Sender ’25: Making Brown Street for Brown Students: Pedestrianization of Brown and Thayer Streets

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Thanks to Brown’s compact and convenient campus, the primary modes of transportation on College Hill are walking, bicycling, and scootering. Unfortunately, many neighborhood streets look as if they weren’t built with this reality in mind – routes are often dangerously complicated by the unnecessarily wide and busy thoroughfares that strangle campus. Any student who has waited at the corner of Brown and Waterman streets and tried to dodge cars knows the danger and nuisance of the heavy traffic that constrains Brown’s pedestrians. Just as easily, anyone can imagine vehicles roaring through Thayer, causing severe noise pollution and harming the quality of life along the street. Pedestrians in Providence, especially on busy College Hill, deserve better than this and can have safer journeys while improving the surrounding community by pedestrianizing local streets. In particular, Thayer and Brown streets should be closed to traffic for their entire length along campus, allowing only emergency vehicles, public transportation and delivery vehicles.

At present, Thayer Street is about 30 feet wide, as are most trunks on the east side, with Brown Street having a parking lane on its east side and Thayer having a double-sided parking lot. Brown Street is two-way, while most of Thayer is one-way. These are some of the busiest streets for vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the entire neighborhood, according to a 2017 transportation study conducted by the University. Unsurprisingly, both streets are experiencing suffocating congestion at intersections as cars compete with the rush of students moving between classes. The University has already acknowledged that this congestion is a serious problem in its study, giving some of the most notorious intersections, such as Brown and Waterman Streets, Thayer and Cushing Streets, and Thayer and Meeting an “F” grade for traffic operations. intersection at certain times of the day. This means that these intersections experience extremely long delays with severe traffic jams, which are not only an inconvenience but also lead to more serious air pollution. It is important to note that the community most affected by this excess congestion, the Brown community, contributes little to the problem. Many Brown students do not own a car because on-campus parking is extremely difficult, while faculty and staff who live in College Hill often commute as students do on foot or by bike, others commuting carpooling.

To reduce congestion and improve quality of life, there needs to be a change on College Hill. One option would be to pedestrianize Brown and Thayer Streets from Bowen Street at the north end to Power Street at the south. This means prohibiting the use of personal vehicles along these streets while allowing buses, delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles to use the road. This change would be less inconvenient than it looks, cutting car access to just a half-mile stretch on both streets. For reference, Columbia is closing a similarly sized area of ​​New York entirely to through traffic. If it can work in very congested Manhattan, it can also work on College Hill. All in all, it’s a concept that hurts little and benefits a lot. It allows vehicles, such as delivery trucks, that need to use the road to do so, while making for a much easier and more enjoyable commute for students and residents. Importantly, those who could only access their homes from either street would still be permitted to do so with their personal vehicle.

Such a change would be minimally invasive while allowing pedestrian and cyclist-friendly additions. Thayer and Brown Streets could remain visually similar to their current configuration, with the addition of bike lanes where there is currently on-street parking. Additionally, streets that normally intersect with Brown and Thayer would gain raised crosswalks with clear signs that vehicles may not turn onto newly pedestrianized streets. Such a plan would allow buses and emergency vehicles to access the roads and perform their necessary services while giving pedestrians great freedom to use the space comfortably and safely.

This concept would bring economic, social and environmental benefits to Providence. Along Thayer, rising rents and the growing influence of chain stores have caused many long-standing staples to close as turnover has increased. Fortunately, actual attempts at pedestrianization have been shown to significantly increase customer visits to city streets while reducing the number of vacant storefronts. For example, pilot pedestrianization programs in New York reduced commercial vacancy by 49% along pedestrian streets, while another program in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, increased the number of customer visits by 54. %. Pedestrianizing Thayer would help local businesses by increasing the overall economic vibrancy of the street.

Brown Street, unlike Thayer, is not commercial – the street is mostly surrounded by Brown classrooms and offices as well as private residences. Despite the absence of commercial presence on Brown Street, pedestrianization would still have significant advantages. The Brown and George and Brown and Waterman intersections are considered to be operating at unacceptable levels of congestion, according to the University’s report. These critical intersections, serving as primary access points to the Main Green, are so congested that they have resulted in inexcusable impacts on the quality of life for students and the community at large. A study found that living near busy roads can exacerbate asthma and negatively impact cardiovascular health. Additionally, congestion has been directly linked to reduced quality of life. Thus, the pedestrianization of Brown Street, while not having such a significant economic impact, will significantly improve the lives of the thousands of people who use the street on a daily basis.

Perhaps most importantly, pedestrian streets serve as places where communities come together and develop greater social cohesion. Brown’s relationship with the College Hill community has long been strained, recently worsened by the decision to build a new dormitory on the former location of the beloved Bagel Gourmet and East Side Mini Mart businesses. It is obvious that the relationship between Brown and the surrounding community could benefit from increased positive interaction. Pedestrianizing Thayer and Brown Streets would create a natural gathering place for the whole community, not just Brown, and allow for increased interaction and hopefully a more harmonious relationship between Brown and the rest of College Hill.

The pedestrianization of Brown and Thayer streets would undoubtedly be a tangible good for the University. This would make walking on campus safer and more enjoyable while improving the environmental quality of the neighborhood. More importantly, it would improve the whole community, making Thayer a more economically prosperous corridor for all businesses while giving back to the greater College Hill community. Ultimately, this plan could serve as a model for communities in Providence, creating a more walkable and livable city for everyone.

Gabe Sender ’25 can be reached at [email protected] Please send responses to this opinion to [email protected] and other editorials to [email protected]

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