One-way Roger Williams greenway loop draws mostly negative reaction

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Imminent changes coming to the Roger Williams Park greenway on June 1 have provoked the ire of many in the surrounding Cranston neighborhoods.

From Pine Hill Avenue through F.C. Greene Memorial Boulevard, along which many entering the park would turn left to head toward the Temple of Music or Zoo, is being converted into a one-way three-mile loop of the park.

All traffic coming from Park View Boulevard will have to turn right into Roger Williams. Anyone bringing their child to school from one of F.C. Greene Boulevard’s arteries, such as Wheeler or Norwood avenues for example, would not be able to turn left anymore. Their options would be turn right and loop around the park, or exit on to Broad Street or Park Avenue through side roads.

The plan was put into motion in the fall 2015, according to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s Director of Communications Emily Crowell, to boost safety and reduce congestion.

“This traffic change is being made not only to reduce traffic through the park not intended for the park, but also to increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians as the City of Providence and community partners make critical investments throughout the park,” Crowell said in an e-mail to the Herald on Friday.

That reasoning did not sit well with Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung, whose traffic engineer Stephen Mulcahy did not find out about the plan until May 8. Fung said the plan should be “paused” in a letter to Mayor Elorza last week, urging him to take into the account the effect the overhaul would have on Cranston’s safety.

He referenced a petition on change.org, started by Cranston resident Lisa Gibb, that has garnered the signatures of more than 700 people opposed to the change.

“If this rushed plan goes forward, I anticipate disruptive commutes in the morning and afternoon, especially near Park View Middle School,” Fung wrote. “I must ask the question: has the safety of our school children walking on the sidewalks near their school been considered in this plan?

“Those that did learn about the proposal say their expressed concerns fell on deaf ears. These are people who will be directly affected and it’s vital that any changes have their support.”

Gibb and Vicki Wheeler, who also lives in the area, took the Herald on a ride-along Friday through the park to explore the changes and how traffic will be affected. Both said that, despite their initial opposition to the alterations, they searched for information that could change their opinions.

Instead, as they found out more, they became more vehemently against the plan.

“We want to be relieved,” Gibb said, turning right up the boulevard past the new traffic pattern signs, which are covered with garbage bags until June 1. “We’re trying to find information, and now it’s like it’s worse.”

“We were dismayed at the inconvenience and we really wanted to get on board,” Wheeler added. “Bike paths might be nice, it’ll be inconvenient but if it’s done right, let’s find out more about it. But the more we found out, the more we were, like, ‘No.’ It just became more and more troubling.”

Gibb and Wheeler question whether the one-way loop would actually enhance safety, predicting that some erratic drivers could end up trying to pass cars in the bike lane.

“I’ve come down here where people pass me into oncoming traffic,” Wheeler said, pointing out a particular curve near Beachmont Avenue. “I think it’s naive to believe folks won’t try to pass cars in the bike lane along these curves. They can’t see what’s around the corner, perhaps it’s a bike. That’s the safety concern of this park.”

Gibb also said the traffic on Park Avenue, as a result of changes would be “awful.” Without F.C. Greene Boulevard to alleviate some congestion, it would back up Broad Street and Park Avenue during school hours. It could also increase traffic on both narrow and wide side streets.

“That intersection at Broad, Warwick [Avenue] and Park is already super treacherous,” Wheeler said.

“Personally, I can still drive the other way, I can go up Haddon Hill or Western Promenade [roads],” Gibb, who is a Park View parent, said. “I am very near, but I’m not concerned about my commute. I’m concerned about other people and the traffic on my street.”

Lynne Harrington, another concerned Cranston resident, wrote a letter to both mayors that you can read in today’s paper. Her concerns are similar to Gibb’s and Wheeler’s, outlining potential safety issues as a result.

Crowell said that, despite the safety and traffic concerns, the Providence Department of Public Works and Parks and Recreation worked together on a traffic study. She also mentioned that Ward 1 Councilman Steven Stycos, who represents the area for Cranston, attended the community meeting in October 2015.

Stycos said at the City Council meeting on Monday that he was approached by the City of Providence more than a year ago about the idea. He said they were not seeking his outright approval, but he was supportive of the plan.

He said he was unable to attend one community meeting at William Hall Library, but did stop by another at the Boathouse in the park.

In the end, though, Stycos said it is a Providence-owned park and he is still in favor of the overall concept.

“I like the idea in general of reducing pavement in parks and reducing traffic in parks, so that’s the direction I’m coming from,” Stycos said. “I did not consider that there might be traffic implications and I don’t think any of us really know if there will be or there won’t be, unless there are statistics on how many people are using that road. Having a bike path in a park is really a nice idea, positive for all of us, but it’s a Providence park. We don’t pay any money for it, we can use it.”

Mayor Elorza’s Press Secretary Victor Morente put out a press release on Friday saying that the responses from both Providence and Cranston factored into the final layout.

“The introduction of the greenway follows a series of community meetings held by the City’s Parks and Planning Departments in the Roger Williams Park and in surrounding Cranston and Providence communities to solicit feedback on the initial proposal,” read the release. “The final design of the greenway reflects that feedback.”

An official map of the changes is included with this story. The press release also notes that the new greenway will feature designated marks for walking/running, biking and driving lanes.

The Herald has submitted a records request for the traffic study performed by DPW and Parks and Recreation.

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