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Commuter Rail, Urban Infill Stations, and Shuttle Train Rapid Transit

flickr-train-luxembourg-bindonlane

DMU train in Luxumbourg. Photo (cc) bindonlane

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.

Rhode Island’s commuter rail service as currently conceived may not be conducive to encouraging ridership. Distances between existing and proposed stations are too far. Much of the focus has been on extending the system further into low-density suburbs. For Rhode Island commuter rail to succeed, more needs to be done to take advantage of existing walkable urban neighborhoods that have a high potential for passengers. Some of these areas have large amounts of commercial/industrial space or development opportunities. Due to Downtown Providence expansion, the rail system will be challenged, as long as there’s no internal downtown high-frequency transit, such as the proposed Core Connector, to directly link rail passengers to the far reaches of downtown.

Rhode Island’s commuter rail doesn’t capitalize on density variations and neighborhood assets of the Providence area. If Rhode Island’s commuter rail functioned as a rapid mass-transit system, besides increasing the number of passengers, it would help to revitalize and expand development opportunities for neighborhoods along the rail line. The implementation of medium frequency shuttle train service within the Rhode Island instate rail corridor would offer predictable headway times at regular intervals that could operate in addition to MBTA commuter and Amtrak trains. Air and intercity train travelers, commuters, and the general public would greatly benefit from this level of service.

A variation to a commuter rail or shuttle train is the German S-bahn or French RER or San Francisco’s BART. An S-bahn type system is usually the same as commuter rail in suburban areas, but differs when it’s within the central urban core, where it has characteristics of a subway or metro. Usually stations within the core zone are located close together at quarter- to half-mile subway station distances and schedule headway times typically fall somewhere in the middle of commuter rail and subway schedules. Depending on the city, central core rail infrastructure can be underground or at grade utilizing existing rail corridors. A hybrid of a shuttle train and an S-bahn might be best for Rhode Island.

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What Cheer/What Jeer 2010

What Cheer/What Jeer was originally supposed to be a monthly, or a quarterly thing, but you know what, it is a lot of work putting a list like this together, so it has become an annual thing. So join us as we take a look back at 2010, What Cheering the good and What Jeering the bad.

whatcheerProvidence River Pedestrian Bridge

Whether you love it or hate it, Providence will soon be getting a new pedestrian bridge over the Providence River. Design firms large and small from around the world entered the competition that led to the winning design. And the competition got people around the city interested in transportation and design.

providence-river-pedestrian-bridge

whatcheerRIPTA

Last year we declared that 2010 would be “The Year of RIPTA” and not to be too smug about it but, we were kinda right.

In December 2009 RIPTA and the City of Providence released the Metro Transit Study, which drew a lot of attention to its proposal to run a streetcar line through Providence. This year, RIPTA embarked on their Core Connector Study, the first step toward bringing streetcars back to Providence. In June, U.S. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood visited Providence and was very excited about our future plans. RIPTA also took delivery of a new fleet of hybrid buses and trolleys in October. This year also saw RIPTA unveil a 5-year plan for the future of transit in Rhode Island. Finally, RIPTA hired a new CEO, Charles Odimgbe. It is early days yet in Mr. Odimgbe’s tenure, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be What Cheered or What Jeered next year.

Certainly all was not good for RIPTA this year, 2010 saw the continuation of an annual tradition wherein RIPTA’s budget falls short resulting in the agency looking to cut routes and/or increase fares. This year they went with increasing fares yet again. Here’s hoping the incoming Governor and General Assembly can work to address the issues surrounding RIPTA’s budget.

whatcheerElection 2010

What an exciting year that was. New Mayor, new Governor, new Congressman from Providence (even if he is a freshman and in the minority party, that’s good for us!), many new City Councilors, Shoveitgate, The Uncaucas, Chris Young… Let’s do that again real soon (well, not too soon).

whatcheerThe Interlink & MBTA to Warwick

October saw the opening of the long awaited Interlink. The skybridge connects T.F. Green Airport to a parking garage, rental car facilities, and a train station via a skybridge with moving sidewalks over Post Road. The Interlink opening was followed in December by the extension of MBTA Commuter Rail service from Providence to the station at the Interlink facility. Next year that service will be expanded and will go further south to a new station currently under construction at Wickford Junction.

