At the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC), the list of unattended needs is long. It was in a searching frame of mind that the Board of the BPC recently took up two longstanding questions about the southern end of the Boulevard Park.
First: How can we link the Boulevard Park to the Blackstone Park Conservation District? Only a sliver–the head of ravine given to Providence in 1866–is visible from the Boulevard. It is a steep drop blocked by a chain link fence. One needs to proceed down Irving Avenue to see the first trail into the beautiful but relatively little known 45-acre conservation district above the Seekonk River.
Second: How can we make access to the lower tip of the Boulevard Park (and its newly refurbished garden) safer?
The safety issue grabbed our attention when Vice-president Carrie Drake described feeling like a mouse escaping a hawk as she tried to scramble south from the southernmost tip of the linear park across the paved no-man’s land to the little triangle where Butler Avenue splits without being picked off by speeding cars. Other board members described their own close calls making their way to or from this part of the Park, especially when crossing the northbound lane. Whether to the east, the west, or the south, there is no clear way to get across the street.
How did this area come to be so muddled, hence dangerous? Step by step, is the answer. Individual problems were solved without an overall plan to take pedestrians as well as drivers and cyclists into account.
If, like Carrie, you try to walk north from the little triangle toward the Boulevard Park, you’re forced to cross an oddly shaped area of concrete with no indication of where drivers are supposed to go. You may occasionally see a few parked cars there. Elton Street is to your left, but to your right is a baffling double intersection, with a larger triangle, where Irving Avenue divides to accommodate eastward and westward traffic. Here, also, Butler morphs into a two-lane road and becomes Blackstone Boulevard. But the right lane is marked off limits to cars with slashing white diagonals. The purpose of that section is unclear.
Now, pass through the southern section of the Park with its garden and looping trail beloved of thousands of walkers and runners to Irving Avenue. Here a crosswalk enables you to cross safely to the next section of the Park. From that section, two crosswalks connect to the east and west.
Here’s the rub: If you wish to walk anywhere safely from the south section, you have to cross to the north first–even if you want to head south towards Lincoln School or Temple Beth-El.
Clearly, the City’s priority here was on moving vehicular traffic. And when cyclists demanded a path, one was added. But bipeds weren’t adequately considered. Neither was stormwater drainage, which is a growing public concern.
The challenge of figuring out a sensible solution to this tangle in a way that ensures the safety and satisfaction of all concerned parties is a planner’s dream. Not to mention the opportunity to finally link the two Blackstone parks in a way that everyone can see and safely use.
These are the relatively easy tasks. Bringing them about is another matter.