Greater City Providence

REBOOT: College Hill Transit Sub-Hub Part 2

Tunnel portal at Thayer Street. Photo by Jef Nickerson.

REBOOT is an occasional series of posts on GC:PVD where we identify areas of the city that display poor urbanism and propose ways to improve them. Our interventions may be simple and quite easily realized, or they may at times be grand and possibly take years or decades to complete. Either way, we hope they generate interest and discussion.

Last month I looked at some options for what a new transit sub-hub with streetcars could look like on College Hill. After some discussion in that post, and off-site, reader Peter Brassard has created some CAD drawings of some options.

Option 1

College Hill Sub-Hub Option 1
Click image to enlarge

The first option keeps the streetcars in the tunnel portal with a switch to allow them to change directions inside the tunnel. The buses move back outside the tunnel to platforms for inbound and outbound service on Thayer Street on either side of the portal.

A drawback to this is the streetcars are changing tracks inside the tunnel blocking other bus traffic while the switch is made. The switch should be able to be made relatively quickly, but it is cumbersome.

Option 2

College Hill Sub-Hub Option 2
Click image to enlarge

In option 2, the streetcars leave the tunnel, cross Thayer and have platforms across the street. This option requires the removal of the strip plaza at the corner of Thayer and Waterman to make room for the rails and platforms. That removal would require eminent domain unless the owners were willing to sell. The strip plaza is poor urban form with parking between it and the street and that parking lot creates a pedestrian safety hazard now.

This strip plaza on Thayer Street will need to be removed to make way for a Fones Alley Transitway. Photo by Jef Nickerson.

The buses continue to utilize platforms on Thayer Street. Buses could I suppose stop in the tunnel portal the way they do now, but this would force streetcars to wait behind buses letting off passengers.

The streetcar line dead-ending in Fones Alley means that any future extension of the streetcar line may require the abandonment of this infrastructure. Though it could still be put into use for streetcars that do a short run in the future or as storage. Residents of Allston, MA may remember the Brighton Avenue stub at Packards corner being used to store trolleys before that stub was removed.

Option 3

College Hill Sub-Hub Option 3
Click image to enlarge

This option is the first to push the transitway all the way through the block to Brook Street. Extending the transitway to Brook Street will require the demolition or removal of the house that current sits at the corner of Brook and Fones.

This house at the corner of Fones Alley and Brook Street would need to be removed to make way for a transitway through-block from Thayer Street. Photo Jef Nickerson

In addition to the house which might need to be removed, there are other access issues to be addressed if Fones is to be made a transitway.

Photo by Jef Nickerson

The people who park in these garages would either need to be allowed access to the transitway to access their garages, or the garages would need to be taken. I think the minimal impact these cars may make to the transitway would be far less than the heartburn of trying to eminent domain the garages.

Photo by Jef Nickerson

On the other side of the alley we have this surface parking behind the buildings fronting Waterman Street. Now, perhaps if the property lines work out right, there is room for the transitway and the property owners could be told they are S.O.L. on accessing parking any longer. However there is currently an alley behind the strip plaza which runs out to Waterman which could be put into use to access this surface parking.

Photo by Jef Nickerson

In a perfect world of course, the people who park here would renounce their cars and turn these parking spaces into lovely gardens.

Extending the transitway through-block allows for longer platforms allowing for more than one vehicle to be boarding at a time. The center track for the streetcars to change tracks is moved back. Access for buses is allowed from Brook Street.

Bus platforms remain at Thayer Street as in the other options. Peter’s measurements indicate that buses would have trouble making turns from and to Angell and Waterman onto Brook and into the transitway.

Brook Street between Angell and Waterman Streets. Photo by Jef Nickerson

I think some re-engineering of Brook Street will fix this issue and allow buses to utilize this transitway. Brook has a bit of room to make it slightly wider, sidewalks can be pushed back on the east side of the street. It might also help to make Brook be one way northbound (Thayer is one way southbound) with a southbound transit only lane as far as the transitway. Making the street one way reduces the number of cars in the intersection between Angell and Waterman and controlling one way traffic would be simpler from an engineering standpoint.

Option 4

College Hill Sub-Hub Option 4
Click image to enlarge

The 4th option features a central platform in the tranistway and looks at the streetcars continuing along Fones Alley to Hope Street, at which point they would return to the streets. The extension through to Hope presents issues of many more abutters utilizing the alley. That portion of the transitway would have to be open to these abutters. Even with the abutters using the alley, streetcars will be able to better use the alley without interruption than they would Angell and Waterman Streets.

Fones Alley looking toward Hope Street. Photo by Jef Nickerson

UPDATE: Peter sent me drawings for the “Loop” option discussed in the comments below, let’s call it Option 5:

Option 5

College Hill Sub-Hub Option 5
Click image to enlarge

In this option, streetcars would come through the tunnel with platforms either at the top of the tunnel portal, or platforms on Thayer Street just outside the tunnel. Streetcars would loop Waterman to Brook to Angell, back to Thayer and into the tunnel. A siding would need to be created somewhere on the loop to allow streetcars to lay over. Future expansions would be possible eastbound along Waterman and Angell and northbound along Brook and Thayer to Hope.

In Part 3 we will look at current transit service through the area, and envision what transit service through the area could look like in the future.

Related: REBOOT: College Hill Transit Sub-Hub

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.


  • I should probably reiterate that I have not talked to anyone at RIPTA about specific plans for this sub-hub and these concepts are just that. Concepts that could be possible.

  • What about the option of making Thayer transit-only in that area? It seems that a pedestrian mall could be a good solution.