Interlink

whatcheerThe Box Office

The Box Office was completed this year. The building, made out of shipping containers brought national attention to Providence within the construction and design communities for its innovative design. Developers from near and far want to replicate the building in their communities.

whatcheerThe Arts

We What Cheered the arts last year, and we’re What Cheering them again this year. Woonsocket’s Riverzedge and Providence’s Community Music Works each took home one of fifteen 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards (after Providence’s New Urban Arts won the same award last year (go Rhody!)). AS220 celebrated their 25th Anniversary this year, commissioned RISD alum Shepard Fairy to create a mural on Aborn Street, and is wrapping up renovation on its third Downcity Building, The Mercantile Block. And basically, art in Providence just continued to be pretty damn awesome. Buy Art!

Last year, we weren’t really in the mood to What Jeer, we had jeered enough I guess. But this year, oh, here go hell come, are you ready? Let’s do it.

whatjeerRIDOT

RIDOT, seriously, you’re killing us here. While we’ve said it time and again, we really like what Director Michael Lewis has to say about not being able to build more highways to end congestion and needing to be multi-modal and what not… the Director’s words have not been matching the agency’s actions.

From the craptacular original design of the Wickenden Street intersection related to the 195 Relocation, to the ridiculous placement of signs on the sidewalk on the Friendship Street bridge, to the utter disregard for any mode other than automobiles in the planning of the new Union Avenue Bridge, and more, RIDOT has proven that they have a long way to go in understanding how to build infrastructure in an urban environment and serve a multi-modal population.

Governor-elect Chafee has decided to keep Director Lewis on at RIDOT, a decision we agree with. Let’s hope that the Director can make the agency’s actions match his own and the Governor’s visions for how our transportation system should look. We’re hoping next year we might be able to What Cheer RIDOT.

whatjeerThe Arcade/35 Weybosset

Though these are separate properties, they are linked in the public consciousness and the destiny of each may best be served by thinking of them together. The What Jeer here is pretty obvious, the Arcade still sits empty and the facade at 35 Weybosset Street remains neglected.

The neglect of the 35 Weybosset facade is the clearest example available of a developer attempting a demolition by neglect, and he is beginning to get a lot of support for that option, though we clearly think there is a better way.

As for the Arcade, we might have to agree with one of our commenters that the best course of action is eminent domain.

whatjeerGrove Street School

Seeing as the Grove Street School’s current owner, Michael Tarro won election to the General Assembly, the school’s future seems more tenuous than ever.

Grove Street School

The good news is, the new City Councilor for Ward 13, Bryan Principe is an ardent supporter of the building. Let’s hope Bryan and the new Mayor can work on an arrangement with Mr. Tarro on the building’s future.

whatjeerCVS

While in the end, CVS agreed to some minor concessions on their initial proposal for a CVS in Edgewood, they’re still basically dropping a box from the sky into the middle of a parking lot. We still don’t know why CVS hates Rhode Island.

whatjeerUnion Wadding Mill Fire

Did they ever catch the bastard who did this? There’s a $10,000 reward you know.

Photo from Pawtucket Foundation Facebook Page

whatjeerParkinglotification

Last year we What Cheered the Smith-Mathewson Building proposed for where the Downcity Diner used to be. This year it is a parking lot. Sigh.

whatjeerAtwells Avenue

As if enduring 14 months of construction at the intersection with Dean Street wasn’t bad enough, at the other end of the Avenue we had a girl who works at a Salon and a City Councilor run down by errant drivers within weeks of each other. We all know which one got the most attention from the media, including us.

After years of people getting hit on Atwells, to the point where those of us who live up there see it as part of life, the hit and run of Councilman Hassett did serve to jolt us all out of our malaise on the topic. After years of inaction we now have some repainted crosswalks, more signs, and a speed bump at the western end of the Avenue (where most of the pedestrians have been struck). Much more needs to be done to improve the safety situation not just on Atwells, but on roads throughout the city.

Let us not fall back into our malaise where we accept people being struck by cars as an inevitable part of city life, it is not. Let us make sure that we follow through on the outrage that followed the Councilman’s injuries and act to do all we can to ensure that it does not happen again.


