Providence planning street closures so people can spread out

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Providence is looking into closing streets to cars to give people more space in neighborhoods to spread out beyond the sidewalk amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Public Works has submitted a request to the Providence Board of Contract and Supply to tack on $15,000 to an existing contract with traffic signage company Permaline Corporation, for traffic control devices and signs “to close streets and public spaces related to COVID-19 to ensure social distancing.”

“We know more people are using local streets close to home to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a statement. “To make it safer to walk, run and ride bicycles, the city is exploring a plan that creates low-traffic, low speed public space in high-density neighborhoods.”

He said the plan would be based on other cities that have already implemented similar street closures, keeping them open to local traffic.

Emily Crowell, Elorza’s communications director, said there isn’t a list of streets yet that would be closed, and specifics are being worked out. But possibilities would include changing streets to one-way, adding “closed to through traffic” and pedestrian signs or lowering speed limits. Roads would not be totally blocked, in order to allow for local traffic or emergency vehicles to get through.

Elorza has come under heavy criticism for his decision to close city parks, trails, walking paths and boulevards to both cars and pedestrians. But so far the mayor has not backed off the closures, saying there were too many gatherings happening that violated social distancing guidelines from health experts.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has publicly disagreed with Elorza on the parks issue. She closed parking lots in state parks and beaches, but has not barred people from walking into the public spaces.

Pedestrian and bicycle organizations have pointed out that sidewalks are narrower than most park trails, making it more difficult to take a walk and remain socially distant. The closure of streets or segments of streets would potentially solve that problem and keep people their own neighborhoods, rather than traveling to parks across the city.

Providence Police have been enforcing Elorza’s parks closure, but have not needed to issue any fines yet, according to Col. Hugh Clements.

The Board of Contract and Supply will consider the funding request for the street closures next week.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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