2015-08-06 / Opinion

A ‘Historic Main Street’ Makeover


From our street-level newsroom at 86 Broadway, directly across the street from Thompson Middle School and diagonally across from City Hall, we don’t miss much that happens along the busy corridor.

So it was with considerable chagrin that a few days ago we witnessed a young, wheelchair-bound woman struggle to maneuver her chair between a gaggle of noontime sidewalk diners and the base of what had once been a flourishing tree a few feet closer to the curb.

Don’t misunderstand—we have nothing against Broadway restaurateurs or others in Newport, for that matter, who offer curbside dining at this time of year. We appreciate how pleasant outdoor city dining can be during these nice summer days and evenings.

However, this seemingly insignificant non-event (the woman eventually managed to safely negotiate this congested portion of the Broadway sidewalk) made us yearn for the day—probably not until later next year—when the Broadway Streetscape Project reaches completion. Whenever the job is done, it will not be a moment too soon.

As we watch the expansive new sidewalks and bump outs take shape across from us while we tap our laptop keyboards to chronicle the week’s news and opinion, we can also see right outside our front door how badly the city needed this project.

On “our” side of the street, the sidewalk is still worn and dirty. While trees are nicely interspersed along Broadway, most sit surrounded by concrete except for their square cut-outs that are topped off either with bricks that seem to have been uplifted by tree roots or with dusty, unsightly asphalt or just plain dirt. To make matters worse, there are two tree stumps where, without shade from tree branches and leaves, ugly weeds have taken over.

But the important thing here is that Broadway’s sidewalks now seem to be expanding before our eyes. As we write this, we can also see workers carefully placing sections of curbing in front of the school that will significantly widen those sidewalks.

With the same expanded sidewalk girth on our side of Broadway, the young woman who struggled so mightily to squeeze her wheelchair between lunchtime diners and tree trunks would probably have sailed right through.

And that’s as it should be.

When all the dust and dirt of construction have settled and heavy work machines have gone elsewhere, a sign on this busy thoroughfare may proclaim, “Broadway: Newport’s Historic Main Street.” It is the roadway leading from north of town right into Washington Square, where the 1739 Colony House still stands as a reminder of Newport’s significant role in establishing the United States of America.

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