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Author Archive | Guest Post

Barry Schiller: Pawtucket’s misguided decision to close the Visitor’s Center

pawtucket

Image from Google Streetview

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

Have you heard that Pawtucket officials are “doing away with Pawtucket’s RIPTA bus hub?” This was reported in the 11/29 Valley Breeze.

The article indicates that Pawtucket officials believe passengers hanging around at this hub near the Visitors Center are interfering with their hopes for downtown redevelopment. But their proposal is likely to result in passengers losing an indoor waiting room, with access to heat, seating, bathrooms, travel information, and security. Though buses will still stop in downtown Pawtucket and RIPTA has not yet worked out alternative service, closing this facility would likely make passengers have to stand around outdoors, even in the snow, cold and dark that comes at winter and at night. Further, “spreading the service” out among other nearby bus stops, as mentioned in the article, could make it harder to transfer. Passengers may have to wait at isolated locations which are perceived to be less safe.

It is ironic that this comes at a time when RIPTA is investing in enhancing service on the #99 Pawtucket-Providence line.

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Alissa Graham: Providence Independence Trail

Prospect Park

This post was originally posted on Alissa Graham’s blog, Alissa: Adventurer and is reproduced here with permission.

Yesterday, May 4th 2011, Rhode Island’s Govenor Chaffee and Providence Mayor Tavares unveiled the “Independence Trail.” This three mile, downtown Providence trail will “feature 75 sites ranging from a place where George Washington slept to a statue of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, whose distinctive facial hair coined the word ‘sideburns.'” (wpri.com)

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Abel Collins: Complete Streets

Complete street in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo (cc) EURIST e.V.

Abel Collins is Program Manager at Sierra Club RI where he runs the Club’s transportation reform project. The goal of the project is to expand and improve the transportation choices of Rhode Islanders in order to reduce the state’s carbon emissions and increase public health and safety. He also sits on the working group for the Coalition for Transportation Choices and is the vice president for policy of the Environment Council of Rhode Island.

Imagine Providence streets as safe for pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders as they are for cars and trucks: fewer but better designed crosswalks, tree lined streets with narrower lanes to calm traffic, safe routes to schools, comprehensive bike lanes connecting the city, inviting sidewalks where businesses can sell their wares, and bus shelters that actually provide shelter. Imagine streets designed to reclaim their function as vibrant public spaces rather than the corridors for automobile traffic and parking that they have become. Can you picture streets that provide us with more than one viable transportation choice when we step out the door? What you are seeing is a complete street.

It isn’t hard to do, right? It’s not like we need a technological leap to make it possible, no sputnik moment here. Providence is a little more than 20 square miles, 4 x 5 miles give or take. Every destination is within walking or bicycling distance. The biggest obstacle is really just the car-centric mindset that has been at the center of our planning and economic development strategies.

The movement to bring Complete Streets planning to Rhode Island’s cities and towns is gathering momentum. Thanks to the work of Sierra Club RI and AARP, as well as the Coalition for Transportation Choices which they help lead, Newport, Middletown, and South Kingstown have all adopted complete streets resolutions. Even as I write these lines, Providence and Portsmouth are working toward resolutions of their own.

At the same time, statewide complete streets legislation will be considered this session which in addition to exhorting the benefits of complete streets designs and encouraging complete streets planning policies at state agencies will also create a complete streets council to help coordinate its implementation across the state.

Of course, it is the acceptance and implementation of planning policies by the Department of Transportation and municipal departments of public works where the rubber will finally meet the road, and these resolutions are merely the beginning of realizing those imaginary streets. Moreover, complete streets require more than just a shift in governmental thinking. We, the street users whether on our bikes, in our cars, or on our feet, are equally responsible for recognizing that streets are a shared public space that should be safe for everyone.

If you want to help bring complete streets to Providence and the rest of Rhode Island; if you want to make those streets you were picturing back at the start of this post real with all the benefits to public health, the environment, safety, local business, and the size of your bank account that they entail, then contact me, abel.collins@sierraclub.org, or at least let your local administrators, council members and state reps know about it.

