Land Use

Movement Builds for Replacing 6-10 Connector

Supporters say tearing down, not repairing and rebuilding, this maze of highway would open up Providence to possibility

Providence resident Carl Titcomb, a close neighbor of the 6-10 Connector, would like to see the maze of highway torn down. He walks his dog daily on Service Road 1, a barren path of asphalt with no homes or businesses fronting it. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — James Kennedy, a vocal supporter of tearing down the decrepit Route 6-10 Connector, believes this maze of concrete and asphalt that isolates neighborhoods was inspired by an early 1960s cartoon. Ruh-roh.

“It was designed around the ‘Jetsons,’” said the Providence resident, not meaning to be funny. “They thought cars would be driving in loops around houses and people would be playing basketball underneath the overpasses. It was going to be fun. It hasn’t been fun, and it didn’t work.”

Kennedy is part of a growing movement that is calling for replacing the deteriorating Connector with a boulevard. He believes it doesn’t make sense for the state to invest an estimated half-million dollars to rebuild a tangled mess of highway that divides neighborhoods and wastes valuable real estate.

He noted that the Providence Viaduct, behind the Providence Place mall, takes up a huge amount of space and does nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. “It’s a bigger parcel than the I-195 land, and it’s being wasted,” he said.

Kennedy, who runs the blog Transport Providence, has been pushing for the elimination of the 6-10 Connector for several years. The idea is slowly gaining momentum. Earlier this month, Kennedy held a public walk and talk at the end of Marvin Street, across from Route 10. The idea behind the June 4 gathering was to imagine a different and better use of the 6-10 Connector space.

He invited City Council members whose districts border the Connector, the mayor’s office, the city’s planning department and members of the General Assembly. The only invited official who attended was Ward 13 Council member Bryan Principe. He was joined by a handful of Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design students and Alex Krogh-Grabbe, another local advocate of a boulevard concept.

Kennedy said Route 10 has the potential to be rebuilt in the way cities such as Memphis, Milwaukee, San Francisco, New York and Portland, Ore., have converted raised or sunken highways into boulevards. In Texas, the city of Houston is scheduled to remove a raised highway downtown and in Dallas-Fort Worth there’s a strong movement to eliminate Interstate 345.

Proponents of a similar idea here say such a move would be better for traffic, better for development, cheaper for taxpayers and better for the environment.

“The 6-10 Connector dramatically changed the Olneyville neighborhood,” Kennedy said. “It’s a maze of highways, exits and overpasses — everywhere you walk there is concrete above your head. It’s almost a noose around the city’s neck.”

Principe said the city and state most assuredly need to have a discussion about the future of the 6-10 Connector and what the choices are besides rebuilding. “It is important that we educate people about the options,” he said. “Something needs to be done, and that can’t be just rebuilding what is here.”

One of the oldest sections of the 6-10 Connector, the Route 10 Huntington Expressway, opened in 1966 and is one of the oldest highways in the state. Kennedy noted that it’s mostly a mirror of Interstate 95. He argues that it makes neighborhoods hard to access, lowers property values, takes up developable space, spews pollution and is a racetrack for stormwater runoff.

Both Kennedy and Krogh-Grabbe are avid bicyclists. They say one of Rhode Island’s best bicycling resources, the Washington Secondary Bike Path, is underutilized because its natural connection to Providence from Cranston is Cranston Street, where only the boldest ride their bikes.

Other bicycling advocates also have expressed frustration at the behemoth that cuts Providence into pieces.

“To bike from the center of our city presently requires that you either take a prohibitively roundabout route, or clench your teeth and anus as you navigate some of Providence’s most bike-unfriendly roads, such as Elmwood Avenue and Cranston Street,” Eric Weis, trail program coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, told an ecoRI News writer last year.

Those who envision Providence without the 6-10 Connector see a continuation of Smith Hill and Federal Hill development into the valley, with park space continuing from Waterplace Park, bus lanes and a bike path stretching as far as Roger Williams Park. They say tearing down the concrete monster would unleash the city’s beauty.

Routes 6 and 10 form a border to a neighborhood that doesn’t drive much, said Kennedy, citing Census data that says about 40 percent of Olneyville residents don’t own a car. He said this border of highway can make non-car trips difficult and/or time consuming, and that the littered land beneath all those underpasses could be put to much better use.

Carl Titcomb lives on Willow Street, a block over from Marvin Street. Service Road 1 and a strip of vegetation separate his neighborhood from the Connector’s traffic, noise and pollution. He walks his dog daily around the neighborhood, and the roar of garbage trucks headed to the Central Landfill in Johnston follows him. He walked by with his companion during Kennedy’s June 4 early-evening gathering.

