Providence’s own High Line

On segment of Washington Bridge, over Seekonk River, that once opened for river traffic.

On segment of Washington Bridge, over Seekonk River, that once opened for river traffic.

Providence’s new linear park, named for East Bay Bike Path founder George Redman (“Not a politician,” quoth Greater City Providence), opened in time for yesterday’s July Fourth fireworks. We drove to East Providence over the Washington Bridge, built in 1931, parked and walked back over its splendidly renovated pedestrian/bike span with our friends Dan and Shoko Gordon, whose daughter Caroline is buddies with our boy Billy, to view the fireworks and listen to the ever-lovely Rhode Island Philharmonic.

This new bridge park is a brilliant piece of work. The original bridge over the Seekonk (which merges with the Providence to form the peninsula of the capital city’s East Side) had a bike and pedestrian path so narrow that you had to duck into the occasional bay if someone was coming from the other direction. Now, its bike path is separate from its pedestrian path. The whole is lined with elegant wrought-iron railings and beautiful period lampposts. There are elegant classical buttresses marking the way. The small buildings that once housed machinery to draw open the center of the bridge have been cleaned off and lovingly restored. With its beauty and its splendid views, the bridge, which had been closed for the work since 2012, is a wonderful experience to cross.

Joan Slafsky says this new linear park is Providence’s High Line!

If the proposed pedestrian bridge over the Providence River had been designed likewise with beauty in mind, it would probably be built by now.

Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation has recently been criticized for how many of its bridges are in disrepair. But so far none has fallen! I think RIDOT also needs to be celebrated for its mammoth achievements over the past 40 years. It has buried Amtrak’s rails under the State House lawn, moved and opened downtown rivers long ignored, lined these rivers with walkways, built traditional arched bridges along the way that replaced the so-called “widest bridge in the world” (Guinness) – which looked like a huge sewer cover – and restored the state’s reputation for beautiful spans, then RIDOT relocated Route 195 to the far side of the Hurricane Barrier, opening an entire new development district for the city’s growth while also reknitting sections of downtown severed by the highway, and then finally it ran the new highway over another beautiful bridge – which should be named for the designer-in-chief of this excellent work, Bill Warner.

The result of all this new “transportation” infrastructure, topped by the George Redman Linear Park, has increased the quality of life for every Rhode Islander. Let’s give RIDOT credit for that. They have done a beautiful job. The pictures of the new span below could be augmented by many hundreds of other shots I’ve taken over the years of the city’s new waterfront, almost all of it traditional in its design. It has beautified beyond all desserts our little, often ridiculously corrupt, corner of world.

DSCN7992

DSCN8021

DSCN8003

DSCN8018

DSCN8014

DSCN8008

DSCN8006

DSCN8013

DSCN8016

DSCN8025

DSCN8062

DSCN8066

DSCN8074

DSCN8081

DSCN8008

This shot of the third arched span dedicated to bikes and pedestrians is from the RIDOT website.

This shot of the third arched span dedicated to bikes and pedestrians is from the RIDOT website.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Art and design, Landscape Architecture, Photography, Preservation, Providence, Rhode Island, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Providence’s own High Line

  1. Pingback: Roses and raspberries, 2015 | Architecture Here and There

  2. Peter Van Erp says:

    The design is worthy. The project management by DOT, OTOH, is execrable. The list of projects which take too long or are not built to proper standards is roughly equal to the list of major DOT projects. For instance, Memorial Blvd. in Providence has a weight limit of 15 tons, instead of the original design limit of 40 tons, due to the deterioration of the columns south of Washington Street. The bridge is only 20 years old. I’ve walked across a bridge built over 2,000 years ago (Ponte Fabricio in Rome). How is it that the Romans could build with concrete and stone to last for 20 centuries, and we’re lucky for a bridge to last half a century?

    Like

    • Peter, there are many answers to that question of why things take so long and are often done so poorly these days. Part of it has to do with the fact that architects are no longer taught to do things well, because they are encouraged to do things not in the tried and true way but in the most novel way they can – then depending on engineers to rescue them (and the public!) from the increased risk their design strategies have of falling down. (By the way, what is OTOH?) It took a little more than a year to put up the Empire State Building but it took eight years to put up two small bridges linking Barrington and Warren. They are very lovely bridges, and frankly I’d rather they go over budget and over schedule than be ugly bridges … but still, that should not happen! Structural soundness is another thing. Beauty never should be an excuse for unsound structure – but then, I don’t think it is ever to blame for it.

      Like

  3. David, when you see the restored bronze flagpole bases and 28′ flagpoles back on the Operatora’s Houses you’ll flip. The missing components are being cast now. Cheers, my friend. Richard

    Like

    • Richard, are you doing the work? Are you involved with this project? Tell me whether you know what those cast stone wall systems with rectangular fenestration are supposed to be. I did not examine them closely enough to make a guess.

      Like

      • David, I’m the project architect. The “granite screen walls” as we called them are veneered in solid granite, not cast stone. They are there to both reference the two operator’s houses that were once on the north side of the bridge, and provide a sense of enclosure/protection at the center span where the park widens and gets fairly close to the highway. Additionally, the walls and the tall railing between them makes it difficult for drivers to see what is going on in what is anticipated to be the most active area in the park. The concern being that rubber necking to see “what is going on” will slow traffic and possibly cause an accident.

        Like

  4. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Kudos RIDOT and all advocates who made this wonderful new connection a reality! Projects like this demonstrate smart planning in a city “on the move”. My only hope is that Boston will come around and reuse its shuttered Old Northern Avenue Bridge in the same way.

    Like

  5. barry says:

    Thanks for calling attention to this park. Question: noting there seems to be no greenery in the pictures, is there an opportunity for landscaping? Plantings are certainly part of the appeal of the High Line and the Parisian insipration Promenade Plantee.

    And I tend to agree about underappreciation of RIDOT which with DEM has also done a good job with the East Bay and other bike paths. They even tried to do a “high-line” with the old Jamestown Bridge, a far more interesting structure than the new one (could have been useful for tourism, fishing, photography, biking, something similar was done with the Poughkeepsie NY cross-Hudson bridge) but they got push-back from the local communities that didn’t want the riffraff to have such access. RIDOT has also promoted visual enhancements on the freeways near the state line, and finally, at Amtrak Station. They also promote roundabouts which where appropriate can slow but not stop traffic and can be safer than the usual 4-way traffic signal intersections. In Europe where more widely used, the centers are often for public art displays, with many good results.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s