If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

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Robert Billington: Bringing the Blackstone Valley Bikeway to its completion

Photo (cc) cho_kettie

The following is by Robert Billington, Ed.D, President of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.

January 20, 2011

Let’s face it; Rhode Island’s bikeways bring lots of enjoyment to our residents. From South County to the Blackstone Valley, these paths connect our neighborhoods, improve our economy and draw visitors to explore our communities. They are safe, enjoyable and provide a stress-free place to relax and exercise. Everyone who experiences them wants to see not only more paths but improved connectivity between paths. We have the opportunity to do this.

While there are other bike paths in the state, what makes the Blackstone River bikeway special is the industrious American story it tells. Over 30 years ago, planning began on the Blackstone River bikeway — a bold idea for its time. Restoring dirty land along the oldest polluted river in the hemisphere, the river that launched America to super-power status, took great imagination, and guts. Ten years ago, the first few miles of the bikeway opened in Lincoln. Now with 11 miles of the Bikeway constructed, accessibility to the Blackstone River and Canal is now easy and enjoyable for fishing, canoeing and cross-country skiing. Our state has successfully transformed land that was once a dump to land that is transforming people and reconnecting them to nature.

While we have made considerable progress, we are not done. The completed section of the bikeway passes along the Blackstone River through Cumberland, Lincoln and Woonsocket. As wonderful as the completed section is, a significant amount of work has to be done in order to connect the Blackstone Valley bikeway to both the East Bay bike path and to the Massachusetts border. Despite the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s work to plan and construct the bikeway, its completion is elusive. The reason is funding.

We have worked with Rhode Island Department of Transportation officials to determine a completion date for the Bikeway and the amount of funding necessary. As of right now, it is projected that completion could take place in seven years if we continue to work hard and as long as the $31 million needed for construction is secured. To make the completion of the Blackstone Bikeway by 2017 a reality, residents, governmental leaders, community groups and organizations need to take responsibility to find the funds to complete the Blackstone Bikeway.

To date, we have 11 of the less-expensive miles of the Bikeway completed. Additionally, we have $1 million of the $31 million needed to fund the more-expensive miles ahead. We must not wait and assume that someone else will step forward and secure the funding to complete the rest of the Bikeway. We have done this for too long. It is time to stay focused and bring the project to full completion. While cutting through the dense riverfront of Central Falls, Pawtucket, East Providence, Providence, Woonsocket and North Smithfield is going to be difficult, the completion of the bikeway is within our grasp. We need to urge its completion to every local, state and federal official asking them to help us find the construction funds to build. This is a call to action to get involved and continue to remind our officials to push for the completion of the Blackstone Bikeway by 2017.

Even with the State’s growing budget deficit, we must not waiver from completing the Blackstone Bikeway. Our state has many priorities for recreational spending and we realize that the Blackstone River Bikeway is just one of them. However, this one has been on the agenda for over three decades. It is time that the completion is moved to the top of the list. Don’t think of the bikeway as simply being a place of recreation. With gas prices steadily increasing, it provides Rhode Islanders with a way to bike to work, shop for groceries and travel. The Blackstone River Bikeway is quickly becoming the new Main Street in the Blackstone Valley. The economic, environmental and health benefits from using the Bikeway cannot be overstated.

Residents, businesses, federal, state, and local officials, and community groups have to work to complete the Blackstone Valley Bikeway. It is time for the Blackstone Valley Bikeway to be completed. 2017 has to be the date! Push for progress: Cycleblackstone.com.

Robert Billington, Ed.D, President
Blackstone Valley Tourism Council

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Youth4Change: Why Winter Is a Nightmare for Providence Youth and How You Can Help

This post was submitted to Greater City: Providence by Youth4Change. It is a quite timely message given the condition of the sidewalks across Providence this morning. Above is a photo from my 1 mile walk to work this morning.