When asked by ecoRI News if he would like to see the Connector taken down, the 62-year-old didn’t hesitant to answer. “What do you think? Look at it,” he said. “This crap of a highway is just a route to the landfill for garbage trucks.”

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  1. The city should put out a design competition as to how such a boulevard would actually look as they did for the proposed bike/pedestrian bridge on ther former I-195 piers. Having an actual vision will help promote a better a;ternativr than rebuilding (and maybe widening) the highway.

  2. Actually the highway segment known as the Olneyville Viaduct or Olneyville Expressway from Broadway to Westminster over the railroad tracks to Plainfield Street is the oldest part of the highway, which dates back much earlier than the early 60s. The Olneyville Viaduct broke ground in 1949 and fully opened in 1951. Initially this highway segment extended north to just south of Atwells Avenue and had access ramps in the middle of Harris Avenue. It was built by the City of Providence as a bypass of Olneyville Square.

  3. One fact that people should be aware of is that Providence is on the Top 10 for U.S. cities by the number of lane-miles of highway it has per capita. This is not something to be proud of. It puts us in the same company as cities like Kansas City and St. Louis, Cleveland and Dallas-Fort Worth (we beat Dallas-Forth Worth. . . ). These are decaying, unsuccessful cities.

    Cities that have the fewest lane-miles of highway per person? Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Portland Oregon. See a pattern?

    http://www.rifuture.org/providence-top-10-freeway-miles-per-capita.html

  4. New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Chicago are also on the top ten list for cities with the longest mean commuting times.

    • Yes, though so is Baltimore, which is on the list with Providence for the most highways per capita.

      It’s a fallacy to assume that highways help commute times. TxDOT expanded the Katy Freeway from eight lanes to a whopping twenty-three recently. While the expansion helped traffic congestion in the immediate years following the expansion, it also induced a great deal more driving. A recent report finds that despite tripling the width of the highway, commute times worsened by five minutes (but, you still have all the sprawl, congestion, pollution, carbon, particulate matter, and maintenance costs of the highway to go with that five minutes).

      Philadelphians are the #1 city for bike commuting among 1 million residents, in the U.S. My commute between work and school was 45 minutes when I lived there, but it was because I biked to work. I never had a more satisfying, cheap, and relaxing commute. I would take 40 minutes of biking over 20 minutes of driving any day of the week.

      Remember, we would keep a boulevard, and because the boulevard would have options for biking, transit, and walking, the residents who currently clog the highway in the Providence section would be able to get out of the way of the people coming from farther away, like Johnston or Foster. No one is trying to guilt rural commuters out of driving, which is a necessary choice for where they live. We’re trying to build a cheaper and more multimodal street that allows multiple commute options.

      • We should guilt commuters from rural areas. I live in South County and ride RIPTA daily and absolutely love it. My opinion is that folks need to get over the stigma associated with riding a bus. Try it for a week and I bet you’ll be sold on the option. Most that try it eventually loath driving and avoid is as much as possible, and it also solves parking costs and issues for single occupant vehicles.

        • I totally agree that we should encourage people to use transit from places where it’s possible to do so, although I suspect that South County is a different kind of rural than the northwestern parts of the state. You have a big conglomeration of population (especially non-driver student population) at URI, and several villages (Peacedale, Wakefield, Narragansett Pier) all in a row, and the rail right-of-way potentially connects down to Kingston where there’s a bike path for easy passenger access. So transit connections to Providence from that part of the state make sense.

          But from the NW I suspect the biggest thing we can do to aid people not to over-use cars is not so much getting them to use transit as it is freezing the level of population there in place and transferring new population growth to the cities. To some extent, rural areas just can’t have effective transit. They don’t have the population or the population density. Scituate, RI, for instance, only has 10,000 people living in it. If 10,000 people drive their cars every single day, I’m actually sort of okay with that though, because that’s a tiny percentage of the state population. We want to take advantage of the fact that the bulk of population is already in the cities or near it, and just grow off of that.

          And this really goes to my point, again, that who causes traffic congestion is not necessarily people driving in from far away, where people have a natural reason to be somewhat dependent on cars, but people who are taking the highway one or two exits in the city because it feels like the most natural (or only) way to get from one neighborhood to another. Let’s preserve a boulevard for the long distance commerce that happens, and for the rural drivers into the city, but get the grand bulk of the population off of those roads entirely.

  5. I’m not crazy about this idea. There is already a ton of traffic on route 10 during rush hour. I don’t think that is going to improve by adding a bunch of red lights. Turning route 10 into something like route 2 in Warwick does not seem like much of an improvement. Making route 10 into just another road with stop lights would cause more people use 95 during their commute. 95 does not need any more cars during rush hour.

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