We could probably go on, but let’s wrap up the What Cheering and What Jeering there. Feel free to add you own in the comments.

Thank you to everyone who reads and contributes to Greater City: Providence. It was a great year discussing the city we all love.

Happy New Year!

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What’s going on with the Dynamo House?

dynamo

More than any other, that is the question I get most asked about. Anything happening with the Dynamo House?

I tell people I know it is firmly planted on the Planning Department’s agenda, the Mayor seems to be concerned about it, but the economy blows. Well, Providence Business News had a little more info yesterday.

Harbor East Development Group LLC is looking to take control of the project from the beleaguered Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse. Like Struever, Harbor East is Baltimore based; they were originally an investor in the Dynamo House project.

The $150 million project has been beset by numerous setbacks, with the latest being the financial implosion of Stuever Bros. We’ve written about Struever’s financial woes before.

The power plant was originally donated to the Heritage Harbor Museum by Narragansset Electric in 1999 and the entire building was to be devoted to the museum. As it became clear that Heritage Harbor could not fund a museum of that size, private investors were brought in to work with them. Eventually settling on a plan that included approximately 150,000 square feet of office space and an Aloft brand hotel.

Currently there is various grant money, state bonds, and historic tax credit money sitting in limbo to go towards funding the project. There are also a gaggle of creditors looking for money for work that has already been done, but was not paid for; putting anyone who takes over the project in a tough position.

The other tough position is making up the rest of the financing. Providence’s office vacancy currently sits at around 21% and the credit markets are what one could call, tight.

Having a big tenant lined up could persuade lenders to open the credit spigots. “We have to [find] a 150,000-square-foot user, or you’re not going to build anything,” [Michael Ricketts, Harbor East's vice president of development] said.

So we currently stand with a new developer in the process of taking over ownership of the property and control of the project. Funds floating around waiting for the project’s future to become clear (though not close to the estimated $150 million needed). A badly bruised Heritage Harbor Museum still looking to make it work. A franchise agreement for an Aloft Hotel on site. And 150,000 square feet of office space needing a tenant.

If anyone knows anyone who is looking for a 150,000 square feet of office space in Providence, have them call Harbor East.

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Providence River Pedestrian Bridge Design Finalists

Last night at City Hall the design finalists for the new Providence River Pedestrian Bridge were unveiled. The designs are on display for public comment at City Hall. They are also online at Flickr (how web2.0 of the city, I like!). Let’s run them down here, but also be sure to visit the links for each design as I am not hyperlinking all that is available to read over on Flickr (and there is a lot!).

WaveNet Bridge

Design Team 1

DesignTeam1Slides_Page_01

DesignTeam1Slides_Page_03

More renderings and detailed information here.

Pedestrian Bridge

Design Team 2

DesignTeam2Slides_Page_3

DesignTeam2Slides_Page_4

More renderings and detailed information here.

Three Pier Bridge

Design Team 3

DesignTeam3Slides_Page_06

DesignTeam3Slides_Page_02

More renderings and detailed information here.

The Uncovered Bridge

Design Team 4

DesignTeam4Slides_Page_07

DesignTeam4Slides_Page_10

More renderings and detailed information here.

Team 5

Design Team 5

DesignTeam5Slides_Page_06

DesignTeam5Slides_Page_07

More renderings and detailed information here.

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Thoughts on the Councilman Hassett hit and run

Atwells Avenue. Image from Google StreetView

First, this goes without saying, but let’s say it because I’m about to get angry. Our thoughts (and I’m sure for those of us that do so, prayers) are with Councilman Hassett and his family and friends, and we hope for nothing but the speediest and fullest recovery for the Councilman and to see him back at work at City Hall soon.

Now’s the part of the post where I start to get angry. First I’m going to get angry at myself. Pedestrian injuries and fatalities are such a common place occurrence around here, and the section of Atwells where the Councilman was hit is among the most common, that I barely think about it anymore. It is simply part of the landscape. Like changing leaves, or students coming back to town.

The Journal reports:

The accident was the second severe mishap on that part of Atwells in five days.