I remember being a kid and jumping for joy when I saw my first snowflake of the season. The thrill of seeing beauty fall from the sky, the hope for snow days, and the desire to drop down and make snow angels returns to me this time of year. But for many of Providence youth, snow brings on the feeling of dread not joy. The dread and disgust comes from the thought of walking miles to school in the frigid New England temperatures. Wet shoes, cold ears and frost bitten fingers are not the way most of us want to spend our mornings day after day, however, for many Providence high school students, this is the reality every winter.

Currently in the city of Providence, high school students who live within 3 miles of their school are not provided transportation and are expected to walk, get a ride, or in the case for most students, pay their own bus fare. Recent RIPTA fare increases now force many students to pay $5 a day to get to and from school. This expense does not include travel to after-school activities and jobs, opportunities known to increase a student’s academic performance and increase their odds of receiving college acceptance and scholarships. The $5 or more a day students spend in bus fare is clearly a financial burden for families in a district where 82% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch (Providence Public Schools, Fact Sheet 2008-2009). For families who can’t afford the expense, students must either walk in the cold or bunk school. If it were you, which would you choose?

Youth 4 Change (Y4C), an alliance led by four non-profit youth organizations—Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Young Voices, and Youth In Action (YIA)—has been pushing for more youth voice and influence in public policy and decision making. Their Transportation 4 Education campaign is aimed at decreasing student barriers to attending school and assuring youth right to accessible transportation.

This month, Y4C was selected by The Pepsi Refresh Project to compete in a national competition to receive $50,000 to implement a public awareness campaign. The Pepsi Refresh Project is an evolution of the Refresh Everything initiative Pepsi launched in 2009. In an effort to support those who generate innovative, optimistic ideas, the Pepsi Refresh Project has awarded more than $13 million in 2010 to move communities forward. Organizations can apply for grants to benefit a variety of projects and supporters can vote for the best ideas for funding.

Y4C is in the running for a $50,000 grant to fund their Transportation 4 Education public awareness campaign. This campaign will include youth-produced and youth-designed billboard ads, radio ads, and television commercials about student barriers to attending school.

Y4C is in competition against 1,000 businesses and organizations. The top ten will receive the funds to implement their idea. Y4C needs YOUR VOTE to win!

How you can help:

  1. Vote Every Day!
    – Online: Go to www.y4cri.org and click Vote For This Idea
    – Text: Send 104586 to Pepsi (73774)
  2. Share this Post! – Include the Y4C video and voting information
  3. Encourage a Friend to Vote!
  4. Learn more about Y4C!
    – Visit www.y4cri.org and text Y4C to 313131 to sign up for text message alerts and updates

Y4C gets nothing if enough votes aren’t gathered. Vote today! Each vote gets Y4C closer to their goal. Voters can login or text everyday. The contest ends Dec. 31st.

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Peter Brassard: The Core Connector system should connect more than just Downtown

This post was submitted Greater City: Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

Providence’s Core Connector transit system should be based on its ability to interconnect the city’s Occupation Districts and cultural venues, not just to Downtown and parts of the East Side and South Providence. If the goal is to reduce automotive dependency and produce the greatest number of jobs, attract real estate and economic development, all of the city’s Occupation Districts must be interconnected with a high-frequency transit system. Occupation Districts are employment centers where most educational, institutional, industrial, or business activities are situated. Besides serving employment centers, the Core Connector should provide access to major cultural and public event venues and recreation destinations to accommodate the public and to reinforce tourism.

Service schedules should be high frequency and ideally operate 24 hours, 7 days per week as students, hospital staff, and service workers often travel beyond midnight. The Core Connector should be operational well after the closing hours of bars and other entertainment venues to help reduce alcohol related car accidents. Schedule headway times should be at short intervals for reliable convenient service and to facilitate fast transfers between routes.

If the priority is interconnecting the city’s economic centers, residential neighborhood connections should be considered secondary. If a line passes through a residential area, the neighborhood can be directly served. People can plan in advance to leave or return home with transit that may have longer headway times. They can use existing bus lines to access the Core Connector to get to jobs or schools. Alternately, a series of new “feeder” bus routes or Rapid Bus could be developed to bring residential passengers to the Core Connector.

