Greater City Providence

PPAC Square

PPAC Square

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Today the Mayor’s Office held a press conference announcing the designation of the intersection of Weybosset and Mathewson Streets as “PPAC Square.” This is part of the larger Downtown Circulator Project.

Speakers included the Mayor, Director of Planning and Development Thom Deller, Joe Walsh the Chairman of the PPAC Board, and Laurie White of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

ppac-square-signDeller noted that the Circulator Project first started as an analysis of converting traffic to two-way flow back in 1997 after being recommended by Andres Duany’s charrette. As mentioned in our previous post, Phase I was Washington Street, Phase II is Weybosset and Empire, and the city hopes to breakground on Phase III, LaSalle and Emmett Squares and adjacent roadways later this year.

Walsh thanked then Senator, now Governor Chafee for securing a $750k grant to make the project possible, PPAC made a 20% contribution to that grant.

I spoke with Deller about the comfort station to clear up the confusion of other reports. He said the tower at the front of the comfort station will be maintained in the traffic median outside PPAC (you can see this in the drawings accompanying this post). At the back of the tower will be a low wall to mimic the original station. Originally, the comfort station was simply the tower, with a low wall seperating stairs that led seperately to mens and ladies restrooms underground.

When the station was closed, in the mid-70’s the section immediately behind the tower was built to cover the stairs. Later, in the early 90’s the back structure, which until recently had been a police substation, was built. Those modern additions will be removed.


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Westminster Street, Olneyville Square, and Broadway

Also announced at the press conference were streetscape improvements, including trees and decorative lighting, for Westminster Street on the West Side and Olneyville Square.

Finally, the Broadway project to repair sidewalks and install bike lanes was officially announced.

Further details on all the projects in this Press Release from the Mayor’s Office:


Three major projects will enhance downtown and portions of West End and Federal Hill

PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Angel Taveras held a press conference and celebration today to rename the intersection of Weybosset Street and Mathewson Street in the heart of Downtown Providence’s Arts & Entertainment District as PPAC Square, in honor of the Providence Performing Arts Center’s contributions to the City.

Mayor Taveras also announced details of the Downtown Providence Traffic Circulation Improvements Project and two other streetscape and roadway enhancement projects currently underway. These projects will provide significant enhancements to areas of the West End, Olneyville and Federal Hill.

“I am very pleased to honor the Providence Performing Arts Center for its great contributions to our city’s cultural life. PPAC Square is the centerpiece of a major construction project that will improve Providence’s Arts & Entertainment District, enhance the streetscape and create two-way traffic on Weybosset and Empire Streets,” Mayor Taveras said. “Providence is the economic and cultural hub for our state, and it’s vitally important that we make visiting, working and living in Providence even better.”

The Mayor was joined for today’s celebration by Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White, Joseph W. Walsh, Esq., chairman of the PPAC Board of Trustees, Providence Planning & Development Director Thomas Deller and members of Downtown Providence’s business and arts communities.

Together, the construction projects will repave roadways and sidewalks, upgrade traffic signals and signs, and install ornamental lights, trees, planters, a bike lane, bike racks and other public amenities throughout the city.

The Downtown Providence Traffic Circulation Improvements Phase II project began on April 7 and is scheduled to continue through the end of the year. The $5.5 million project will restore two-way traffic on Weybosset Street and Empire Street for the first time since the 1970s, and significantly reconfigure and enhance the area of Weybosset Street in front of the Providence Performing Art Center.

Traffic will be reconfigured as two-way on Weybosset Street from Empire Street to Dorrance Street, and on Empire Street between Fountain Street and Weybosset Street. On Empire Street, two lanes will be created heading south toward Weybosset Street and one lane headed north toward Fountain Street. The driving lanes will be about 12 feet wide, which is the standard width for downtown driving lanes. Curbside parking will be maintained on both sides of Empire Street, with parking spaces reconfigured from diagonal to parallel on the east side of the street.

In PPAC Square, a dedicated drop-off lane will be installed in front of the landmark arts venue, and the historic tower of the comfort station will be restored and relocated to a new median island in the center of Weybosset Street. Streets and sidewalks in the square will be replaced, and 25 new trees, granite planters, bike racks, ornamental bollards, new benches, and ornamental streetlights installed.

“PPAC was pleased to collaborate with the City of Providence to bring this significant project to fruition. The enhancements to PPAC Square will improve the theater experience for our patrons and benefit the entire Providence Arts & Entertainment District,” said Joseph W. Walsh, Esq., chairman of the PPAC Board of Trustees.

The $5.5 million project includes $4.7 million in federal aid, including $700,000 in matching funds from the state and a $937,500 appropriation secured by PPAC for improvements at the intersection of Mathewson and Weybosset Streets. An additional $800,000 was procured via a Providence Public Building Authority bond.

Phase I of the Downtown Providence Traffic Circulation Improvements project, which involved reconfiguring traffic on Washington Street to two-way, was completed in 2004. Phase II was stalled for several years by funding procurement and design delays.

“We applaud the city’s commitment to making these improvements and for fostering collaboration among many to provide improved access to the high quality arts and cultural activities Providence has for resident and visitors,” said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. “It’s through continued collaboration that we have enhanced the heritage of our Capital City while positioning Downtown Providence as a competitive arts, business and residential center of the region.”

In the West End and Olneyville, the Streetscape Enhancements to Westminster Street and Olneyville Square project will continue through December. Work will restart in spring 2012 for completion in late July 2012.

