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Why is non-auto infrastructure always “too expensive”?

In one of the meetings of the Providence Downtown-Knowledge District Development Framework Study Committee, of which I am a member, we discussed the idea of a pedestrian/bike bridge over Route 95 between Point Street and Eddy Street. There is a long-term proposal for Rhode Island Hospital to build on a site along the highway, and the other side of the highway is a potential home for a parking structure.

Pedestrian/Bike bridge over Route 95

Click image to enlarge

The idea was thrown about for a minute, then immediately shot down as too expensive, would never happen, and we moved on. But why? We had money for the Iway. We have money for the Pawtucket River Bridge, on and on, we’ve gone over this before. Yes, we are in a recession, especially in this city and this state, but when there is a need for autos, we find a way.

In Minneapolis, they’ve found a way to build a stunning bridge for bikes and pedestrians. And their bridge was built to bypass a road that actually does have crosswalks. Albeit a terribly wide, dangerous road, but you can cross it. One cannot cross Route 95 on bike or on foot.

Here’s Minneapolis’ bridge:

From Streetfilms.

In the video State Senator S. Scott Dibble addresses the fact that there is controversy over spending $5 million to build this infrastructure. But he points to the cost-benefit analysis versus road infrastructure, the benefits to the community quickly add up.

As a community, we have decided that the pedestrian bridge over the river is a worthy investment at $4 million. Finding another $4 million or so to build more ped/bike infrastructure in the Jewelry District would no doubt be a challenge. But if we reject it out of hand as too expensive, not possible, then it will never have a chance at reality.

We moved rivers, we moved train tracks, we moved an interstate highway, certainly a ped/bike bridge is not too much to dream.


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6 Responses to Why is non-auto infrastructure always “too expensive”?

  1. Andrew I September 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Why is non-auto infrastructure always “too expensive”?

    Because Mr. “Only eats at Al Forno and Capital Grill” says so!

  2. Andy September 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    I’m growing very tired of this city-state. Losing its appeal to do business, make progress and quite frankly becoming unbearable to live in unless you’re part of the status quo or a group of good ‘ol boys. sick.

  3. Peter Brassard September 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    Jef, Your choice for a possible pedestrian bridge across the highway is a great location.

    At the Knowledge District Framework Study meeting on September 7 that idea was presented in the form of a green link between the Jewelry and Hospital districts. The link for a bridge across the highway was completely unresolved; sense the study proposal attempted to link Friendship to Plain Streets as enhanced streets with widened greenway sidewalks. The planner indicated circuitous dashed lines over the new 95 overpasses to connect the two. He admitted that the portion straddling the highway didn\’t really work and might have to be left for future generations.

    That Friendship-Plain Street greenway idea could perhaps be modified to briefly meander through the southwest section of the Jewelry District to the proposed garage and bridge, and along the northern edge of the Hospital District to Plain Street.

    A bridge at that location would be around 450 feet long. If the bridge were exclusively for pedestrians and bicycles, the costs might be quite affordable, assuming that there\’s no café in the middle. To avoid interruptions with the highway below, it could be a suspension bridge.

    Another idea at the meeting was to create a southern gateway for the city flanking the highway with periodic high-rise towers. A suspension bridge could create the gateway immediately without having to wait for the next construction cycle or tenants to fill buildings on each side of the highway. There would be a lot of detail to figure out with levels and street access, but a pedestrian bridge could be rolled-into the costs for a garage (a garage with a streetcar stop).

    This concept is strong and doable.

  4. brick September 22, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    I also think this is a good idea, but what was so crappy about the Point St. bridge? I’m not doubting you, I just don’t remember the particular complaints other than the ADA compliance. Is there other stuff? I’ll admit I don’t find myself walking down that way ever.

    And yes, the ADA failure is enough to make it crappy, I’m just wondering if there are other things.

  5. Jef Nickerson September 22, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Brick, aside from the unfortunate sign placement on the Friendship Street bridge, that bridge is OK for pedestrians, it does not connect direct to the Hospital District though, the Point Street bridge is the direct connection between the JD and the Hospitals, and it is a mess.

    The Google aerial of the area is not of the completed work, but the issue is in part high speed traffic coming off the Service Road on the west side (West Franklin Street) onto the 95 and 195 on ramps. There are crosswalks and walk lights but the intersection is built for speed and that is what drivers do on it. Really, it is part of the interchange and not in anyway built as a city street. The East Franklin Street side is not any better with multiple wide travel lanes, light settings made to move the maximum number of cars as fast as possible, and high speed traffic racing off the Iway.

    Also, Point Street lands you west of the bulk of the Hospital District so you have to back track to get from points in the JD to buildings in the Hospital area (if that is your destination).

    The frustrating part is, this is all infrastructure that RIDOT just designed and built. This is not 40 or 50 year old infrastructure built in a different time that we are stuck dealing with now.

  6. brick September 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for the reply Jef. I actually don’t think I’ve seen the completed intersection.

    I guess Eddy St. is the most direct way and there is certainly nothing about that street that says “hey, come walk on me.”

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