Blackstone Boulevard–More than an Ordinary Roadway

A new vision for Blackstone Boulevard depicts a destination for thousands of drivers, walkers, runners, and bikers even more welcoming than it is now—and more sustainable. It could more nearly resemble the original dream of 19th-century city leaders, who, in the days of horse-drawn carriages, envisaged more than an ordinary roadway.

The boulevard was conceived to extend Butler Avenue and replace the original road inside the cemetery with one on farmland just outside the western boundary. But the Swan Point directors in 1887 wanted more than a mere means of conveying visitors to the cemetery. They specified a “fine boulevard” with a shaded drive; a streetcar road (to serve growing numbers of visitors who would “no longer have to ‘submit to the tortures of an antiquated “bus”’”); and “winding paths.” To realize their vision they hired a leading landscape architect, Horace Cleveland, designer of Roger Williams Park.

Changing Times

With additional planting in the 1900s, the 1.6-mile-long park in the center of the Boulevard flourished. And over time the balance between park and roadway became more park-like. When the trolley ceased operation in 1948, the site of its rails became a path for walking and, later, running. More recently, the popularity of biking inspired delineating part of the roadway for a bike path.

The path and Trolley Shelter after World War II deteriorated until late in the 20th century, when Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) volunteers began working with the Parks Department to install new trees and benches. Now the Boulevard Committee and Chairman Colgate Searle, a landscape architect on sabbatical from RISD, are working to strengthen the historic park’s future.

In addition to creating an online master list of trees, Searle is studying the soil in the badly worn path in order to recommend workable improvements to the Parks Department. He and other BPC board members also envisage ways to prevent erosion and capture more stormwater for reuse by trees and plants.

Searle’s slides illustrating the Park’s venerable history fascinated attendants of the BPC annual meeting in March. He suggested managing the Boulevard from one sidewalk to the next as part of the urban forest to enhance the experience of driving—or walking or running or biking–under an arch of trees. It would hopefully be safer than it now is.

Boulevard Traffic Proposal

Far from the days when carriages were forbidden to drive faster than four miles an hour in Swan Point, the Boulevard Park in recent years sometimes floats in a sea of traffic. With speed have come accidents, like the one that knocked the boulder at the intersection with Lloyd 25 feet southward, where it remains. Although auto accidents dwindled after the bike paths were drawn, residents still endured late-night motorcycle races, and cyclists have been cut off and even knocked over by impatient drivers.

In response to neighbor concern over traffic, the BPC board, guided by civil engineer Jon Ford, drafted the following Boulevard Traffic Principles for possible use in future discussions:

“The Conservancy proposes that traffic-calming solutions be consistent with the Boulevard’s historic character and ecological needs wherever possible, thus making the park more viable. In general, this means:

    • Increasing green space
    • Reducing extraneous pavement
    • Improving stormwater management
    • Providing a minimum of conveniently located on-street parking
    • Enhancing bicycle safety and use.

“Perhaps most important, the Conservancy encourages a community-based dialogue to ensure that the neighbors affected are part of the design and selection of alternatives.”


Jane Peterson

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