The 6/10 Connector plan agreed to by Mayor Jorge Elorza and Governor Raimondo calls for a bridge crossing between Tobey Street and Olneyville (it appears to be Grove Street, by my reckoning) on the other side. This is one of the better features of an otherwise lackluster plan. However, the Tobey Street bridge is currently envisioned as a new crossing for local car traffic. Instead, it should be a car-free bridge.
There’s no way of predicting for sure what planners at RIDOT and Providence Planning intend for this bridge until more details congeal, but early renderings from when the idea surfaced picture a very car-oriented setup with four wide lanes of fast-moving traffic alongside anemic bike infrastructure. What I’ve learned over the years is that you ask for a mile to get an inch, so we need to imagine something far better.
Car-free bridges sound really new-fangled and intense, but I grew up with one just down the street from my house (I love this new random-shape snipping tool I figured out. . . ).
I think the Tobey Street bridge should be bigger than this footbridge, more along the scope of what is seen in Denmark to connect people on bicycles and pedestrians across divides. But I think it’s important to point out that inner-ring suburbs in normal, lower-middle class places have these types of features, not just elite, European destinations.
Tobey Street is just two blocks, and the southern block is fairly neighborhood scale. The northern block, however, is extraordinarily wide, and highway-like, leading today to just an on-ramp of the 6/10 Connector. With a new bridge in place only for foot and bike traffic, drivers would still be able to access this street, a planning style called “filtered permeability“. It combines what people like about the suburban feeling of quiet cul-de-sacs with the connectivity that is experienced in an urban grid. Drivers, of course, would still be able to cross a block away, on Broadway.
The northern block of Tobey has so much room on it that the city should consider plans to re-purpose some of the space as public space and housing. This is the block:
As someone who lived on Tobey Street for two years (and who saw my rent go up, displacing me) I would very much like to see the section to the left (which is technically named Ridge Street) to be reverted to housing. The Transport Providence logo features three houses right next to this intersection, and I’ve captured an image from above to show their relative size compared to this street.
Of the two sections, Ridge Street is the smaller to Tobey proper, but you can see that one of these triple-deckers would almost fit inside it. Using the abandonment process to open this street to housing development could reuse the island with trees as the sidewalk that new houses or apartments access. The houses would have to be a bit smaller in footprint than the triple deckers, and their doors would have to be on the other side, but I think making sure to increase the working class and lower-middle class housing options along this corridor would be a good way to prevent gentrification.
The wider section of Tobey should stay open to local traffic, but at least part of the street should be used as a public plaza. This could be done temporarily, at first, but I expect eventually people will want to make it permanent.
There’s no reason to have cars cross Tobey Street’s new bridge. But an ambitious new car-free connection will only happen if people make that a priority, and demand it.