Greater City Providence

Downtown Circulator Project Underway

Phase 2 of the “Downtown Providence Traffic Circulation Improvements” have begun in earnest. This morning a lane was dropped on Weybosset Street, Mathewson Street is closed between Weybosset and Chapel (through June), and a worker was out with a giant machine cutting hacking away at the sidewalks.

You might be thinking, “Phase 2, did I miss Phase 1.” Well, you might of, I did. The Circulator Project (not to be confused with the Core Connector Study) is to make more Downtown streets two-way, to make traffic flow better and the city more predictable to navigate. Phase one was the conversion of Washington Street to two-way traffic and happened some time early in the last decade.

Phase 2 will see Empire Street, from Fountain to Weybosset and Weybosset Street from Empire to Dorrance become two-way streets. A sign of this project has been around for years where the lights at Washington and Empire are set up for two-way Empire even though Empire has continued to be one-way.

One reason Phase 2 has been held up so long is for planning for how Weybosset would be re-built outside of PPAC, the area that is now being referred to as “PPAC Square.” A drop-off lane will now be constructed outside PPAC. The tower of the comfort station will be restored and moved into a new median on Weybosset Street (the bulk of the comfort station was determined to not be historic as it was a later addtion and will be demolished).

Later Phase(s) of the Circulator project will include rebuilding LaSalle and Emmett Squares, making Sabin Street, Dorrance Street (in front of the Biltmore), and Exchange Terrace two-way, rebuilding Fountain Street, and possible enhancements to Kennedy Plaza.

Below is the city’s notification to abutters regarding the project (including a rendering a the decorative lightposts to be installed in “PPAC Square”):

Downtown Providence Traffic Circulation Improvements – Phase 2

Construction will begin in April 2011 on the Downtown Providence Traffic Circulation Improvements – Phase 2 and will continue with substantial completion by December 2011. The contractor for this work is Cardi Corporation. Construction will occur typically from Monday through Friday, 7AM to 3PM. Road paving operations will be on weekday evenings to minimize disturbance to traffic and businesses.

The project limits are on Empire Street (Fountain St. to Weybosset St.), Weybosset St. (Empire St. to Dorrance St.), Broad St. (Service Road to Empire St.), Dorrance St. (Fulton St. to Clifford St.)

The improvements include:

  • Replacement or upgrades to Seven existing traffic signals
  • Road paving within the project limits
  • Changing Empire St. and Weybosset St. from one-way to two-way traffic flow
  • New street signs, regulatory signs and pavement markings

PPAC Square Enhancement Portion (Weybosset St. – Snow St. to Union St.) shall include:

  • New street trees and ornamental lighting
  • New alternative paving materials for the roadway and sidewalks in the immediate vicinity of PPAC
  • New ornamental bollards, granite planters and bike racks
  • Restoration of the historic tower of the comfort station and its relocation to the proposed median in the center of Weybosset Street.
  • Interim completion date of October 1, 2011 for this portion of the project.

We are aware of the inconvenience caused by our activity and apologize in advance. Rest assured that we will do everything possible to minimize the impact of the construction to you and your business.

If there are any questions regarding construction work, please contact Mr. Craig Hochman of the Providence Department of Public Works at 401-467-7950 Ext. 515.

Thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Is there a map or illustration showing the traffic patterns at the end of Phase 2?

  • There is in the Downtown Plan [.pdf]. I’ve been putting off this post because I’ve been wanting to sit down and pull those plans to better illustrate this post, but I’ve procrastinated enough on that and just posted.

  • I do not know where the plan for the trees stands now. I contacted Planning to see if they could shed light on it.

  • Do they really need to remove trees to make this street suitable to two way traffic?

  • I don’t really see how you could accomplish the widening without removing them. As long as they are being replaced, I dont see it as a problem. I think making Weybosset 2 way is a really great idea.

  • Liam, we’re talking about these mature growth trees as seen in this ProJo file image:

    Column: The density of the “creative capital”
    7:28 AM Thu, Jun 03, 2010

    Its a big problem if these trees were to be cut down, besides, there appears to be enough room where the road can be expanded to abut the cement planters that the trees live. The planters currently act as a “median” in the middle of the sidewalk. The sidewalk on either side of the planters is approximately the same width.

    The trees and planters would not only continue to provide shade and beauty, but would also work as a buffer between pedestrian and automobiles.

  • Is the city really widening more streets? That’s the opposite of what most streets in this city need. It’s extremely dangerous being a pedestrian here and Downtown is one of the only truly dense and walkable places.

  • The operative word is WIDENING … the new plan removes pedestrian space and gives it over to the car. It was not necessary to widen the street very much at all to accommodate two-way traffic.

    … as for the removal of mature trees, some of the largest street trees in downtown, to accomplish this is a kick in the face of all the folks who have been working on the tree canopy ordinances and Trees 2020.

    … the biggest forest in this plan is the forest of bollards in front of PPAC

  • Sorry this is so blurry, it is pulled from the Downtown Plan. It shows what the plan is for Weybosset Street.