A week ago, Brittany DeQuattro, whose home address the police withheld, suffered leg fractures and severe head cuts on her 22nd birthday when she got out of a parked car and was struck by the eastbound car of a hit-and-run driver in front of 422 Atwells. DeQuattro was hospitalized for a time and Zienowicz said she is expected to fully recover. The incident remains under investigation.

The scene is near the intersection of Atwells and Marcello Street, where a car driven by an off-duty policeman on a rainy night in December 2005 struck and killed a young woman pedestrian. The policeman was not criminally charged.

In October, Ericka Manzo, 25, was seriously injured near 216 Atwells when she was struck by a car driven by an allegedly drunken man as she crossed the street at about 1 a.m. The man was criminally charged in the hit-and-run accident.

People have been talking for years about the need for safety improvements along Atwells, where the speed limit is 25. After the 2005 fatality, the city did install more speed-limit signs.

That list does not include the elderly gentleman who jumped the sidewalk and slammed into the facade of Siena last Tuesday (thankfully no one on the sidewalk or in the restaurant were hurt).

Photo by Jim Beller

It also does not mention the person who was struck earlier this year prompting then Council-candidate Steven Meresi to get Traffic Engineering to install a crosswalk at the western end of Atwells, not far from where the Councilman was struck.

See what I mean? It happens all the time, one eventually gets outrage fatigue and I’m suffering from a severe case of it. I’m tired of being tired of hearing about people being run down in the streets and now I’m angry.

I’m also angry at the rest of the media. Of course the reaction to a City Councilor being struck by a car will be different than a private citizen as far as the media is concerned. More people know the Councilor, so it is a bigger story, we all know what a City Councilor is even if we don’t know the specific person. So it is a big story, OK. But look back up at that list from the Journal, someone in the newsroom could have picked up on that years ago and made a bigger deal of it.

I’m also angry with the City Council and the Mayor. The Journal goes on to write:

Lombardi said he asked Mayor David N. Cicilline’s staff to spend federal aid under the Obama economic stimulus bill on traffic-calming measures on Atwells but was told that the work was “not shovel-ready” and did not qualify. Lombardi insisted that preparation had been made and it did qualify.

“Obviously, [traffic] enforcement would be nice there, too,” he said. “People pick up speed. It’s difficult to see at night.”

It is no secret that the Mayor and Lombardi are not exactly friends. Somehow Steven Meresi, who at that point was just a regular citizen, got Traffic Engineering to install a crosswalk within days of someone else being struck, but Lombardi has not been able to get any serious action in decades in office. Was Cicilline playing politics with people’s lives? Was Lombardi not trying hard enough to rectify a deadly situation? I’ll let you dear reader be the judge.

I’m also angry with Traffic Engineering. The Councilor and the Mayor should not even have had the opportunity to bicker over this issue, Traffic Engineering should have identified the problem (or PPD should have identified it for them), and worked up a solution. If not to engineer roadways so that people are not struck down on a regular basis, then what is Traffic Engineering for? I will be asking the next Mayor to look into Traffic Engineering, determine what their function should be, and urge him to work to make them more effective.

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All at once, or slow and steady. How to develop the Route 195 land?


Rendering by Kohn Pedersen Fox via The Architect’s Newspaper

Seemingly (and perhaps literally) since before I was born, Boston has been attempting to redevelop the area across Fort Point Channel from downtown. The Fan Pier area and what is now being called, Seaport Square. Over the decades plan after plan has been proposed and approved only to fall through.

To be sure, some development has indeed happened in the Seaport District, the new Convention Center, associated hotels, office buildings, the new home of the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Federal Court House at Fan Pier, and more have all been developed in the last 20 years. And the city still persists in trying to get some large scale masterplan off the ground for the largest parcels that sit between the city’s core and the nascent development that has occurrured more organically so far.

Boston’s Mayor Menino is billing the Seaport District as an “innovation district,” just as Mayor Cicilline is proposing a “knowledge district” on our city’s Route 195 land and through the Jewelry District. The Seaport District is also touted as being a nationally unique opportunity for the redevelopment of so much land so close to an existing urban core, sound familiar?

The Architect’s Newspaper reports on the approval of the latest masterplan, the $3 billion, 23-acre, 20 block, 22 building, 6.3 million square foot Seaport Square project.

