Greater City Providence

Reader Rant: Urban design by traffic engineers

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Update: This project was done by the City without the involvement of RIDOT, which makes the entire situation worse actually.

Urban Design by RIDOT! Was the City complicit? I’m almost at a loss for words about the thoughtlessness in locating a new traffic signal control box within a public plaza in Olneyville Square. If this happened in Wayland Square instead, there would be protest demonstrations. The photos speak for themselves regarding alignment and adjacencies to building frontages and the information kiosk. How many 10’s of thousands or dollars did they spend on this piece of junk? Is this urban design by traffic engineers? This is as bad as when they place signal arm pole bases in the center of sidewalks so that people have to walk in the street. There should be a law against this. Or better yet the Design Review Commission should review all RIDOT installations within the City. Since Olneyville is a less affluent neighborhood, I suppose we should expect this new control box to sit where it is for the next 40 or 50 years. I guess the consolation is that there are new fake old streetlights.

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  • You don’t need to have too many brain cells to rub together to come up with the idea of placing the traffic control box where the information kiosk is and making the traffic control box do double duty as an information kiosk. I mean, I just thought of it!

  • Also, I once suggested at a RIDOT meeting that they put the traffic control boxes in the auto travel lane rather than the sidewalk and the speaker from RIDOT did not understand the point I was trying to make and insisted people could walk around the traffic control boxes. I pointed out that cars have steering wheels and should be able to maneuver around a box in the travel lane just as well.

  • No expense too great for the convenience of drivers. No expense small enough for the convenience of pedestrians.

    Where is the merchant association in all of this?

  • Sigh. I guess the Traffic Engineers’ Code of Symmetry demands this kind of placement in the middle of the sidewalk.

    Jef’s suggestion that the control boxes be placed in the middle of the traffic lane makes too much sense to be considered “snarky.” After all, they are there to regulate automobile traffic, so why not make the controlees have to deal with them instead of harassing passing pedestrians.

    On a happier note:
    The laughable triple-sign barrier across the sidewalk at the western end of the Clifford St. I-95 overpass (pictured in GCPVD a year or so ago) has actually been re-positioned. Probably at significant cost.

  • Traffic engineers don’t see the pedestrian as a valid concern. It’s evident in 90% of the roadway design in the State of Rhode Island.

  • I think the traffic engineers are just getting even with the pedestrians for placing their damn crosswalks in the middle of their roads.

  • If no one from Oneyville will contact their elected officials over this then things like this will go on forever, The writer is correct in other neighborhoods people would not just walk on by.

  • You can call the RIDOT Director’s Office at (401) 222-2481, ext. 4001 for the Assistant to the Director (, ext. 4003 for the Assistant to the Deputy Director (
    Public Affairs is (401) 222-1362, or email
    The Chief Engineer’s Office is (401) 222-2492, and the relevant Deputy Chiefs are (401) 222-2023, (401) 222-2694, and (401) 222-2468. Traffic Management is at (401) 222-5826.

    I’m just going to leave that here for you guys. After all, it’d be dangerously irresponsible if I suggested you anything untoward with this information, like say coordinating persistent daily mass phone calls/spamming their inboxes with complaints until the offending control signal goes away.

    Yeah. That’d be bad, which is why I’m definitely not suggesting it.

    Good luck not doing this thing that I just told you not to do!

  • Someone else shared this on Facebook, and here is a comment I made on her post about (I was talking to someone from Planning who commented before me):

    Indeed, it is something that the BPAC should assess. It seems to simply be a RIDOT or City Traffic Engineering division example of design strictly to code. I’m sure RIDOT would claim that the minimum clearance by code exists between that Control Box and everything around it as they often claim when things like this came up. As I commented in the post, the obvious thing to do would be to put the control box where that information kiosk is and make the control box into an information kiosk (then move the existing information kiosk somewhere else). However, it is not in RIDOT’s mandate to think like that, it is not their kiosk to move, making a traffic control device into something useful is never done… There needs to be a layer within planning (little ‘p,’ but it would probably be big ‘P’ Planning’s domain) to think more holistically about the built environment in a way that RIDOT currently does not and perhaps cannot do.

  • I’ve updated this post, this particular design indiscretion was all the City’s doing, this project did not involve RIDOT. In many ways, that makes this even worse as it is the City doing harm to itself.

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