: Cedric Ye

Name, age, any personal identities you feel like sharing, neighborhood where you live, who you live with/care for, school you go to, type of work you do or hope to do.

Hi everyone! My name is Cedric Ye, and I am a 14 year old high school student. I am a frequent cyclist and transit rider who lives on Providence’s East Side. My family used to live in a suburban area, and relied on driving, but we “temporarily” moved to Providence last year, later deciding to stay permanently as we loved the improved walkability and transit access, and my ability to move around independently as a result.

How do you typically travel around Providence? Is that working for you? How does it affect your life, your job, your family?

Because I can’t legally drive, I typically travel around Providence by walking and cycling. I also ride RIPTA to and from my school, because the inter-town school busing system stops a mile away from my house. Encouraged by RI’s E-Bike rebate program, we purchased an electric bicycle, which me and my sister, both without drivers licenses, use frequently and has since replaced countless trips. We would have been shuttled around by our parents otherwise. My mom’s daily commute takes at least 40 minutes without traffic, usually a longer, more stressful experience, because “rush hour” on I-95 is actually the entire day. Being able to do work on transit, she found RIPTA to be a much more relaxing and comfortable alternative and uses it almost daily, despite it taking almost half an hour longer. I am incredibly grateful to now have viable alternatives to driving. In a car-optional neighborhood, I am able to travel by myself, and am no longer dependent on my parent’s driving; this has significantly increased my independence, and has taken a significant workload off my parents. However, due to unsafe streets and mediocre evening and weekend bus service, I have to occasionally ride in my parents’ cars, which is time consuming for my parents, and burdens us with the continued costs of owning a motor vehicle.

How would you ideally like to get around Providence and what would need to happen to make that a reality?

I am extremely fortunate to be able to complete most of my trips within Providence by walking, cycling, and transit, only requiring driving for very few trips. Ideally I would like to get around Providence entirely car-free, but I usually travel around Providence on evenings or weekends when RIPTA routes operate on heavily reduced frequencies, and hostile streets and a lack of quality cycling infrastructure makes cycling feel unsafe. Implementation of the Transit Master Plan, which would improve frequencies across the board but especially during off peak and evening hours, and full implementation of Providence’s Great Streets plan could help me go completely car free.

Do you feel safe when traveling around Providence? Where do you feel safe, and where do you not?

Generally I do feel quite safe when walking around, especially when walking or crossing streets designed for slower car speeds, mainly residential ones, or commercial streets that restrict high vehicular speeds. I end up patronizing the businesses located on these streets more frequently. I feel less safe when traveling around higher speed arterials. Though there are attractions on North Main Street, for example, I tend to avoid the area, as I do not feel safe at all next to speeding vehicles, multiple lanes of traffic, and long crossing distances. While I love cycling to go places, I am not a very brave person, and riding in mixed traffic next to high speed vehicles is not a fun experience and deters me from cycling, like on North Main Street or Hope Street. During PSC’s temporary Hope Street urban trail experiment however, I felt significantly safer cycling, and I found myself visiting Hope Street businesses more frequently during this period. I feel safe when riding on buses, but I have to walk to and from the bus stop, so my safety and comfort riding transit depends entirely on the safety of streets at my origin and destination.

How could the City or RIPTA improve your experience getting around?

I have seen the City of Providence make significant progress in the last few years, and I applaud the efforts so far, though I believe more work needs to be done. I really wish to see the gaps in the urban trail network to be filled, as a connected network is significantly more useful, comfortable, and appealing than dispersed sections of trail that dump you into busy streets. I would love to see the finished implementation of the Great Streets Plan, and perhaps a further expansion of the plan, as well as resumption of typical traffic calming projects, which now has a dedicated revenue source. The horrifying violence on North Main Street necessitates immediate and decisive traffic calming and safety improvements, like crosswalk bump outs and refuge islands, leading pedestrian intervals at all signals, speed bumps, and narrowing or removing car lanes; admittedly, much of the highway-road is controlled by RIDOT, but I hope the city of Providence can collaborate and put pressure for change in the upcoming North Main Street repaving.

And implementation of the Transit Master Plan! As I don’t travel around a 9-5 schedule and much of my travel on RIPTA is on weekends, making weeknight and weekend service more frequent would be extremely beneficial and increase my comfort of attending more activities and extracurriculars after school. I don’t have many reasons to go Downtown, so new crosstown services across Providence and interlining routes through Kennedy Plaza would be very helpful in reducing the time it takes to get somewhere. I also hope to see more applications of transit priority, like transit signal priority, queue jumps, and dedicated bus lanes, in collaboration with the city and RIDOT, to decrease trip times and increase reliability, which would also increase the capacity and productivity of streets, reducing traffic for everyone. RIPTA outlines all of these and more in the Transit Master Plan, but it hinges on the RI state legislature to fully fund RIPTA and the TMP.

What do you think is the best way to attract more people to ride RIPTA?

