City’s New Pedestrian Bridge to Connect East to West

Bridge view looking west. The lower deck of the new pedestrian bridge will not extend the width of the river; instead it will join the upper deck via a terraced staircase. Access to two of the bridge’s foundational piers will be incorporated into the final construction. (Providence Department of Planning & Development renderings)

Bridge view looking west. The lower deck of the new pedestrian bridge will not extend the width of the river; instead it will join the upper deck via a terraced staircase. Access to two of the bridge’s foundational piers will be incorporated into the final construction. (Providence Department of Planning & Development renderings)

By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Pedestrians and bicyclers could be crossing the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge as soon as fall 2016. The bridge will be built on top of the existing piers between the Point Street Bridge to the south and the Crawford Street Bridge to the north, and will connect the waterfront parks on the east and west sides of the Providence River.

The bridge is in the final stages of permitting, and an 18-month construction period is expected to begin in spring 2015, according to Lambri Zerva of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT), who spoke at a Sept. 29 meeting to update the public about the project.

Since earlier renderings, the square footage of the bridge has been reduced and a lower-deck event space has been eliminated, according to Bonnie Nickerson, the city’s director of long-range planning. Meanwhile, stylish benches and direct access onto the two eastern piers have been added. The bridge retains the character of the original plans despite these changes.

Much of the structure, including the deck of the bridge and the benches, will be built of ipe wood, a highly durable, low-maintenance product, according to Nickerson. To create continuity between the bridge and the waterfront, similar wood features will be used in the parks.

Lighting on the bridge will be incorporated in the benches instead of on traditional poles, Nickerson said. The bridge designers balanced public safety concerns with aesthetic glare issues that could diminish views and cause light pollution, she said. The lighting is designed to assure safe crossing, but will not spill-over into the night sky.

No new boat access will result from this project, according to Nickerson.

Approaching the bridge from the east, pedestrians will have two options, a lower park-like area to the south that is closer to the river’s surface and offers access points to two piers, or the arching deck of the main route over the bridge to the north. About a third of the way across the bridge the lower tier ends in a staircase that connects it to the upper tier. From there the bridge continues west as one artery.

Bridge view looking east.

Bridge view looking east.

Wood elements will extended into the parks on either side of the bridge to further incorporate the structure into its surroundings.As pedestrians approach the west side of the bridge they will find benches clustered together offering scenic city views. The benches will separate the bridge back into two informal arteries, a wider southern passage that designers predict will be used by cyclists, and a narrower northern artery that will be used by pedestrians, Nickerson said. The bridge will not have a designated bike lane.

DOT has allocated $6 million for the project, while the estimated budget is $5.5 million, according to Nickerson. Once built, ownership of the bridge and future maintenance will be the responsibility of the city, she said.

The bridge will be accompanied by extensions of the parks on either side of the river and new bike infrastructure.

The waterfront park on the East Side will be extended south from its current terminus at James Street to Point Street. On the West Side, the riverwalk will be extended south to the bridge entrance. Park construction will begin nine months after construction on the bridge. Ideally, the bridge and parks will be complete at the same time, according to Zerva, though park construction could lag.

Bike storage will be included at either end of the bridge, and an off-street bicycle path will bring riders south from the east end of the bridge, through the park, to the intersection of Point Street and South Water Street. From there, they will have access to the bike path that brings riders behind Our Lady of the Rosary Church to the India Point Park Pedestrian Bridge and then beyond to the East Bay Bike Path, Zerva said.

A northbound on-street bike lane will be added on South Main Street, from Point Street to James Street, with sharrows continuing thereafter. A corresponding southbound bike lane will be added on South Water Street, from the Crawford Street Bridge south to Point Street. On the west side of the river, bike lanes will be added on Eddy and Dyer streets. Clifford and Friendship streets will likely end up getting only bike sharrows.

One person at the meeting voiced concerns about vandalism. He cited the damaged handrails along the current riverwalk along South Water Street, from which huge mooring posts have been unbolted and stolen and not yet replaced. Members of the presenting committee assured the audience that a management plan would be in place to limit vandalism, but details were not made available.

When completed, the pedestrian bridge will span 330 feet and reach a peak height of 16 feet above the river’s surface.