A boulevard, not a highway

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Cutaway diagram of proposed Route 6/10 boulevard. (Architect’s Newspaper)

The next big Providence project for a city that has seen many might be to turn the old Route 6/10 connector into a boulevard. The Providence Journal reports that the state’s transportation authorities seem surprisingly receptive to the idea as an alternative to replacing one monstrosity with another.

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The connector today. (A/N)

The Route 6/10 connector is the gulch you look into from your table at DePasquale Square on Federal Hill. It merges the two highways that carry traffic back and forth between downtown and points west – from  the neighborhoods of Olneyville and Hartford Park to the city of Hartford, Conn.

Parts of the old connector feel as if they are shaking from the weight of traffic – or maybe that’s just potholes.

Bike and transit advocate James Kennedy has been leading the charge for this idea, along with the Coalition for Transportation Choices, Move Together PVD, and other transit-oriented civic groups. Here is the Journal’s article, “Rethinking the 6/10 Connector,” by Patrick Anderson, that describes the state of play on the 6/10. The Architect’s Newspaper has more: “This Tangle of Highways in Providence RI Could Give Way to a Green Boulevard.”

The state has to fix the aging highway just as it is now fixing Route 95’s old segment through downtown, an expensive project already delayed. Route 195’s deteriorated and unsafe span over the Providence River has been relocated and replaced with a redevelopment corridor. The city that once contemplated running Route 195 right up the river to the edge of the State House lawn (in the ’50s, of course) has removed the road from atop its river (the former world’s widest bridge according to the Guinness Book of World Records) and laid down a new waterfront with a dozen elegant bridges lined by parks and river walks. That project, conceived by the late architect Bill Warner, involved burying the Northeast Corridor rails under Smith Hill and moving the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers as they merged at the head of the Providence River.

In short, given what Providence and Rhode Island (and the feds) have done over the past three decades, the idea of ripping down the 6/10 connector and replacing it with a tree-lined boulevard at ground level seems almost Simple Simon. It is a no-brainer. Except for the foregoing history, it is exactly the sort of brilliant plan that most city and state transportation bureaucracies might be expected to reject out of hand.

(As ours did when it came to the brilliant idea for a Ship Street Canal, conceived by architect Paul Pawlowski in the 2000s. This would have made the 195 corridor much more attractive to developers. Its rejection by both the city and the state will be paid for by successive rounds of tax incentives and subsidies. They will cost Rhode Island dearly even if they succeed in sparking development, which looks like an iffy proposition right now).

I recall when Providence was daylighting its rivers, revitalizing the old downtown with loft rehabs by Buff Chace, and building Providence Place there was much talk that “the neighborhoods” were being stiffed by all this downtown development: an error in judgment, as downtown is for everyone’s benefit, and its development creates jobs and enriches the city physically and financially. But there’s no doubt who this boulevard idea would benefit. It would be, arguably, a first really major effort to spend not only money but creativity and imagination directly to the advantage of what largely are disadvantaged Providence neighborhoods.

City and state leaders should start to really push this idea. Who knows, some people might end up thinking it was their idea.

[This post goes onto my blog but not out to my blog send list recipients until my email server quits intercepting my bulk posts under the suspicion that they are spam. I am sorry to say that for the time being those who want to read my posts will have to visit my blog, or get them on social media. I will see if I can send to TradArch and Pro-Urb lists without punishment. – David Brussat]

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Map of proposed replacement for Route 6/10 Connector. (Architect’s Newspaper)

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.
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10 Responses to A boulevard, not a highway

  1. Pingback: Big Dig redux in Prov.? | Architecture Here and There

  2. I want to throw down for Jonathan Harris and Art Eddy, who have done a tremendous amount of work on this. I’m the shouter in the group, doing the tweets and door-knocking and blogging, but Art and Jonathan provide years of insight and experience. The drawings are all theirs. Art and Jonathan have also provided a lot of financial support for the project, which is very risky given that there’s no guarantee that they’ll gain any financial reward for it. I also want to thank Kelly Knapp, who came late to the project and has moved on to other things, but who single-handedly designed the emblem, website, and slogans.

    If I am better known, it is not for talent, but bravado and loudness.

    I am psyched to be on anything that has John Norquist in the comments section. Thank you!

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  3. Michael Tyrrell says:

    The Boulevard idea is wonderful, and I hope it gains traction. I do see a BRT line coexisting well in that corridor, and boulevard proponents should examine effective precedent, including the brand new Hartford-New Britain “Fastrack” line (That project has exceeded ridership expectations and is already renewing derelict property all along its alignment). Lets be mindful that the 6/10 Corridor has redundant width -a whole lot can happen there to promote urban scale and density as it removes cars from local highways and in effect converts outlying tows like Johnston into Streetcar Suburbs. It’s All Good.

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  4. John Norquist says:

    Add great value to Providence. Dump the 6/10 Connector and build a boulevard that becomes part of the city’s intense fabric.

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  5. barry says:

    Thanks for helping boulevard proponents to get the word out. I know there arr pictures of examples where an expressway was replaced by a boulevard that might be in a future post.
    The devil is always in the details, and I hope as this moves forward the pro-beauty folks will pay attention to design as early as possible. Transportation advocates usually try to do that too, but too late in some cases such as the Interlink train station in Warwick.
    I’d question RIDOT’s idea of a $400 million “bus rapid transit” project in the 6/10 corridor, very few buses use these roads, even in rush hour about a bus every 12 minutes. We do need to improve transit, but almost everyone interested can think of higher priorities.

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    • I thought I’d seen better illustrations of the 6/10 connector on Greater City PVD but I could not find them. If you know of any, Barry, I’d be happy to post them asap. Yes, the Interlink is pretty appalling aesthetically but at least it does not ruin an already attractive setting.

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  6. David Segal says:

    This is great.

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