Build the boulevard anyway

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Proposed boulevard+plus to replace 6-10 Connector. (turnto10.com)

Governor Raimondo has stepped into the debate here in Providence over how to rebuild the aging 6-10 Connector, which carries traffic into downtown from parts west. The state originally wanted to build a complex version of Boston’s Big Dig, but lost a big wad of expected federal cash – yet may still ache to build it. Activists representing the down-at-the-heels Olneyville section of town, joining forces with advocates of more smartly designed roads in Rhode Island, want to drop the highway and build a boulevard instead.  Others support something in between. Now the governor has announced that the big ugly stupid thing will simply rebuilt the way it is now, minus the decrepitude but not necessarily the ineptitude.

The Providence Journal’s report in today’s paper, “State to fast-track 6-10 connector project, abandon surface boulevard + poll,” stated:

The order scraps a $595-million capped highway design the R.I. Department of Transportation unveiled in March and called an “innovative” approach indicative of a “new DOT” that would help knit disconnected neighborhoods back together while keeping commuters moving.

And it kills a proposal to replace the aging overpasses with a surface boulevard, an idea that drew overwhelming support from attendees of a public forum on the 6-10 held last week by the City of Providence.

Raimondo argues that the danger to life from the potential collapse of a part of the structure was sufficiently dire (though not imminent, we are assured) that sheer speed required the rebuild option, abandoning the more interesting options.

I’m no expert, but I believe that a boulevard can be built faster than the connector can be rebuilt in its current design. If you abandoned all the bells and whistles imagined for the boulevard, and just built a boulevard, period, like Blackstone Boulevard (or, for that matter, the Champs Élysées), without fancy high-speed bus lanes in the middle requiring bridges for bus riders to access bus stops (to name just one unnecessary fillip), it could be done. And if it can be done faster it would certainly be safer.

That’s a big if, though, because we’re talking a Rhode Island Department of Transportation that took eight years to build two smallish bridges connecting Barrington to Warren. It took a year and a half to build the Empire State Building. Have we come a long way, Baby, or what?

Seriously, a RIDOT that has led major projects to move railroad tracks, rivers and highways over the past three decades should be up to it. Should be. Should – a big if of a word to be sure. Still, that’s what ought to be done. Also, the land devoted to development, if any, should be primarily small parcels to avoid delays and bad projects that characterize Capital Center and, so far, the Route 195 redevelopment.

To his credit, the boulevard seems to be what Mayor Elorza wants to do, even though he stood beside the governor for her announcement. He has said he will continue planning for a boulevard in the face of the command from on high. Good for him.

***

Prof. Philip Bess of the (classicist) School of Architecture at Notre Dame is in town to hold a charrette about both the 6-10 connector and the redevelop- ment of land vacated by moving Route 195 out of downtown over the past decade. They are headquartered on the seventh floor of the Peerless Building and will be holding sessions there and at the Aurora Club, at 276 Westmin- ster St., this week and next. The sessions are free and open to the public.

Get a taste of the work he and his students have done over the last several years through the After Burnham graduate urban-design studio at the school. Call Professor Bess tel: 773-727-2754 or email him at pbess@nd.edu for more information about the charrette’s schedule. The first events are coming up very soon. Here is a partial schedule:

September 9 (F): Charrette Day #2 /
interim review #1 (5:15 pm / Peerless Building, 7th floor garden room)

September 11 (Su): Charrette Day #4 (beginning at noon)
interim review #2 (7:00 pm / Peerless Building, 7th floor garden room)

September 13 (T): Charrette Day #6
12 noon review, Aurora Club (276 Westminster St.)

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Existing 6-10 Connector in Providence. (providencejournal.com)

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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6 Responses to Build the boulevard anyway

  1. Pingback: Notre Dame charrette on 6-10 | Architecture Here and There

  2. See you at the first review tonight, I hope.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    A step backward. Don’t understand the Governor’s logic: we need to fast-track this so we must rebuild it as it was. It makes equal sense to conclude: we need to fast-track this so we must reconstitute this thoroughfare as a boulevard. Why would it be faster to replace the structure with an identical one? Is it the actual construction time, or is she suggesting that too much time will be spent on debate and a decision needs to be made NOW, and she is making it? But that begs the question: why THIS decision and not a boulevard? This will affect quality of life in the city for decades, it’s not trivial. And yes to the above comments re Citizens in Johnston, big mistake!

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  4. barry schiller says:

    Good points. I agree about cancelling the bus lanes too, never needed, few buses use the route.
    The need to take down the bridges ha little to do with whether or not they need to be replaced with another elevated highway. Like the Governor’s glorification of moving all the Citizens Bank jobs to green space west of I-295 (which requires public $$ for a new interchange and sewer extension) it reflects a suburban anti-urban bias on the part of the Governor’s administration, cities are just for the poor so the priority is to let suburbanites speed through even if it costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

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    • I agree, Barry. Raimondo seems to be emerging as a suburbanite who looks down her nose at cities and the city way of life, associating it with crime and poverty rather than its actual positives of civilized association that facilitates the full range of human needs and desires. Crime and poverty must be addressed, but they are only made worse by misconstruing the part city life plays in our world.

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