The project will include installation of new ornamental lights along Westminster Street, the planting of new trees on Manton Avenue and in Olneyville Square, sidewalk reconstruction and the installation of a new median island and traffic signal upgrades at the intersection of Westminster Street and Cranston Street.

Traffic signal replacement and coordination in Olneyville Square and at the intersection of Westminster and Barton Streets is expected to alleviate traffic congestion in those areas.

The $4.4 million project includes $3.3 million in federal stimulus funds, $560,000 of federal Community Development Block Grant funds and $590,000 in other federal aid.

In the city’s third major construction project, the Broadway Road and Traffic Signal Improvements project will upgrade and coordinate the traffic signals on Broadway and add a striped bike lane in each direction on Broadway, repave Broadway and the intersection of Pocasset Avenue and Plainfield Street, and replace existing sidewalks in poor condition on Broadway.

The $1.8 million project, which is being paid for with federal highway funds, is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2011.

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.


  • The signal arms and streetlamps dominate. It may just be the rendering, but the design looks like someone left too many knickknacks on the coffee table.

    Efforts were made to create paving patterns to distinguish between pedestrian and less active automotive uses from the active roadway. It might have been a stronger statement, if the sidewalks on both sides of Weybosset were related in material to each other, since the most generous pedestrian space in the square is across the street from PPAC. It’s still too bad that the comfort station will be reduce its tower|the restroom memorial.

    Who wants to bet that the PPAC drop-off will be used to avoid the traffic light to speed through the intersection?

  • I wish we could find a better way to stop people from crossing the road when the light turns green.

  • Peter:

    I thought you’d be all over this from the press release:

    On Empire Street, two lanes will be created heading south toward Weybosset Street and one lane headed north toward Fountain Street. The driving lanes will be about 12 feet wide, which is the standard width for downtown driving lanes.

  • Jef: You made me laugh, I missed it.

    Why 12 feet especially for the two lanes headed in the same direction, which could be 11 feet each. Besides the highway standard, I guess the rational might be that there is such a high frequency of signals downtown, pretty much every block, few will get to a speed that is dangerous.

  • I fail to see how this is a “square”. They widened the road to make it easier for vehicles passing through downtown and they’re pretending they created some sort of incredible civic space for the people of Providence.

  • In Worcester, almost every intersection seems to be dedicated as a square of some sort. I don’t think “square” really has that much meaning.

  • its a shame all that space in front of PPAC isnt a pedestrian space instead of being an auto court for a few hours a week. at least make it a woonerf or shared space that can made into a drop off for those few hours a week and a public space the rest of the time, but if so those obstructing bollards will have to go. and please kill that left turn lane and shift that space over for more public space for people. way too much space here being devoted to auto traffic.

    the lanes are 2 feet too wide at 12′

    ncg, aren’t most of the intersections downtown marked as squares, i forget the name of the one at weybosset/dorrance but theres a sign for it.

  • I think I’m the only person in town who digs this project and likes the design. I do wish that they had stolen a foot from each lane and given it to the sidewalk in front of PPAC, but beyond that I really like it.

  • I also like this project. I think it will help beautify a part of downtown that’s currently not all that beautiful. I do agree that the driving lanes should be narrower. I also have to wonder if PPAC will be closing off their little driveway when it should not be used. That would be ideal. Otherwise, yes, people will fly through there to avoid the traffic light.

    With regard to “squares”, there are tons of intersections all over the city that have been dedicated as a square. Some of these make sense as public squares, some do not. Many are just residential intersections.

  • I believe the project should be re-evaluated to make sure it is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and street standards for crosswalks.

    I can’t imagine it is acceptable to have crosswalks pass through a loading zone before they reach the refuge of a sidewalk as is required of the crosswalks between Mathewson Street and PPAC. Even if it were able to withstand a legal challenge, noone can defend it as good practice.

    Can you imagine being wheelchair bound (or even on foot), having a nice pre-performance dinner at Local 121, making your way down Mathewson, and then having to negotiate a loading zone teeming with parked and moving cars in front of PPAC ? This is awful urban design.

  • Ada, I agree with the crosswalk situation. If the PPAC drop-off is considered a “public way”, then it needs to have crosswalks across it and curb cuts to receive those crosswalks with the proper detectable warning panels.

    Also, what is the little drop off thingy between Snow Street and Richmond Street?

  • Adam … and no vehicles can park within 10′ or so of the crosswalk zone – which will then defeat the purpose of the country club dropoff altogether.

    Does shared space get around this ? If so, do all the crosswalks have to be removed ?

  • I don’t think a drop-off area is actually considered as on-street parking, or else that would be true.

    It’s just sort of an odd set-up if you ask me.

  • The most comparable similar conditions are at Kennedy Plaza and at the Biltmore.

    At Kennedy Plaza, the crosswalks (from Bank of America, for instance) cross Fulton and continue as delineated crosswalks through the plaza and no buses parking is designated on the crosswalks. This is as it should be I think.

    At the Biltmore front entry drop-off, the configuration is similar to PPAC Square … except the crosswalks are at the corners. Hard to imagine a safe passage through that dropoff area on a busy night in the rain or snow … and the PPAC country club dropoff is much smaller and tighter than the Biltmore …

  • at 1:20 the plan now shows delineated crosswalks through the country club dropoff at PPAC …

  • I would love to see retractable bollards in the “drop-off lane.” These would make that space totally inaccessible to vehicles except during the hours before and after a show, perhaps. That would allow the space in the lane to be a safe pedestrian area and prevent people from succumbing to the temptation of using it as a passing lane.

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