Friedrich St. Florian and Dietrich Neumann, RISD and Brown architectural illuminati both, have concocted what may be the most interesting, perhaps the best, idea for a new bus terminal to replace the one at Kennedy Plaza. In a Providence Journal oped, “A bus depot below the State House lawn?,” they describe how the depot could be built under the lawn within the slope of the hill that leads up from Providence Station to the Rhode Island State House.
The state Department of Transportation has vaguely proposed a new depot above ground along with a private component. Both elements, it appears, would be arrayed on either side of Providence Station, on Station Park or on a strip of the State House lawn created by relocating Gaspee Street to a point that would narrow but even out the lawn. Unclear is which element would go where. The state’s plan, poorly thought out as it is, also includes a “skyline-altering” tower for the private component.
As I’ve written in several posts, I disagree with any plan that features a new central bus depot. This is unnecessary and was not specifically mentioned in the $35 million bond issue passed in 2014 and now expected to finance the state’s portion of the plan.
The state does not need a new central bus hub. A better link for riders between the buses and the trains is easy-peasy. A continuous bus loop connecting Kennedy Plaza and Providence Station would accomplish this for bupkis – a few thousand dollars a year.
The state’s real purpose, I think, is to eliminate bus riders and idlers (two groups that partly overlap) from the plaza so it can be redeveloped as a “public square.” Burnside Park already serves quite well as a public square – unless the real reason is to make it easier to redevelop the Industrial Trust (“Superman”) Building.
A plan to remake Kennedy Plaza into a space more congenial to more people is not without merit, but it should be done straightforwardly. It could be accomplished by changing bus routes in downtown from a system where buses stop only at Kennedy Plaza to one where buses stop briefly at the plaza and continue on to bus stops on every block or so throughout downtown. That is how most cities configure their bus systems. That would thin out, though not eliminate, the plaza’s bus and bum populations.
The elements of a public square could then be constructed as imagined by the downtown design firm Union Studio (see below). I would not tear down the arched entry to the skating rink, and I would bring back the Art Nouveau kiosks replaced in 2015 by cheesy, sterile waiting kiosks. The continuous bus loop between the plaza and the Amtrak station would continue to make sense in such a plan, if a new public square is carried out.
Or the state could save the $35 million bond money, or split it between the public square and a bus sub hub next to the municipal courthouse on Dorrance Street, a proposal that was envisioned (along with a Providence Station bus sub hub) in the thinking behind the bond issue. This would allow the broader scheme to move forward more swiftly.
As for the Neumann/St. Florian proposal, drawings published with their Journal oped do not seem to bear out the suggestion that the view corridor to the State House would be unaffected. The cherished view from in front of Providence Station would be mostly blocked by the entrance portal to the underground hub on Gaspee. They could dig deeper into the hill, perhaps, but that would be more expensive. That might also avoid the unfortunate flattening out of the graceful set of hillocks leading up to the State House.
Finally, their plan suggests no private component. If that was not considered necessary to bring about the new depot, it’s hard to see why the state would have led with its chin by planning to put a number of new buildings on or near the State House grounds.
Tinkering with sacred land around the State House remains unnecessary and unwise.