    I should note that I am unsure if this is the absolute final plan. It was in the December 2010 Downtown Plan. For instance, I only count 15 new trees. I was told by Planning today that there would be 24 new trees.

  • So, 1/4 mi. from the parking lot district, we are replacing trees with parking spaces (I assume those are the little black squares).

  • Call Mayor Taveras at (401) 421-2489 and the City Council (401) 421-2489 and tell them what you think.

    Forestry Division at (401) 785-9450, x270 / Fax: 401.941.5920
    1000 Elmwood Avenue
    Providence RI 02905

    Parks + Recreation

    “Significant Trees

    The city’s largest shade trees are precious resources. A large tree offers exponentially greater benefits than a small or newly planted tree, due to the large amount of extra foliage. Trees require many decades to reach a mature size. Preserving and protecting mature trees is a top priority, and serves to benefit public health.”

    “In 2004, the City passed a regulation in its Zoning Ordinance (Sec. 425.1, “Removal of Significant Trees”) that protects trees that are 32 inches in diameter or greater (measured 4.5 feet above the ground), regardless of location. No “Significant Tree” shall be removed without prior permission of the City Forester. Any person wishing to remove a Significant Tree shall file a request to do so with the City Forester. The request must meet certain criteria in order to receive approval, most notably that the tree poses a danger to human safety, health, and welfare. Call the City Forester at 785-9450 for more information.”

  • The powers that be in the city/state rely on cars for transportation. They don’t walk, they don’t bike, and they sure as hell do not take transit. Until that changes, cars will continue to be given priority as far as officials considering how development affects them.

  • According to this morning’s projo (hardly a reliable source, of course), the historic Weybosset St comfort station will be removed. No word on whether it will be relocated – more likely it will simply be scrapped. What a shame.

  • Silly that they cannot include a bike lane in the reconstruction. Any road reconstruction in an urban area should do its best to accommodate them in this day and age.

  • My understanding of the comfort station was that the tower at the front of the comfort station is supposed to be restored and moved into a median island. The rest of it is not historic and will be removed. That could have changed and it may have been determined that the station had to be simply removed with no restoration.

    The ProJo article also says this:

    [Providence Director of Planning and Development Thom] Deller said the delay between stages occurred mainly because of differing opinions on how best to design Weybosset Street, particularly since the Providence Performing Arts Center is there. The wrong change could have made it harder for people to get to the theater.

  • And what about this beautiful canopy at Weybosset and Dorrance?

    We really do not have many of these downtown and would be a shame to lose. Whenever I walk under these canopies on Weybosset Street, alongside the iron fencing of Johnson & Wales and the small businesses up the way it always makes me feel like I’m apart of something special- as if for a brief moment I’m walking down one of the boulevards or down 5th Ave along the park in New York City – having that simple moment of calm amidst the otherwise concrete jungle is always such a treat and retreat.


  • Those don’t look like they will be touched.

    It is kind of disappointing yet predictable that they are widening the street to give PPAC a drive-thru.

  • Well, the trees are gone. So much for that. I really should have been paying more attention to this plan, but upon closer inspection, this looks like a wreck of an approach. I gotta say, I totally dislike what’s happening here.

  • Too late, the trees have been chopped. Upon hearing the news I went down and took some photos which I’ve added to the gcpvd flicker group. The largest stump in diameter that I found was approx. 22″, 10″ less than what is apparently permissible for a tree within the city to not be touched.

    So go the trees and a pedestrian plaza that had a lot of potential. Had better be worth a two way street.

  • If the objective was to introduce two-way traffic, how else were they to design the street?

    The drive-thru or lay-by-lane would help control the traffic on Weybosset and would make the street safer for pedestrians and drivers when there’s a performance.

    The two-lane two-way street will slow down drivers. The new design would provide wider sidewalks than the street had pre-JWU. Weybosset used to have multiple lanes. It was possible to drive on the both sides of the comfort station with multiple drive and parking lanes.

    It is too bad that some trees may be lost, but on the other hand the trees can’t be more that 20 or 25 years old. There will be new trees and more of them better distributed on both sides of the street that would create a tree canopy that only exist in patches today.

  • @Andy – I was well aware of what trees we were talking about. I dont see them as being all that crucial. I love having trees downtown, and obviously we need more, but I really think that making this stretch 2 way will slow down traffic, increase pedestrian safety, and make it a lot easier to get around downtown. I also really dont think those trees were all that old (Tree people certainly feel free to correct me if I’m wrong…) If they plan on replanting almost twice as many as they pull out, that seems like a fair trade. twenty years from now we have more trees AND a downtown that is easier to get around for pedestrians and cars. I will admit that I’m a little bummed about the comfort station, but most of it wasn’t original anyway,

    Im really happy to see this project move forward.

  • Completely agree with Liam. I took a look at this downtown and as long as they do the plantings they promise, this should be a 95% win for all parties 20 years down the road, and isn’t that what “planning” is really supposed to be about?

  • “20 years down the road.” Really?

    Again, from the city forester… “The city’s largest shade trees are precious resources. A large tree offers exponentially greater benefits than a small or newly planted tree, due to the large amount of extra foliage. Trees require many decades to reach a mature size. Preserving and protecting mature trees is a top priority, and serves to benefit public health.”

