A close up of a bicycle wheel with a spoke.

Hope Street 1-mile bike trial, a trial about more than bikes – installation TODAY, 2pm

The controversial Hope Street bike trial is set to go off on schedule on Saturday, October 1st.

This follows an installation of stripes, spray painting of signage and stencils, putting in bus platforms, and standing up rows of bollards that begins TODAY at 2pm from Tortilla Flats to Frog & Toad.

The trial week is happening despite a growing pile of concerns that would have ended most projects where they stood, yet a cone of silence from most agencies and people involved stands in contrast to the uproar of the community that has pitted people against each other, making store owners feel concerned about retribution. One store owner says it might be time to retire. Another, a Jewish market owner, experienced an act of violence as a person came in to shout at the owner about his opposition to the bike lane and losing parking spots, and then left the store, tearing down a poster on his way out.

There has been mounting concern that the bike project’s leader isn’t just a biking enthusiast, but works for, and lobbies for, the bike industry, and has been a registered lobbyist during key phases of the project.

The data the 1-week trial is designed to collect will be flawed because the week contains the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur which will see far fewer people shopping, driving, or biking or walking than normal.

The bike lane continues despite a majority of business owners expressing a negative opinion about losing parking and nearby homeowners expressing their concerns that it will result in parking being directed to in front of their homes on their congested side streets, where children and families gather.

The project continues despite incoming Mayor Smiley saying the bike lane will not happen if businesses and residents do not want it to – and despite concerns expressed to funder AARP-RI to monitor the proper use of their $13,000 and do due diligence as to what PVD Streets Coalition is doing in their “good” name.

Bike lover – or lobbyist for the bike industry

Liza Burkin, the bike advocate who represents the Providence Streets Coalition, an advocacy group for the bike industry, was a registered lobbyist for the organization between January and June this year.

In 2021, between April and September, she was a lobbyist for both the Providence Streets Coalition and People for Bikes, a second bike advocacy group. Based in Boulder, Colorado, People for Bikes is also a lobbying group, representing over 385 bike-related businesses.

Two Hope Street business owners who met with Burkin when she was trying to build support for her street trial said that they were not informed that she was working for the bike industry or was a lobbyist.

At least one of the city’s planning and development department staffers attended a meeting with merchants at which Burkin was present. The staffer also didn’t seem to be aware that Burkin was a lobbyist.

Burkin’s city lobbyist ID number, awarded to her on April 6, 2021, was 80156. For the state, her number was 12800. Her lobbying registrations contain a list of bills and groups she is “lobbying”, including the Mayor, and the Providence City Council.

Both Nirva LaFortune, the councilwoman for Ward 3 and Sue AnderBois, LaFortune’s likely successor, have not responded to questions about Burkin’s role and if it is a conflict of interest regarding the project. 

Respect for older Rhode Islanders

The derogatory statements of having to deal with “older” and “whiter” people in Burkin’s twitter feed this week was reported on yesterday. Her comments included:

“These kinds of rooms (meetings),” (she wrote using the name Liza Birch),“are pretty much guaranteed to be older, whiter and wealthier than the community the project is based in. We cannot let these voices be overweighted in our public decision-making.”

One longtime resident asked how Hope Street is even of interest to the rest of the city since it is on the eastern fringe bordering with Pawtucket.

Already, the project has been characterized by some as “anti-senior”— removing half of parking is likely to be a hardship for those who depend on cars since public transit isn’t a realistic option.

Silence. It seems to be a strategy for Mayor Elorza, Providence Planning, PVD Streets, AARP-RI, the City Council, and GrowSmartRI, the fiduciary group behind PVD Streets.

How did we get here?

After several years of planning, the city announced its Great Streets Initiative in January 2020. The plan proposed creating a network of “urban trails” to link every neighborhood in Providence.

On paper, it sounded good. In reality, the plan will mostly benefit people living in more upscale neighborhoods like the East Side “who can afford $3,000 bikes,” according to one of the candidates in this month’s primary election. Clearly Gonzalo Cuervo, the second-place finisher in the mayoral primary, wasn’t interested in East Side “politics”. He was focused on bigger issues like fixing Providence schools and eradicating poverty in large parts of the city. 

Brett Smiley, who will be the next mayor succeeding Jorge Elorza, told RI News Today several days before the primary that before making any permanent infrastructure changes, he would “take the feedback of all the people involved—business owners, local residents, drivers and cyclists—and be willing to modify the plans to reflect that feedback if it turns out that the plan doesn’t work or if we need to make changes to it.”

Smiley then added in regards to the October 1 – October 8 trial: “We can expect a convergence of bike riders onto Hope Street, which will, it is unavoidable, raise questions about the data. Since I wasn’t part of the original decision process, I’m more interested in community feedback,” he said.

So with the two front-runners (at the time) largely uninterested in aggressively pursuing the outgoing mayor’s project, that leaves LaFortune who’s been tying herself in knots trying to explain why she didn’t inform the great majority of residents of her ward as the project evolved.

There were no public notices from her office that Hope Street was being targeted until September 21, when she announced that there would be a meeting the following evening, September 22, at the Rochambeau Library on Hope Street.

