Health Geography Primer for RI

The Brown Family Medicine Residency at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island was interested in training residents in health geography and GIS as part of a grant for transforming primary care for adolescents and children in under-served communities. I stepped in and developed a training module and presentation on thematic mapping of health outcomes and determinant variables in Rhode Island.  I personally developed all the figures and analysis in the Primer using free and open source data and software: mainly the U.S. Census, Kids Count, RIGIS, and QGIS. You can download the Primer here (address is case-sensitive):


To demonstrate the importance of geographic analysis for health problems, we worked through an example case of class, race, housing age, and lead poisoning in Rhode Island’s children (see gallery of maps).  In Rhode Island, the classic urban geography models of concentric zone theory and sector theory hold true in many places, with new immigrant groups moving into old residential areas of Rhode Island’s cities along the Blackstone River Valley and in Newport. Memorial Hospital’s service area encompasses the heart of Rhode Island’s industrialization in Pawtucket and Central Falls. There are some exceptions exemplified by new downtown developments and gentrified areas around Brown University and the East Side, but the gentrification process provides ample opportunity and legal oversight to mitigate lead paint exposures. Despite new state legislation regulating lead paint, compliance remains low.

Following the test case, we worked on improving geographic literacy by demonstrating the significance of scale and modifiable areal units, classification, and normalization. Finally, we discussed some fundamental GIS analysis, e.g. proximity analysis with parks, density surfaces of crime rates, integration of multiple variables with selection and overlay in the USDA food access research atlas, and multi-criteria analysis with the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.

Cycling out of Providence

I decided to transform frustration with cycling in urban environments into productive procrastination by mapping some of the best routes from the East Side of Providence near NBX Bikes to the Rhode Island and Massachusetts countryside: Check out the web map here:

If you are located in the Providence region and browsing the map with location services enabled, the map will display your location with a blue circle symbol.  The map will also pan to your location if the map is significantly off-center by 3/4ths of the map width or height.

Cycling out of Providence Map

Please be aware that routes have no guarantee of safety and conditions change frequently.  Please click or tap the red and yellow markers for cautionary notes and advice. Hover over routes and points to see labels, and click on routes and points for additional notes.

Learning routes around Rhode Island takes patience. You’ll have to remember innumerable turns, pay attention to road names changing from town to town, and expect that road signs are often missing or bent. Some routes displayed as bicycle-friendly by Rhode Island DOT maps and Google Maps are actually quite dangerous.  For example, Branch Avenue where it crosses I-95 is designated as a phase II bike route, but I find the Smithfield Ave bridge to be much safer with its traffic light controls (even though the pavement is starting to break up in spots).

While you’re planning a ride, I suggest using a web map and Google street view to inspect roads and intersections. Many local riders follow arrowed routes, such as those of the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen. Ultimately it’s worth the patience: Rhode Island and Eastern Massachusetts have a wealth of winding, shaded country lanes, rolling hills, and scenic destinations.

I created this route map using Ride With GPS, Strava Global Heat Map, QGIS, Google Earth, GeoJSON, Mapbox, and Leaflet.

For hard copy maps, I use Great Swamp Press Bike and Road Map of South County, Rubel Bike Maps of Massachusetts, and both cartography shops make great cycling maps. I also use the RI DOT’s Statewide Bike Map (but the RI map omits many useful road labels and side-roads), and the American Map “Blackstone Valley” maps of Rhode Island and Massachusetts (but these seem to be out of print now).