Occupation Districts
Click image to enlarge

The Occupation Districts diagram analyzes locations and potential maximum densities for Occupation Districts, as well as, showing an overlay of possible citywide routes. Providence regulates land use mostly with height limits, lot coverage, or dwelling unit maximums. Real estate development is generally calculated by potential developable floor area.

A scale of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is assumed based on permitted number of floors combined with permitted lot coverage maximums to create the diagram. Occupation Districts are differentiated by a color that corresponds to a maximum FAR range or use type.

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Reader: Silverman found! Plus picnic tables

Remember Silverman, or tin man, or whatever he was called. He had been floating around in the river for a few years now, but has been missing for a while. A reader contacted us and has solved the mystery of what happened to him:

For about a month or so, the tin foil man floating in the Providence River has been missing. Run over by a boat? Stolen? Sunk? Headed south to join tax-haven loving Rhode Islanders in Florida?

No one seemed to know. This afternoon he was found, beached… or more accurately, wood piled.

In the corner of the fence guarding the Water Fire wood supply. In for repairs? Run over once too many times by WaterFire craft?

Plus, there are now picnic tables down under the highway down by the river:

Also of note today:

Picnic tables (two) have been placed at water’s edge on the Ship Street extension alongside the Narragansett Bay Commission’s storm water (my euphemism) overflow outlet. Some tree trimming and tidying have gone on, just in time for the fall and winter picnicking season.

But, hey, why criticize; with luck we’ll have some warm days in October… and the tables should still be there come spring.

Prime viewing spot for the big Iway deconstruction project.

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Debra Booth: The other end of Wickenden Street

We’ve spent a lot of pixels here talking about the intersection between Route 195 and Wickenden Street on the west side of Fox Point. Debra Booth forwarded us a letter they sent to city and state officials addressing concerns about the other end of Wickenden, where the Gano Street ramps are:

To: Mayor David Cicilline, Councilman Seth Yurdin, Representative David Segal, Senator Rhoda Perry, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, Rhode Island Department of Transportation

From: Debra Booth and David Cosier, Residents of Fox Point
Date: 11 April 2010
RE: Concerns about the I-195 Project

My husband and I live in Fox Point, in a house we bought 3 years ago. I am a Designer and Teacher and my husband is an Art Director for film and television. We like our neighborhood and especially like the refurbished India Point Park and walking to the various shops along Wickenden Street. The new pedestrian bridge connecting our neighborhoods with the park is a great addition as well. We have invested in this neighborhood and the community. It was our understanding that the highway project was meant to reconnect the neighborhood to its shoreline and India Point Park. However, we have some real concerns about the highway project as it has evolved and its interface with our neighborhood. Providence has a great opportunity to provide leadership and innovation to working with urban neighborhoods. We certainly have the will and talent in this city to do it differently.

The areas of most concern for us cover the area on the map below coded in pink.

mapThere are several important “quality of life” issues facing Fox Point, the city and DOT:

  • Higher noise levels
  • Safety issues (especially where there is direct access to the highway-near a public park and elementary school).
  • Air quality
  • Aesthetic neighborhood enhancement (rather than lowering property values and destruction—and flight from the neighborhood)

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Megan Andelloux: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health before Pawtucket Zoning Board of Review

This post was submitted by friend of GC:PVD Megan Andelloux (A.A.S.E.C.T Certified Sexuality Educator, A.A.S.E.C.T Mentor, A.C.S Board Certified Sexologist). Monday night (11/30/09), she will be going before the Pawtucket Zoning Board of Review to defend her right to educate adults about the topics of sexual health and pleasure. Find out more info on upcoming workshops & sexuality questions at OhMegan.com.

csphYou may have heard about it in the news, The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. It’s the name on many individuals lips. The CSPH has been called a sexual pleasure center, a sex clinic, a sexual health center, a brothel, an abortion clinic, a sex toy store and a havenhouse for sex trafficking. Let me clear rumors folks, The CSPH is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing accurate information to adults about sexuality that is seeking to open in The Grant Building on Main Street in Pawtucket. Nothing more, nothing less.