The best way to increase RIPTA ridership would be to increase service; improving route frequency and span, which is perhaps the single biggest factor that determines the usability of transit. Implementing the state Transit Master Plan would probably be one of the best investments the state could make, and would both improve access for existing riders and attract many new riders to RIPTA. The TMP calls for developing a frequent transit network, which includes new Rapid Bus routes (service akin to the R Line) in nearly every corner of Providence, more transit priority, the development of Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit, new crosstown routes around Downtown Providence, and increased off-peak and weekend frequency and service span. Most things that would improve my experience when riding RIPTA are part of the TMP already, which would result in an estimated 63% increase in transit ridership.

However, while we begin the initiative to increase ridership, we also need to prevent service from becoming worse, as the upcoming 40 million dollar fiscal cliff would devastate statewide mobility for all riders, cutting service on 16 routes and eliminating 17 entirely. While a nationwide issue, the RI state legislature has historically underfunded RIPTA, further exasperating the effects of the cliff. Letting the fiscal cliff happen would also initiate a “transit death spiral”, where less riders riding due to service cuts results in less fares for RIPTA, causing further service cuts, repeating the cycle. To prevent the loss of RIPTA riders, the state legislature needs to step up and allocate RIPTA a sustainable, expanded operating budget both to restore service cuts and meet the needs of today’s service, but also to implement the Transit Master Plan and expand transit ridership for the future.

What are your favorite parts of riding RIPTA? What are the biggest challenges?

As a 14 year old, transit is critically useful for my independence, as is the primary way I get around; without it, I would hardly be able to travel alone to my school or beyond a 4 mile radius, forcing my parents to shuttle me whenever I have to be. Due to the incredible time commitment of being working parents and “soccer moms,” my parents often had to make work calls while driving me around which did not feel pleasant or safe, and I enjoy taking transit instead significantly more.

Riding a chronically underfunded bus system also has its challenges; infrequent night and weekend service results in long waits and longer transfers, meaning that I have to leave the house earlier and come back later, Reducing the potential trips I could feasibly take transit for.

When did you start riding a bike to get around? What made you decide?

I started riding a bike when I was young and still lived in a suburban area, mostly for leisure purposes and exercise. However, we realized the potential of cycling as an affordable transportation option that I, as someone under the age of 16, could use independently, but the hostile streets in our suburb prevented us from doing so. When we moved to Providence, I immediately began cycling for daily trips and errands, and immediately found it significantly more convenient and enjoyable than being shuttled around in a car, both for me and my parents.

What do you think is the best way to attract more people to ride bikes for everyday short trips around the city?

I think the single biggest reason why people do not cycle as transportation is due to car traffic and fear of getting hit; studies show that in comparison, weather and hills play a marginal role. Though we tried, I couldn’t really cycle for everyday short trips in my suburb because no arterial road had a design speed under 30 mph, and roads like this exist in Providence too. I never visit the University Heights shopping plaza anymore, only because North Main Street is a *terrifying* road for anyone outside of a car. Multiple studies and cities have proven that the best way to increase cycling is to build high-quality, protected cycling infrastructure to make it feel safe and welcoming to cycle. In Providence, this would mean the implementation of the entire Great Streets Plan; we have the plans, and we have the money to build, all we need is the political will to make active mobility a safe choice. If we build the infrastructure, then people will ride.

What do you think most contributes to a walkable environment? Where do you find that in Providence, and where do you not?

Walkable environments require things to walk to, making it impossible to walk anywhere in my exclusionary-zoned suburb. However, Providence is lucky to have developed for people instead of cars; it already has most of the mixed use density that makes walkability thrive, and has potential to be a leading city in alternative mobility. But to get there, Providence needs to control the cars; for me, the difference between a walkable street and a hostile one is how fast the cars are, and how many of them there are, because getting hit by a driver is the biggest risk to my safety. I am fortunate to live in a non-car oriented city, so I generally feel safer on Providence’s typically narrower streets that encourage slower driving, but I feel especially safe on streets that are intentionally traffic calmed with physics; like on South Water Street, where the urban trail narrowed the street to one lane, making it physically impossible to speed through. On the contrary, I feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe walking along multi-lane RIDOT-owned roads, especially North Main Street, with long crossing distances, slip lanes, and road design that encourages speeding. These corridors have incredible potential as a people-centered place, but I currently try to avoid these highway corridors that prioritizes driver speed over safety.

How can Providence improve accessibility for people of all ages and abilities?

It’s not a secret that Providence’s sidewalks are generally not in great shape; many sidewalks in the city are too narrow, cracked, uneven, and built before the passage of ADA; the city luckily knows that sidewalk improvements are necessary. However, as Tina from RAMP demonstrated on a Jane’s Walk, many of the city’s accessibility projects, like curb cuts, are poorly designed and continue to be a barrier to true access. It is imperative that Providence engages and thoroughly involves the mobility-challenged community in the design process of street improvements to ensure that they are truly accessible, not only for accessibility-focused projects, but all projects involving street and building design. I also hope the city can consider raised crosswalks, a concept commonly seen in European cities; instead of the sidewalk dropping down to meet street level, the street raises up to meet the sidewalk. For rollers, this eliminates the need to drop down and roll back up when crossing a street, although it should be ensured that the street grade is shallow enough to allow accessible vans to traverse. A raised crosswalk also acts as a large speed bump and sends a clear signal that drivers are crossing a space for pedestrians, forcing drivers to slow down and leading to a safer experience for all road users.