  • A pedestrian mall didn’t work on Westminster St. downtown back in the ’60s and ’70s. It would be detrimental to the already struggling Thayer St.

    What about an option to extend the transit tunnel under Thayer St. and creating points of entry to platforms on either side of Thayer possibly turning the strip plaza into an access point to an extended tunnel.

  • A tunnel extension under Thayer is one of the concepts I outlined in Part 1. It would be expensive, especially due to ADA compliance needing either elevators or space for large ramp structures. I like the idea, but think a surface option is more realistic.

  • I like the idea of extending the line to the end of Fones Alley at Hope Street. It would be a much easier walk to and from Wayland Square as well as the many medical buildings along Waterman. From what i can see in the aerials it looks like many of the properties between Brook and hope have street access to the back parking.

    It may be unconventional but how about just a single track from either Thayer or Brook to Hope Street. Its only a two block run. A streetcar could probably make the run up and back before another car arrived from downtown. At worst it might have to wait at a Thayer St. platform for a few minutes.

    You might also look at looping the line up Hope to Lloyd and back down Thayer to the tunnel. No need to run the car back on the existing line and it would provide access to the Brown Athletic complex, Wheeler School, Moses Brown and a only be short walk to Hope High.

  • I’m not sure a mostly pedestrian-ized Thayer Street should be completely ruled out as an option.

    Contrary to the current myth, the Westminster Mall was enormously successful in the 60s and the first couple of years of the 70s. The mall was packed with pedestrians of all kinds from shopping housewives to businessmen to students. What undermined the Westminster and Unions Malls, as well as all of downtown, was the development of retail in the suburbs. Downtown retailers simply didn’t compete with suburban malls. Most of the week cities stores closed at 5:30 or so, while the malls were open until 10:00 and you had to pay for parking while it was free to park in the suburbs. Downtown Pawtucket a booming retail district in the 60s suffered the same fate; they refused to compete when they had the advantage.

    There are plenty of successful examples of pedestrian streets in Europe and Japan, not to mention the 16th Street Mall in Denver and Lincoln Road in South Beach, most of which are center around or integrated with transit. Providence is still stuck in an auto-centric mindset believing that retail can only be successful if you are able to see a store as you drive by in your car. No one drives by stores in a shopping mall and they seem to be successful.

  • How about just having the streetcar line make the loop. Thayer to Waterman, to Brook, to Angell, back to Thayer and back into the tunnel.

    Might be the least expensive and easiest to implement. This option would also make future expansion in any direction easier.

  • Yes, taking Option 1, where the stop is in the tunnel portal, then looping the rails around the block would be a viable option, and would be the preferred loop option in my opinion. I think the most likely, and best future extension is to Wayland Square (I’ll write more about that in Part 3), so a loop to the north would not be preferred in my opinion.

    The streetcars will need someplace along the loop to layover as that is one of the goals of the sub-hubs, allowing drivers to rest at the end of the line, clean cars, change drivers, catch up to the schedule, etc. A siding of some sort will have to allow the streetcars to get out of the way while they are laying over. Brown could possibly free up some land along Waterman behind the SciLi for this.

    View Larger Map

    Brown would need to maintain access to their loading docks here, but that could be accomplished while still allowing room for streetcars to layover.

  • Sometimes the simplest solution is the easiest to miss from the start. The loop makes the most sense both from and expense and implementation standpoint. The loop could also extend to Hope or a “T” intersection could bring streetcars from both Thayer and Angell to the tunnel platforms.

  • It would be nice if a future expansion would loop thru Wayland Square out to Blackstone Blvd and back up along Hope to Thayer. A line like that could just about eliminate the need for buses on that part of the East Side.

  • Looking more closely at the photo of the bus exiting the tunnel, it might be uncomfortably tight to install platforms within the tunnel approach, unless the retaining walls are shifted away.

  • Yes, I agree, especially if we ever run streetcars as two attached vehicles. I don’t think we want the streetcars stopping on an incline.

  • Peter sent me a new drawing of the Loop option. I’ve added it to the bottom of the original post above as Option 5.

  • That looks good. Not sure the if there is a good place for the hub. I think a taking of the shopping center land along with the loop might create a nice outdoor space. Eliminate the parking from Fones to Waterman and a nice plaza could be made of out of the block. As previously stated there may be some benefit to restricting thru traffic and move toward a more pedestrian friendly space. You still may be able to provide for parking between Angell and Fones. It looks like there are about 12-15 street spaces between Angell and Waterman.

  • I like the loop a lot. It is proactive in that is makes future expansion easy to implement, doesn’t require eminant domain which is costly and often controversial, and seems simple, which is usually the best approach for anything in RI that has a chance of actually happening. I think RIPTA should save money and hire us to do the basic strategy and design!!! Nice work Peter.

  • Compared to the loop, the streetcars will operate faster and interfere less with other traffic if the line runs through Fones Alley to Hope St. There the tracks can jog to and from Waterman and Angell streets when the route extends to Wayland Sq.

    Pedestrianizing Thayer does not seem necessary to me. I say divert thru traffic away from Thayer so that only drivers whose destination is Thayer would be driving there. Add market-rate metered parking and bulbouts. It will be much nicer for people walking or hanging around or riding the #42 without the routine traffic jam.

    Comment #3: The only “struggling” I ever noticed in connection with Thayer St. are the struggles any reasonably successful business will have when its rent gets doubled or worse.

Providence, RI
5:14 am8:12 pm EDT
Feels like: 72°F
Wind: 7mph SSW
Humidity: 57%
Pressure: 29.86"Hg
UV index: 3
64°F / 50°F
73°F / 54°F
79°F / 57°F