When put that way, it seems pretty fantastic right? A place where adults can go to access information about sexuality without having to buy anything? Like a library? Or a resource center? That’s the plan, but some city officials in Pawtucket (and other individuals) appear to oppose adults being able access sex information. They have taken some serious steps to prevent it from opening.

At first glance, the blatant censorship shines through loud and clear and gives people more than enough to be angry about. But look a little deeper. The issue that lies beneath most censorship issues surface is fear. In this case, it’s a fear of sexuality. People who are opposing The CSPH say it has to do with “the elderly“ not liking that type of talk, that the center doesn’t fit into the town’s image, that it’s not the kind of thing they like OR that they may be teaching immoral things. It’s interesting to me, as the founder of The CSPH, that those who are most vocal about preventing it from opening have never spoken to me, taken me up on offers of visiting The CSPH, or asked me my plans regarding it. They have just become talking heads, ready to attack without knowing the facts.

If we are really invested in growing Rhode Island cities by bringing in tourists, getting people to move into the area, revitalizing our downtown’s, it seems that setting up invisible hoops, only to be used if city officials want to flex their muscles, is not the way to welcome small businesses.

On Monday night (at 6:30pm), I will go before the town of Pawtucket’s zoning appeal board at Pawtucket City Hall, ready to stand firm on my belief that people have the right to access information if they so choose. I hope that you will stand with me.

- Megan Andelloux

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Reader: The little things

This post was submitted by a Greater City: Providence reader.

I enjoy the discussions of big plans and projects like train stations and streetcars, but sometimes I despair of anything ever coming about in a city that can not accomplish the simplest, tiniest, glaringly, obviously necessary public works.

These pictures were not taken on isolated, dead end residential streets. They are some of the busiest pedestrian routes on the East Side.

Leaving Miriam Hospital and looking to catch a #99 bus on North Main?

5th_highland
5th Street at Highland Avenue

This view is down 5th street to North Main. This is the main vehicular route to the hospital including ambulances. I guess people should be thankful for state of the art painted crosswalks and unwarranted 4-way stop after having to walk in the street.

Those who work at Miriam and walk to their car at the old auditorium can study glacial geology on Highland Avenue at 4th street.

highland_4th
Highland Avenue at 4th Street

Bring your all terrain wheelchair if you want to enjoy this righteous ADA compliant curb at the corner of 3rd and Highland.

highland_3rd
3rd Street at Highland Avenue

It may come as a surprise to windshield perspective types, but people actually do walk to the Bus Terminal at the end of Cemetery Street. While staying with us a while back, my elderly mother took a day trip to Boston by bus. I offered to drive her to the terminal but she said “Don’t be ridiculous, I know where it is and it is only a few blocks.” This is Frost street about halfway from North Main to the Bus Terminal. She fell here.

frost_WB
Frost Street

I urged her to sue somebody and make a stink, but she was not badly hurt and soldiered on.

Even where there is a sidewalk you still may still have to dodge the traffic speeding around the bend.

frost_cemetary
Cemetery Street

You can see little kids on their way to and from the playing fields walking in the street here too.

These dangerous substandard conditions have been in place since the neighborhood was developed from farmland. In recent years, millions have been spent to install neckdowns along Hope Street and Summit Avenue, on ADA compliant curb cuts, and on sidewalk replacements. That’s all good, but who is minding the priorities as they might affect the people who actually walk around?

At a neighborhood meeting a few years back, Councilman Jackson was strutting about how he had brought in the funding for sidewalk replacements then underway. I pointed out a site where a sidewalk in reasonably fair condition was replaced, right next to a broken, crumbling one that was left untouched and asked why. He said that a property owner must apply to his office for a replacement and wait for years. I asked would he not agree that a greater good would be served if sidewalks were built where they are most needed or even entirely absent instead of spending money to replace serviceable sidewalks? He rolled his eyes and explained that by ancient statute, the initial construction of a sidewalk is up to the property owner. After that, the city can decide to rebuild it, but the city has no provision to construct sidewalks where there are none. I tried to point out that an ancient statute that serves the public so poorly is something a councilman could do something about but he hurried away. I guess the status quo is working for him.

