A walk along Route 2

Thank you Flickr for making it easy to pull things from the archives and give them a home. This Route 2 project is one such thing. Here is the story: I was invited to participate in the "America 24/7" book project. Those are those big colorful books full of puppies and kids with ice cream cones. I thought they asked the wrong guy but no, they said, we want a lot of different view points and here is some cash and an olympus digital camera and so I said o.k.. I proposed that I walk a section of state Route 2. (I also visited every doughnut shop within 5 miles of Providence City Hall, there are over 50, but that is another piece).

Rhode Island’s Route 2 has become in effect the state’s “Main St.” Since the 1960’s much of the state’s commercial activity has shifted to a ten mile stretch of the road. Rhode Island’s first mall was built there, and then the state's second mall, built right next door. Route 2 leads south from Providence through the older suburbs of Cranston into the town of Warwick, where open spaces attracted the developers of housing tracts and retail plazas. Reflecting a time when towns were a bit farther apart the road changes names frequently over the ten mile stretch that I walked, shifting from Reservoir Road in Cranston to New London Ave., to Bald Hill Road and finally to Quaker Lane.
I photographed along Route 2 in two phases. On May 15 of 2003 I walked south from a shopping and housing development in Cranston called Garden City. This development was built in the bowl of land left behind by the state’s only coal mine. Across the street are the derelict stone buildings of the former Sockanassett Facility for Boys,(these have now been redeveloped) followed by the state prison, referred to locally as the “aye-see-eye”, the Adult Correctional Institution. Just beyond that is a mini golf course. And then the retail action gets underway.

Like many such roads Route 2 is a harsh place for a pedestrian. Sidewalks begin and end with no connections between, crosswalks are infrequent and then disappear all together. Traffic moving at or above the speed limit of 45 mph seems much faster from the shoulder. Even though many stop lights do not have crosswalks, thoughtful traffic engineers have still provided curb cuts, so in case one is traveling in a wheel chair that can do 0-60 in less than 5 seconds one could still cross the street. The rest of us have merely to wait for a break in traffic, and then run like hell. This is a harsh road for motorists as well. MapQuest.com states the 7.8 miles I walked the first day can be driven in 11 minutes, and that may be true at 4:00 am, but on most days the trip takes much longer, and the frustration is clear at each stop light. On May 16th I walked north from Garden City through the heart of Cranston into Providence. This is the older stretch, the buildings are smaller and closer together and generally closer to the street. Interspersed are houses. These houses are rather lost. They are surrounded by parking lots and some have surrendered completely, giving way to hair salons and real estate offices. Some surprisingly are still lived in, I see their occupants working on their yards, seemingly oblivious to the roar of traffic that drowns out lawn mowers and most coherent thought. These places are however, as the realtors say, close to shopping.
Still one can see the older streetscape eroding as newer stores move in, with their setbacks to provide convenient parking up front. Shabby in parts, shiny and new in others, Route 2 is a reflection of the commercial hopes and desires of Rhode Islanders.

A small handful of these pictures made it (thumbnail size) into the 24/7 book, which can still be found in bargain bins across the country.