Though no architects have been chosen yet, the first phase is slated to start in late 2011 with apartment buildings and an Innovation Center incubator. The Master Plan approach has allowed the city to look at the neighborhood holistically and decide what ingredients were important, such as pedestrian connections and open space. But as anyone who knows Boston will remind you, we’ve been here before, many times over the last quarter century.

While the plan’s approval is encouraging, city officials are wary of getting left with acres of vacant sites should the development stall out. Indeed, Boston Global Investors CEO John Hynes III played a lead role in a condo and office tower on the site of the former Filene’s department store in nearby Downtown Crossing—a project that notoriously stalled after demolition and excavation in 2008. According to BRA director John Palmieri, the authority has since made final approval of developments contingent on a confidential review of project financing.

Though I’m not painting a pretty picture of the masterplanned approach, that is the question for discussion here. With our economy still possibly years from solid recovery, should we spend that recovery period working on a masterplan for the Route 195 land, or do we want a more organic approach, as each parcel is developed, we review it individually, and figure out how best to fit it into what has been developed prior?

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Coastway Community Bank on Washington Street


Rendering by Saccoccio & Associates Architects

Back in March Coastway Community Bank first appeared before the DRC to seek permission to renovate the old Washington trust location on Washington Street and move from their Greene Street location. I saw some renderings around that time, Coastway was back at DRC that April, then I heard nothing about it and had pretty much forgotten about it.

Well, this week work started up on the project.


Photo by Jef Nickerson

As you can see, they are doing a pretty major gut job on the building, but my understanding is that what you see in the rendering above will be built within the hollowed out shell of the existing building, so not a total demo. To recall what the building looked like, here’s a photo from late 2008 just after Washington Trust moved out.

Old Washington Trust Bank

It is so long ago that I saw that first rendering that I can’t really recall if this is changed at all from their original vision (I want to say it is). Either way, I think this is an improvement on the existing building for sure and have no problem with it. It’s not knocking my sox off, but I like it.

The building with more glass is more urban-friendly. Really, in an urban building, you want a lot of glass on the ground floor (DRC actually has rules about the amount of glass needed on new construction). The glass let’s the light and activity inside the building translate to the street and help animate and light the street.

Now of course we’re talking about a bank here, so the animation will end with bankers hours and will likely be nonexistent most of the weekend. But we can probably safely assume that there will be some lighting at night, both inside and likely on the facade, so it will at least alleviate the dark hole which is the current building.

It is also nice to see landscaping of the parking lot adjacent to the building. That particular arrangement of trees and shrubs could just be the renderist* making the drawing look pretty, but there is a landscape architect (Gates, Leighton & Associates, Inc.) listed on the sign outside the building, so I assume there is some green going in there (and knowing several members of the DRC, I assume that was something they insisted on).

So another bank, ho-hum, but an improvement to the streetscape and another vacant building put to use, I’ll let myself be satisfied with that.

*Did I make up renderist as a job title, or is that an actual thing? One who draws renderings?

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A New Vision for Kennedy Plaza

A number of people have been working on this for some time, I’ve been to a few charrettes and meetings, and the vision is pretty exciting, take a look at the videos and express what you think in the comments:

Produced by Friends of Kennedy Plaza and Coalition for Community Development, this video presents a new vision for the Greater Kennedy Plaza in Downtown Providence, Rhode Island. For more information please visit KennedyPlaza.org

Image compilation, renderings and voice over by Russ Preston of Cornish Associates, Providence, RI.

I encourage you to use the Full Screen option to better see the drawings and images.

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New York\’s Quality of Life Agenda

Yes, yes, I know. Providence is not New York, it is hard to compare. But all of these initiatives are things that can and should be scaled to Providence.

Look at this Times Square statistic again, there was a ten-to-one ratio of pedestrians to cars, yet 90% of the space was devoted to cars. No place in Providence is Times Square, but places like Atwells Avenue, Thayer Street, Kennedy Plaza, Elmwood Avenue, Broad Street, etc. are certainly given over more to cars than to the pedestrians that actually are using the space.