Enormous spending on highway projects is beyond question. Lots of other projects of varying worth get proposed and built. Yet little old ladies are stumbling over rocks where a mere sidewalk should have been built 90 years ago and nothing can be done.

You just wanna walk? No infrastructure for you!

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Reader: NYC Bike Lanes

nycbike_9th-av

9th Avenue

nybike_5th-bway

Madison Square Park

nybike_5th-bway002

Madison Square Park

A reader submitted these photos from New York City to show what is being done with bike lanes there and as an example of what we should be thinking about doing in the 195 Street Grid:

Attached are photos of bikeway conditions at two intersections in New York. Ninth Avenue in Chelsea that shows one of the new bike traffic signals and partial island separations that NYCDOT has recently been installing around Manhattan. The other two show part of a complex intersection at Fifth Avenue and Broadway at Madison Square Park. The images reveal a hierarchy of use between the automotive traffic-way and stop-line, bikeway crossover, and pedestrian crosswalk. Bicycles usually are signalized along with automotive traffic. The bike crossovers act as a safety buffer between vehicles and pedestrians.

These conditions could provide examples for alternatives approaches for the Wickenden Street intersection. The potential for dangerous interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles with the current auto-centric design seems great. RIDOT may have legitimate concerns about traffic backing up on the highway, but its design comes at the expense of everything else.

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Sidewalk rant: Reader submitted edition

providence1994

Mid-90s vintage Providence photo by Jef Nickerson

Bob Vennerbeck wrote to us to share his vintage 1993 sidewalk rant. Actually it’s more of a short story. Bob sent this to the Journal back on February 22, 1993; unfortunately the Journal never ran the piece, but we are.

Providence at it’s Best and Worst, or “Buddy, can you spare a shovel?”

Finally, a winter worth it’s salt! A fairly heavy snowfall being predicted, I arose early. The city is always so beautiful under its soft white blanket, all the rough edges concealed, the litter neatly tucked under. And so quiet, too! Even the snowplows and salt-trucks sound so far away, they might be on another world.

But it’s a Monday, so the sweet sound of spinning tires soon breaks my reverie. Oh, but for my youth in Foster-Gloucester-No-School, when I could have left my textbooks on the shelf, and earned a couple of dollars shoveling the neighbors out. Still, shovel I must – “it’s the law” – so I bundle up, and clear the sidewalk in front of my house, so the mailman won’t slip and fall, if he happens to come today.

I start early, as the walk to work today will be slow. The bus? – I thought of that, but I’m supposed to be at work pretty much the same time five days a week, not just alternate Wednesdays, noon to five, weather permitting.

At the top of the my street, I climb over the chest high pile of snow across the width of the sidewalk that the local gas station doesn’t think they’ll be needing. The man driving the jeep plowing out the station dumps another load in the street, and returns my wave. Poor man, his hands must be frozen, with his finger stuck in that position.

On I go, down Douglas Avenue, wishing I’d brought my crampons and ice axe – that first pile was merely a foothill. My heart leaped to see that our city workers, and their comrades with the state, were engaged in friendly competition. The snow ramparts blocking the sidewalks mounted ever higher, until at the Registry, you couldn’t even see over the top to find the steps down to Smith Street. Whoever walks to the Registry, anyway?

Downtown, our friendly parking merchants have cleared their lots and used our lovely new sidewalks to create handicapped accessible mini ski slopes at nearly every corner.

Meanwhile, on the Riverwalk side, there seems to be some difficulty deciding who is responsible for clearing a path for conventiongoers, sightseers, shoppers and the walking public. Do these walks belong to the City?, the State?, the Federal Park System?, or maybe the Narragansett Indians? I suppose I should relax – it’ll be spring soon, and it won’t be snowing quite so much.

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