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This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Different Kinds of #610Boulevards

I've been surprised at how much of a consensus there seems to be across the state to rethink Rt. 6/10. So now it's time to take things to another level. Let's discuss some of our options.

These are by no means exhaustive, but:

The No-Car Option
In the 19th Century, what is now Wissihickon Park in Philadelphia was a major mill site. The entire Wissihickon Creek was dammed up and down it, effluent from manufacturing was sent down the river. A great deal of development grew up either side of the canyon that came down from the neighborhoods to meet the water.

After the mills left, the area sat in disarray for a while. Then a movement grew to make the place a park. Today, it's hard to imagine what it once was.

Within earshot of this seven mile woods are very dense neighborhoods. The R6, R7, and R8 trains, and many bus lines, run parallel to the park. Through the middle is "Forbidden Drive" which was once a road, but which is now a stone dust path. 

Now, it's true that in the 19th Century, the types of roads people had imagined hadn't gotten as huge as Rt. 6/10. But we should look to the case of the "Disappearing Traffic" and realize that removing capacity to drive will be much more positive than it's intuitive to think.

The "No Car Option" is not as binary as it seems. I would propose that Rt. 6 stay a surface road, and that Rt. 10 get a no-car finish. Rt. 10 currently empties effluent from rainstorms directly into Roger Williams Park. Wouldn't it be great if Providence got a version of Wissihickon instead? The great thing about this kind of park is that although there are volunteer organizations that maintain aspects of it, much of the planting involves putting a few trees in and letting them go ferrel over decades. The Wissihickon Creek as as close to a full grown forest as you can imagine, but is at no point more than a half mile from dense rowhouses and commuter trains.

The Transitway opened during the Bicentennial Celebration, but the brickway
idea was left as asphalt with fast buses on it. Mixed traffic was restored in 
the '00s.
Bus Rapid Transit is a real option for the corridor. Again I have a Philadelphia example, and just want to bring up some questions.

The Chestnut Street Transitway was a flop. It flopped because it was designed differently than Edmund Bacon (Kevin Bacon's father--six degrees of Kevin Bacon! Check Bacon out defying the city in his 90s and skating illegally in Love Park--which he created. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My whole damn life has been worth it, just for this moment!") had intended for it to be designed. Bacon wanted a walkway from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River up Chestnut Street. The whole thing would be lined with brickways and trees, and be like a European capital's finest streets.

Where the project failed was that it became a Transitway instead of a walkway. Arguably, the need for high-speed buses along this route was kind of low to begin with; it's one block from a parallel subway/el system. Reportedly, pedestrians who felt lulled by the Transitway would walk into the street feeling like they were on a pedestrian mall, and get hit by buses--in Philadelphia people are genuinely used to cars going 15-20 mph, and the buses were going faster than that--surprise! 

When you read accounts of the Transitway in the Philadelphia Inquirer archives, the biggest complaints people have are not that cars disappeared from the street, but that the buses and pedestrians didn't mix well. The consensus is that the thing just never got to be the pedestrian experience people wanted. Lots of pedestrians used the street, but the fast-moving buses were not comfortable surroundings. Bacon himself described the project as a failure--but the failure was failing to think of the pedestrian. 

So how do we best design BRT to have a rapid component and also have a pedestrian feel? In 6/10's case, I think we have an advantage: space. Chestnut Street is one of Philadelphia's 17th Century thoroughfares, while the 6/10 bed would give space for very wide walkways to accommodate pedestrian activity. 

Streets for cars would still cross this boulevard, but would not be a part of it. But one can also imagine a boulevard with room for two car lanes in this set up. (I did not use precise measurements here--this is very rough).

In a BRT model, we could or could not consider cars. A Wissihickon-type park would be really nice, but of course BRT would require development. So BRT would mean to a great extent giving up the kind of woodsy experience that one would get in the woods. But it could mean stuff like this:


Vermont: The Church Street ped mall in Burlington has a bus mall as part of it, which works really well--although unlike the Philadelphia Transitway, buses meet perpendicularly to the ped mall on one block only, rather than coming down it.

Although some ped malls have not been successful in the U.S., the Burlington one was so successful that it has been gradually expanded. Having natural places from which people can walk to get to the mall matters. One can recall the failed Westminster Street ped mall of the 1970s in Providence--the mall was surrounded on three sides by major roads, and the design had cut off Westminster from crossing naturally into the West Side, where a pedestrian might be expected to walk if they were going to go without a car. Any design should avoid these pitfalls.
The Car Monster

While some cars may or may not have a role in the boulevard, we definitely don't want something like a car monster. That's what Cleveland is planning. The proposed Opportunity Corridor would knock down buildings and create a huge stroad nightmare through a city already plagued by cars.

Ugh, Cleveland.

I'd like to go on record saying that while parts of the 6/10 Boulevard should probably get cars, there should be no more than two lanes on any part of the boulevard for auto traffic. Why? Because we need two more for buses, and we need space for pedestrians, bikes, and development. Some of our most successful Providence streets are two lanes: Broadway and Hope St. come to mind. Cleveland and ODOT describe the Opportunity Corridor as a type of boulevard, because that's now the language that people like. Avoiding a RIDOT-led "Opportunity Corridor: Providence Edition" is something that should be high on our list, because what we want in our city is something more meaningfully different from the car-centric model.


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