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Old Ideas #3: Car-free Barbara Leonard Way

Barbara Leonard was a state-level Republican politician who ran for governor unsuccessfully. She was from Newport, not Providence, but she has a small bridge over I-95 named after her, called Barbara Leonard Way. 

Barbara Leonard is someone whose importance I haven't been able to figure out, beyond that (please comment, though! I'm sure some old-timers know.). But her bridge is an important crossing for a lot of reasons, and should get attention from the city, and from Ward 3 candidates.

The Rochambeau Library computers have programming to let me do screenshots and draw on things, which the downtown ones don't, so this post will have better visuals than some of my recent ones. :-)

Barbara Leonard Way is a completely ignored stretch of bridge in Providence, but its namesake could be better honored if it was made a community connection to re-knit Mt. Hope together. 
Barbara Leonard Way is the sole lifeline between most of Mt. Hope on the eastern side of I-95, and the rest of it (which you would assume was part of the Charles Street/Wanskuck neighborhood if you didn't know the history of black-neighborhood removal that happened when I-95 was built).

The main reason that Barbara Leonard Way is so important is that it doesn't have any on- or off-ramps to the highway. It's a gigantic crossing with very few cars using it, but because it's gigantic, the few that do use it sometimes speed. It's also pretty desolate, because of its location over the highway. If you happen to be inclined, you can walk on over there-- it almost lines up with Jenkins Street (not Jenkes). I can't find the post I did about this, but I believe I had pictures of some dumped couches and garbage on the bridge. Even with all the couches down, it was yuge.

What if we made Barbara Leonard way a car-free crossing? We could activate it by taking away a lot of the width for raised bed planters, and encourage people to use those planters to grow vegetables or flowers. That would reduce the chances that the bridge would get trash dumped on it. Cars and trucks that had to do deliveries could still access all the businesses, like the U.S. Post Office, through Charles Street (Charles should get a protected bike lane, but that's another story for another day). 

The reason this would also be a great way to do things is that by created a filtered permeability connection, we'd not need to rebuild the bridge or add anything expensive. We'd in fact be reducing wear on a bridge that is already built, by removing heavy vehicle traffic over it. So this would be a cost-saving project, which would encourage connections across I-95, until someday we can take the bold step of removing the highway entirely.


It would look like this (you can't modify the width of the gardens, because Streetmix.net assumes you're not modifying a bridge, but a regular street, but you get the idea):

Note that while the usual goal would be to avoid having cars enter or exit this way at all, the grass strips and curbs could be made in dimensions that would allow emergency vehicle access if desired.
This is not an unprecedented idea, in that it mirrors the efforts to make crossing I-195 nicer into India Point Park. 

A final idea that would make this crossing more active would be putting bike-share stations at the R-Line and 51 bus stops on N. Main and Charles Streets. The bike share bikes could help workers in the industrial park connect off of buses. By making the bus a useful option for commuting, much more of this valuable land could be developed, instead of being used for parking (the exception is probably the Post Office, which needs a lot of parking for its trucks no matter what).

I can't make my screenshots perfectly exact, but these are roughly equal squares of neighborhood as-the-bird-sees-it, and you can see how much land is wasted in the industrial park:



One of my housemates, a Chinese immigrant in her fifties, rides her bike or walks to work at a chain business that is on the other side of this highway. Certainly one of the things we could do to protect the lives of working class Rhode Islanders would be to make their commutes for work safe.

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