A July 18 meeting, also at Rochambeau Library, was listed on the Summit Neighborhood Association forum. But no notice can be found from the councilwoman or the city.

Burkin, who holds a master’s degree in urban and environmental planning from Tufts University, first became active in Providence in June, 2019. She says on LinkedIn that she wants to bring “safer streets, mobility justice, and more transportation choices to (her) beloved Providence via the Providence Streets Coalition.”

Note that the Coalition appears to have no legal standing as a nonprofit organization. It is not registered in the state’s database or with the IRS. It operates under the auspices of Grow Smart Rhode Island, a Providence-based nonprofit that advocates for sustainable economic growth to achieve “revitalized, walkable urban and town centers, expanded transportation choices and responsible stewardship of natural resources.” 

The Coalition lists more than 60 partner and sponsor logos on their website, including companies like Spin and 3M that stand to profit if the streets project goes forward. On a broader basis, the Coalition is part of Bikes4People and that group developed out of a merger with 385 bike industry companies, so lobbying for bike bills is lobbying for the companies that benefit by more bikes. Follow the money.

In our earlier report, John Flaherty, Grow Smart’s deputy director, said any questions about why the city chose an advocacy group to conduct and oversee the Hope Street project should be directed to the city. The mayor’s office has not returned our calls.

We reached out again to Flaherty in light of the new revelation that Burkin was a lobbyist during key stages of the Hope Street project. He sees no problem. “We’re not concerned,” he said. “Nonprofits are allowed to spend a certain amount of their time lobbying for policy.” Flaherty, himself, is a lobbyist.

The summer of 2021

On July 27, 2021, Elorza signed the Green and Complete Streets Ordinance, which the city council had passed several days earlier. This is the ordinance that Burkin had lobbied for. 

The bill’s passage had the effect of advancing the city’s Great Streets Initiative by mandating that Providence streets be designed “to enable safe access for all users (including) pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation users of all ages and abilities.”

On August 13, the mayor announced the construction schedule of his plan. Not on that initial list was Hope Street. In making the announcement, he presented data from a survey commissioned by People for Bikes.

Data, data everywhere

The study says it found that 84% of respondents to a survey support the Great Streets Initiative and 80% believe that developing alternatives to driving is the best way to reduce traffic in the city. It also found that 63% of respondents felt that Providence should have more protective bike lanes.

The mayor didn’t report that only 5% of respondents with “access” to a bicycle (around half of all respondents) ride their bike every day, which means the actual number is 2.5%. 

And if the survey had the appropriate followup question – how many days annually do you ride your bike in Providence, considering that we’re in New England – the number almost certainly would have fallen to below 2% or less than two out of 100.

The survey also didn’t mention that Hope Street and the Hope Street business district were possible targets. And it provided no insights into seniors. It merged seniors with individuals 40 and older.

In fact, neither the city, nor the state, nor AARP has data about how the project might impact seniors in Ward 3. The state’s Office of Healthy Aging (formerly the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs) wasn’t even aware of the issue.

And AARP, which awarded the Providence Streets Coalition a $12,574 grant in June to administer the upcoming street trial, has not commented on its decision, has not been present at meetings in the community and appears uninvolved – and uninterested – in how “their” project is de-volving.

Multiple inquiries were sent to Catherine Taylor and John Martin, AARP Rhode Island’s state director and associate state director, asking to see the Coalition’s application and asking them how a trial can be administered fairly when an activist/lobbyist is in charge. No response.

The Rhode Island Foundation responded to our inquiry about donating to lobbying groups as a practice, and said that they “won’t extend grants to lobbyists”.

First responders not informed

Checking in with the Providence Firefighters it appears that they were not informed about the bike path “at all”. When told that the bike group said that fire trucks just drive right over the stanchions in an emergency run, they said no, that they would go down the middle of the street, forcing cars to move away from them.

One store “vandalized” for their bike lane opposition

GoLocalProv reported Thursday that Bubbie’s Market was “vandalized” when a man walked in the store and said, ‘Do you really have a ‘Preserve Hope Street’ sign up?” said the owner, of the signs merchants have posted in opposition to the bike lanes. “He started screaming at me before leaving and ripping the sign down,” said Ingber of the incident that took place on Wednesday. “Look — this isn’t political vitriol. If he had said, ‘Let’s have a conversation about this,” I would have said fine.”

Ingber said from what he hears from most customers who come in, however, is that the neighboring area doesn’t want the bike lanes. 

“I’d say about 95%,” he said.”

Providence Great Streets program is more like a series of little spurts of bike lanes

While Rhode Island holds great pride in big, off-road bike lanes such as the East Bay Bike Path, it seems obsessed with retrofitting little spurts of bike lanes on highly trafficked city streets – often with the goal of “getting rid of cars completely”, as was stated by one bike group advocate – and “calming” traffic by bringing it to a crawl.

There are many concerns about Providence’s approach that make this about more than bike lanes.

There is no record for whether the city planning and development commission had been informed that Burkin was working as a lobbyist from April to September last year, lobbying both the city council and mayor. At the time, Burkin was serving an Elorza-appointee on the Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission, so she would have had regular contact with Alex Ellis, the principal planner in the planning and development, Nate Urso, traffic engineer in the public works department, and Emily Koo, director of sustainability for the city. All three were ex-officio members of the commission.

