2013-09-26 / Front Page

Understanding Complete Streets

By Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA


The Warwick roundabout above is a one-way, circular intersection without traffic signals in which traffic flows around a center island. The Warwick roundabout above is a one-way, circular intersection without traffic signals in which traffic flows around a center island. As we approach the first anniversary of the Washington Square charrette, it is useful to revisit its primary recommendations and review developments that have occurred and other complementary efforts that are underway. Change comes slowly, and sometimes the most important change is the education of community members and the evolution of their thinking.

The City of Newport has taken a great step forward in establishing a Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. This group, led by Bari George of Bike Newport, serves as an advocate for the many people in the city who like to bike or walk to nearby destinations. Many of the improvements to the Washington Square area, including the widening of sidewalks and the installation of crosswalks, were designed to enhance the experience of people not using automobiles. Creating the new commission and implementing pedestrianoriented policies are in accord with Complete Streets principles. “Complete Streets” is a term that was coined in 2003 for a design idea that has been growing over the past twenty years: that roadways need to accommodate not just motor vehicles, but all users of streets, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and those with strollers and wheelchairs. The City Council, by adopting Resolution 2010- 130, made Newport a Complete Streets community three years ago and the city has been working to make this goal a reality ever since. Citizens can learn more about Complete Streets at an information session scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Middletown Town Hall. The meeting is being organized by Grow Smart Rhode Island, a statewide nonprofit organization that supports the Coalition for Transportation Choices and advocates for smart growth approaches to development.

Another recommendation from the charrette was that the area currently occupied by the gas station adjacent to the Colony House might become an extension of Washington Square, with the goal of improving the traffic flow and providing safer pedestrian access to the renovated Touro Synagogue campus. The gas station, which is currently for sale, is at the site of the original town spring around which Newport was first settled and incorporated in 1639. The organizing group has been considering redeveloping the site into a “pocket park” while restoring the active spring beneath the property for the benefit of Newport’s citizens and visitors. The other goal is to honor the work of John Clarke, a Baptist minister from Newport and the author of the Charter of 1663, which gave the world one of the first guarantees of religious freedom. The United Baptist Church, the successor church to the one where Clarke ministered, is immediately adjacent to the proposed park. Within a half-mile of the site are colonial and early federal churches representing 15 denominations. In celebration of both the spring and John Clarke’s important contribution to the freedom of religion, this endeavor has been called the “Charter Spring” project. John Grosvenor, a principal at Newport’s Northeast Collaborative

Architects, has been leading the effort to raise money to purchase and rebuild the site to benefit the city. Keep an eye out for future developments on this important initiative.

Although the Washington Square charrette produced dozens of good ideas on improving the area from Perrotti Park to the Touro Synagogue, one of the largest and most aggressive proposals addresses the goal of knitting the waterfront back into the fabric of the historic neighborhoods on the east side of America’s Cup Avenue. This would be accomplished by adding roundabouts to the four-lane roadway currently separating much of the city from the wharves. It is important to remember that roundabouts are completely different from rotaries, which are geared to higher-speed vehicular traffic. Roundabouts have been used successfully elsewhere to increase the number of vehicles that can flow through an intersection while also improving pedestrian safety. They are often viewed by transportation professionals as the future of intersection planning. While roundabouts have been greeted cautiously by some communities, many citizens have come to admire the efficiency and increased safety they provide.

An information session about roundabouts, the Complete Streets philosophy, and how these tools might have a positive economic benefit is planned for Friday, Oct. 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Center. The meeting will bring the charrette participants together with those who were not able to be involved, and will offer an opportunity to learn about these important urban planning techniques.

Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA, LEED AP, is an urban planner, historian, educator, and practicing architect living and working in Newport.

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