Conservancy meeting divided over greenway
The Roger Williams Park Conservancy Community Meeting at the Casino on Thursday took a contentious turn as a pocket of residents continued to protest the one-way greenway.
Superintendent of Providence Parks and Recreation Wendy Nilsson and Deputy Superintendent Brian Byrnes were on-hand to address concerns from those in attendance, which included familiar faces of the resistance, including Lynne Harrington and Lisa Gibb.
The room was evenly divided with supporters and opponents of the one-way sometimes sharing words. In one instance, an audience member in favor of the greenway shouted across the room for someone against the plan to “shut [their] big mouth.”
However, when Harrington stepped to the microphone, she was less than combative.
“There’s a perceived lack of outreach,” Harrington said. “There is a constant assertion that commuters through the park aren’t users of the park. I’ve lived here 35 years. I volunteered to clean the Victorian Rose Garden. Volunteers are important; you don’t want to alienate them. It’s insulting and just disheartening. I’m absolutely against this one-way and I think there’s going to be a lot of issues.”
Rhode Island Foundation Vice President of Strategy and Community Investments Jessica David opened the meeting with a statement cementing the organization’s commitment to remaining neutral.
“The Rhode Island Foundation and the [Roger Williams Park] Conservancy did not have anything to do with [the one-way],” David said of the $10 million fundraising campaign for the park. “It was a city initiative. We did not take a position one way or another and none of the dollars we raised went into it.”
Nilsson opened her segment of the meeting, which ended up running one hour over its set time of 7 p.m., with an overview of the changes the Foundation has helped make. She explained some of the completed projects, such as improvements to the bandstand and the planting of 50 new trees to neutralize the effects of the 2015 macroburst that razed parts of the park.
Some more capital projects are underway, including converting the Betsey Williams Cottage into a visitor’s center, but the presentation was just the preamble for the main event.
“[The greenway] is essentially designed to create a safer space in much of our park and to make better connections,” Nilsson said, later adding that F.C. Green Boulevard has seen 54 accidents in the past two years alone. “I apologize if people felt left out of the process. Going forward, we want to make sure your voices are heard.”
She also noted the plan is not complete, as there are crosswalks to connect to the neighborhoods and rain gardens still in the offing. The extra safety measures, such as the flashing one-way signs, will be removed on July 1.
A line formed for residents, mostly from Cranston, to request answers from the Providence administration mainly concerning the lack of communication between the cities.
“We heard nothing about this until a week before you did this one-way,” Diane Lewis, a Cranston resident who walks her dog in the park every day, said. “It seems to me Cranston and Edgewood residents are disproportionately affected by your one-way. What used to be a very quiet, empty area is now motorcycles, cars speeding [and] it’s dangerous to walk across the road with my dog now.”
Some, like Adrienne D’Arconte, asked the Conservancy and the R.I. Foundation to take a stance.
“I think it’s time for the Conservancy to stand against this,” D’Arconte, who helped organize the Park View Community Meeting a couple weeks ago, said. “All the people here, the 1,000-plus people who signed the petition [against the one-way], I ask the Conservancy to get on board and make the park a safer park.”
The plan did have its proponents, though. Mike Ang, an avid biker who appeared at the Park View meeting, said it does make the park safer.
“On my way over here, I saw some kids riding,” Eng said. “The way the park was before, personally I was comfortable riding my bike through the park, but my wife was not, my neighbor’s kids were not. I think this is a great thing and inclusive for those who live around there.”
Executive Director of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition Alex Ellis also agreed the park would be safer, especially for bicyclists.
“The park is for everybody,” Ellis said. “There are a lot of people already biking around the park. The issue of safety with one-ways, in my experience there is not really a correlation between if a road is one-way and safety [issues].”
Despite some pressing from those against the one-way conversion, David affirmed the stance of the R.I. Foundation.