Multiple requests to the planning department and to councilwoman LaFortune to clear up this issue have gone unanswered, though the City Council “did not approve Burkin’s appointment”.

Who selected Thriving Places Collaborative LLC to gather data for the trial? Apart from the fact that the consultancy has little in its profile to suggest that it has expertise in traffic projects, we are concerned about their methodology, which they won’t share. Thriving Places registered their business as a corporation in Rhode Island on or about September 15th of this year – approximately 2 weeks ago.

Its previous effort last November was “super-not scientific,” according to state representative Rebecca Kislak. In fact, its data-gathering consisted of putting postcards into select mailboxes in the ward – and not even in the city’s name.

There was nothing in the survey to find out what seniors thought about cutting parking in half, and the survey did not cover large sections of the ward.

Kislak told us that she was “fairly sure” the survey came from the Streets Coalition, whose lead organizer divided her time as an advocate and lobbyist.

If the data can’t be trusted, then what is the point of conducting a trial?


Volunteers will be up and down Hope Street starting 2pm TODAY

Over 50 volunteers have been recruited to install, monitor and take down the test bike path. They will be using the What’s App app to talk with each other and have multi-colored questionnaires to engage and survey people on the street.


  • Fri, 9/30, 2pm-5pm: loading the U-Haul at 56 Wood Street
  • Fri, 9/30, 6pm-midnight: spray-chalking the green conflict zones and white stencils. Starting at the southern end and working north.
  • Sat, 10/1, 6am-12pm(?): finishing paint, dropping bollards (starting at the northern end and working south), installing and painting bus platforms
  • Sat, 10/1, 12pm – Saturday, Oct 8, 12pm: data collection and block captaining
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  1. Steven Kozlowski on November 1, 2022 at 6:17 pm

    Most business owners and residents don’t want it. We just have a few lobbyists and avid cyclists causing a big uproar. Hopefully the final decisions reflect the interests of the majority and not just whoever is the loudest.

  2. Miguel Ryone on October 13, 2022 at 5:41 pm

    Vote to have removed.

  3. Margot Summerhill on October 5, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    It’s unsightly, it will kill business traffic, it does not take the elderly or handicapped into account, will make traffic in that area more of a nightmare, make homeowners in the area want to move, make it hard to park at CVS when we have to go there and generally push people to shop and do business in other areas. It is poor planning ! It does not foster community !

  4. Margot Summerhill on October 5, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    Driving down Hope Street my first impression was how unsightly it looks. “Really?” I said to myself. Being away often I had only an inklng that there was this idea of a bike lane on Hope St. and had signed a petition against it. The enclosed bike lane is a poor choice for Hope St. There is not enough parking as it is. The side streets are already parked up and difficult to get through. Home owners in the area already have difficulty because of this. For some of us walking doesn’t come so easy. The closer we can park to the store the more chance we’ll be there. So for many older or the handicapped it is clear that neither population has been taken into account in making this decision. First parking meters in Wayland Square and now a bike lane on Hope St. cutting off access to the stores on that side of the street. It would seem that there is little understanding of small town business and how to keep it. It is what makes a community. Many of our Hope St. stores will suffer and some may have to close. Interestingly I wanted to stop in to the Rhody store yesterday but as the bike lane was there I went on home and didn’t stop. Ordinarily at that time of the morning there would have been a spot. So while the bike lane may bring joy to someone as well as maybe bikers I think it will drive people away from Hope St. How about a bike lane on one of our wider streets of which there are many. How about taking all generations of people and disabilities into account when decisions are made for the community. We are all part of the whole.

  5. Walter on October 3, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    If a bike lane on Hope St. is determined to be bad for small businesses and nearby home owners I would agree it should not go through. But making the city more bike-friendly is something that should not be lost in this process. Providence is a small city that is easily traversed to all corners in very little time if one is on a bike. I hope the issue with Hope Street doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for biking in Providence. Biking is great exercise, it gets you directly from your door to the door of your destination without all the hassles of a car (parking, gas, traffic) biking doesn’t pollute, and it’s fun.

  6. Greg on October 3, 2022 at 1:51 am

    Is there any connection between the proliferation of of bike lanes, and developers claiming that they don’t need to add adequate parking to their projects because people will be using bike lanes to get around?

  7. Sean Casey on October 2, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    I don’t understand the emergency vehicle thing. They can’t drive along the curb when cars are parked so how is the space narrowed?

    • Nancy Thomas on October 2, 2022 at 11:17 pm

      The issue was the cars can’t pull over.

  8. Virginia on October 2, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    Great reporting; detailed and in depth.

  9. Tom on October 1, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Yes. The best report indeed!

  10. Leslie on October 1, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    I’m an avid cyclist and have never had an issue with getting around. We already have great bike trails. I think these bollards and platforms (like South Water St) are hazardous. What a waste of funds when the city has so many other needs.

  11. Chris on October 1, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    Without a doubt the best report on how this all came about I’ve ever seen. Well done.