The biggest take-away for me, is that these changes have happened in 3 years. I attend a lot of meetings around the city and I am seriously to the point now where I feel like we have too many meetings, too much public input. We’re taking in circles at this point. When the loudest people showing up to the meetings are the ones that will never be happy with anything, it is no wonder we never get anything done. Of course, it would help a lot if agencies like RIDOT would actually present palatable plans from the get go, and if rules and regulations were actually enforced so we did not all the time feel like we had to come out and fight against things.

That talking in circles and getting nowhere is changing a bit though, the Pedestrian Bridge is on a major fast track schedule, and the Core Connector Study is also moving along rapidly. Both of those projects have external forces making their schedules move. The ped bridge needs to be done within the timeframe of the Iway project, and the Core Connector Study in part has use-it-or-loose-it stimulus money.

Let’s hope our next Mayor, like Bloomberg has done in New York, can present and sell a vision and can engage the people who want to see change, so that the naysayers are not the ones monopolizing public discussion, so we can get some stuff done around here.

Via: Urbanophile

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Elmwood Avenue Enhancement Report

From Community Works Rhode Island comes the Elmwood Avenue Enhancement Report . RIDOT has been planning for the rebuilding of Elmwood Avenue, and their proposals were typical RIDOT move as many cars as possible in the least amount of time designs. Community Works and others got out ahead of RIDOT and asked the community what they wanted and came up with this report which incorporates many Complete Streets paradigms and takes into account not just the automobile traffic, but pedestrians, cyclists, school children, open space, and the needs of the residents of the neighborhood.

From Community Works:

As many of you are aware, Community Works Rhode Island has been working with neighbors, elected officials and RIDOT for several years to make sure that the upcoming re-pavement of Elmwood Avenue meets the needs of this community. Starting in 2005, we held numerous public design meetings to create neighborhood-based recommendations for improving Elmwood as our neighborhood main street and historic Avenue. Through our meetings, it became clear that the neighborhood priorities are to make the Avenue a safer place to walk and bike, a more appealing place to do business, and a greener, more accessible route to Roger Williams Park, including “bringing the elms back to Elmwood.”

After much work by our elected officials, especially Senator Juan Pichardo, many neighbors and local organizations and our landscape design consultant L+A Landscape Architecture, we are pleased to release the final report of recommendations that was created out of this lengthy process. This report was delivered to RIDOT this week. Community Works Rhode Island will continue to advocate for the recommendations of the report as RIDOT moves forward with their design process for the Avenue, and asks for your support in distributing the report to the larger community and advocating for the recommendations.

Community Works Rhode Island thanks all of you who participated in the process over the years, and looks forward to continuing to work together to transform Elmwood Avenue.

The report looks at the street as a whole, but divides it into seperate areas with different needs. The southern end is the “Bikeway to the Park” with seperated bike lanes and enhancements to the roadway to slow highspeed traffic and allow for a better environment for cyclists and pedestrians, with an emphasis on making a pleasant experience for people heading to Roger Williams Park.

In the area around the Knight Library and Gilbert Stewart Middle School there is a “Hyper Zone” which makes large scale interventions to slow traffic and increase the safety of children in the area. Techniques such as raised cosswalks, textured pavement, and corner bump outs are recommended.

A pedestrianization scheme is recommended for Columbus Square (the area where Reservoir Avenue splits off Elmwood). Northbound traffic on Reservoir would be diverted to Adelaide Avenue making a right angle intersection with Elmwood instead of the highspeed race to make the green light and merge which happens now (we’ve all done it). Atlantic Avenue, immediately south of the triangular park, would be closed to traffic and pedestrianized, making the park connect to the block to the south and having it now function as a usable public space, and not as a glorified traffic island as it is now. Other pedestrian enhancements are recommended.

As is the case in Olneyville, Elmwood and South Elmwood are neighborhoods with a low level of car ownership and a high level of transit use. The current configuration of Columbus Square is all about the car and even the retail in the area is auto oriented, if not shops that sell things for cars, or sell actual cars, they are shops set back from the street with massive parking lots not at all catering to the many people in the community who arrive on foot. A better pedestrianized Columbus Square will encourage retails to cater to pedestrians and will attract new development that is suitable to the neighborhood.

I encourage you to download the full report and review it for yourself. It is a good template for other street redesigns in the city. If you support the report’s recommendations, especially if you live in the study area, be sure to contact RIDOT and let them know.

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