    I’m all for urban renewal and have a huge love for Providence and am extremely passionate about it. However, there were more than several ways where this precious piece of our great city could have been incorporated into the re-design of Weybosset Street. Most new growth or young saplings in our city are not cared for, are damaged or uprooted for lack of care. This specific canopy could manage itself and is a great loss for downtown, period.

    I’m sure I will enjoy any upgrades to Weybosset and look forward to its preposed resurgence. Its unfortunate that the “comfort station” will disappear… then again, whom has it comforted in the last 20 years anyhow? I just hope we are not giving up a unique downtown landscape for another suburban, cookie cutter, Disney-esk corridor.

  • Why not convert the original comfort station structure to a bike parking/support facility?

    If you look at the present building the Police Office addition is wide, but the original structure just behind the tower is narrow and might be able to support that kind of use. The Police Office addition should be demolished, but more of the historic Comfort Station could be saved. A new slender addition could be added to the historic elements, if needed. The original Comfort Station was situated in a median just as the proposed salvaged tower would be.

    We had a discussion on bike facilities a while back, where the focus was more on the train station or Waterplace Park for a possible location.

    Demolition of the main part of the Comfort Station/Police Office has not yet begun. It might be worth a discussion with the Planning Dept. immediately to propose an alternative to demolishing all but the tower. I wasn’t disturbed with the lose of trees as were others, but as not to repeat losing another opportunity, this time with the Comport Station, action would have to be fast, since contracts are already in place for the project.

  • How about we turn the comfort station back into a comfort station? That would be the end result of actually “preserving” it. If it is not a comfort station, than it can’t really be said to be a true preservation.

    I don’t know what it’s actual historic dimensions were. The tower and the little glass bit immediately behind it?

    Weybosset Street Comfort Station

    Here’s a modern comfort station outside a train station in London.

    Photo cc sarflondondunc

    Here’s another one with even less modesty provided.

    London Urinal
    Photo cc LoopZilla

    I’d be happy to see the comfort station preserved back into a comfort station and installed on Federal Hill if it would stop drunk Johnstonites from pissing on my house at night.

  • Neither of those “comfort stations” look terribly comfortable to me.

  • Restoring it as a comfort station makes sense. Though it could be both. If I remember correctly the facilities of the old comfort station were below grade. It really stunk. ADA would be an issue with the old design or maybe it could be redesigned as an at grade facility with one or two compartments.

  • there is enough room to make the street two-way without cutting the trees down, the problem is once again the suburban-minded traffic engineers requiring turning lanes because we sure as hell cant have traffic slow down and gasp, wait for other vehicles in the heart of the city. this should have been exclusively one lane in each direction plus on-street parking each direction. now we have turning lanes at mathewson, page, dorrance, and the richmond/weybosset parking garage. and yeah, wtf with the PPAC drive thru? whatever happened to a simple curbside drop off in the standard street parking area? we need to let urban designers have the authority to design streets free of traffic engineers and their damn eisenhower-era traffic manuals.

  • I’m just not sure how these plans are more pedestrian friendly or inclusive of said pedestrians. If we take a look at the proposed changes to Empire Street we’re adding an additional lane by removing the angular parking and having two lanes in one direction and one single lane in another.

    Not only are we adding an additional lane of traffic, but we’re reducing the number of parking spaces and seemingly forfeiting the pedestrian experience by moving towards a linear parking arrangement.

    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to simply alter the direction of the angular parking and paint yellow lines down the center of Empire? Why not add a bike lane instead of the secondary West to East lane?

    Not to mention the street will be torn up again and redeveloped within several years time if the proposed streetcar route is to travel Empire. Just seems to be a lack of consciousness through this entire process.

    (Insert eye-roll here)

  • Why is everyone outraged now when this plan has been around for almost 10 years?

  • I agree Liam. There has been talk of this for almost as long as I can remember since I’ve been here (7 years), and it hasn’t exactly been secretive. People are probably upset because it’s actually happening. I suppose you can blame the delayed outrage on people not truly believing things will come to fruition here.

  • Why not remove parking on both sides of the street, keep it one way, and make a wider bicycle lane? And I still don’t understand why the trees had to go, except someone’s desire to cover absolutely everything with concrete and bricks like hard chocolate on a soft ice cream cone. More greenspace is needed, and don’t even suggest that the “green” in front of the J & W dorm makes it. I wish that the people who design these spaces would ask for some input from the people who live and use it.

  • Any chance they are taking into consideration the proposed streetcar with the design here? Perhaps with the widening of the street or the comfort station?

  • Everyone’s pissed off because a planned project actually IS happening for once? Really?

  • There are plenty of implemented planned public projects in the past 10 years, Corey, just few of them designed well. That is why each project is so important and why each pedestrian space failure is so tragic (Kennedy Plaza was hardly open before everyone started dreaming of remedial action, for instance).

    Can you defend an urban design plan where crosswalks end in a vehicle loading zone? I would like to hear your justification of support on both legal ADA precedent and on urban design criteria.

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