Metro

Pedestrian bridge will provide ‘critical link’

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The 11 entries in the city’s pedestrian bridge design competition are on display at City Hall until the end of November. The pedestrian bridge will replace the old Interstate 195 roadbed that spans the Providence River, but will stand on the existing supports.

The bridge will connect the Jewelry District to the College Hill and Fox Point neighborhoods.  

Bonnie Nickerson, director of long-range planning with the Department of Planning and Development, said increased mobility and beautification are two key factors in this project.

“The bridge creates a real opportunity to create not just a path from one place to another, but a real place that enhances the Waterfront Park” she said.

The so-called “Knowledge District,” including the Jewelry District and surrounding areas, will be a hub of activity in the future — “a place where we really hope to develop the city’s economy,” Nickerson added. The 11 proposed bridges differ greatly from each other, but each design meets one criterion — the incorporation of the five existing piers.  

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has budgeted two million dollars for the pedestrian bridge project, and sought an additional $2 million in federal funding.

According to Nickerson, the state did not receive the federal grant. But, she said all proposed bridge designs were made “scalable,” allowing for uncertainty in the budget.

Mike McCormick, assistant vice president for planning, design and construction in the University’s Department of Facilities Management, serves on the selection committee.

The pedestrian bridge is “a really critical link for Brown in the Jewelry District,” he said. The Jewelry District will be home to University’s new Medical Education Building, set to open in 2012. Though only about a mile from main campus, the Jewelry District is more industrial, and currently lacks an adequate transportation system for the expected influx of medical students traveling to the neighborhood.

Administrators envision the Jewelry District as “an extension of Brown’s campus, not a separate campus,” McCormick said, and the bridge will be key in making this connection.

But he added that the construction of the pedestrian bridge would also benefit the city as a whole.

“I think it can be transformative both for Brown and for Providence,” he said.

Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has discussed implementing a park-and-ride system in conjunction with the bridge, where commuters could park on the East Side and walk across the river to offices downtown, Nickerson said. The bridge will “enhance transit and make those connections more viable,” she added.

Though Mayor David Cicilline ’83 will announce the winning design at the end of the month, he will base his decision on a recommendation from a selection committee.  

In addition to officials from the transportation department and the city, the selection committee includes representatives from the local community, a private business, a historical preservation commission, Rhode Island School of Design and Brown.  

“It was basically trying to include a broad coalition of people,” Nickerson said.

But the selection committee will also consider the public’s opinion when making its recommendation. In City Hall, members of the public can fill out comment cards about the different designs.

Dick Spies, the University’s executive vice president for planning, said the construction of the pedestrian bridge would not affect the University’s basic goals.

The University made the decision to relocate the Alpert Medical School “not knowing what was going to come out of the bridge discussion,” he said.

“The first set of things that we decided to do, we’re going to do regardless,” he added.

Spies said interest in the construction of a pedestrian bridge originated when people thought about moving the rivers and creating Waterplace Park. He said the idea of the pedestrian bridge comes out of the “bold” thinking that characterized Providence in the ‘90s.

The competition will “get the best ideas on the table,” he said.

“If we’ve got this opportunity to build a bridge, let’s do something special,” he added.

He said the construction of the pedestrian bridge is part of a larger effort to make the Knowledge and Jewelry District more friendly, hospitable and lively.

It is “not just for the medical students, but for everyone down there,” he said.

The project serves as “a great example of a good collaboration among the many interested parties, including the state, the city, the various institutions that have an interest in the area and an involvement in the area and the business sector,” he added.