Transportation

Governor Plows Ahead with Multi-Station Transit Plan

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Under the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s multi-hub plan, Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence would no longer be the central hub for public transit. (ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Gov. Gina Raimondo held a recent trumpet call to boost a plan that shifts most bus stops from Kennedy Plaza to new terminals at the train station and within the Jewelry District, despite unresolved objections.

“In my mind,” Raimondo said during the Nov. 5 online meeting, “this project and the fact that we are all here holding hands announcing that we are moving forward to make this a reality, means we’re together taking one big step towards a more resilient, connected, sustainable Rhode Island.”

Transit advocates, however, strongly disagree.

Raimondo noted that an interagency team has worked on the Multi-Hub Bus System for months and held a dozen meetings. “And we have reworked the plan numerous times to incorporate the input we have received from riders, from neighbors, from stakeholders, and, of course, the public,” she said.

Gov. Gina Raimondo recently held an online meeting to unify support for the state’s multi-hub bus station plan.

Overlooking disapproval from public-transportation advocates, Raimondo held the 18-minute pep talk with Mayor Jorge Elorza, Scott Avedisian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), and Peter Alviti, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).

Questions weren’t allowed and none of the speakers directly addressed the criticism that the Dyer Street station would likely extend travel times for riders, especially those from low-income communities.

Elorza, Alviti, and Avedisian professed their commitment to the overall multi-hub concept and gave assurances that outstanding problems will be addressed through additional public input and meetings.

Elorza likes that the project includes improvements to the skating rink, Burnside Park, and Waterplace Park as part of the proposed Kennedy Plaza makeover. He said the design process, led by the London-based Arup Group, will include public comments to improve bus travel and make downtown a civic center that rivals popular destinations around the world.

“It’s about time we have it here in Providence as well,” Elorza said.

When asked after the meeting about Elorza’s previous reservations about the project, spokesperson Patricia Socarras said there will be public input to address the proposed Dyer Street bus station in the Jewelry District. National Grid, which owns the Dyer Street location, will also participate in the planning, she said.

“The Dyer Street hub is challenging because of its constrained location and we believe more consideration should be given to pedestrian movements around the Dyer Street location, the layout of buses, access to the new West Side Park, and impacts to the waterfront park,” Socarras said.

Audrey Lucas, press secretary for Raimondo, defended the project, saying “voters clearly expressed their support for the multi-hub system in 2014 when they voted to approve $35 million in funding for the project.”

Voters six years ago, however, didn’t specifically approve the Multi-Hub Bus System proposal now being pushed. Question 6 on the 2014 statewide ballot, Rhode Island Mass Transit Hub Infrastructure Bonds, for $35 million noted that approval “will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed thirty-five million dollars ($35,000,000) to fund enhancements and renovations to mass transit hub infrastructure throughout the State of Rhode Island to improve access to multiple intermodal sites, key transportation, healthcare, and other locations.”

The state-favored proposal has been vetted and revised, Lucas said, “and we are confident that this plan will be good for riders, good for the environment, and good for jobs. We look forward to continuing to engage the public in this process, particularly around the redesign of Kennedy Plaza and the Innovation District Hub.”

Alviti said the project has evolved over six years and promised that hearings will be held in accordance with regulations. He highlighted improved regional travel that buses will bring to the train station on Gaspee Street, as well as new amenities.

“But I promise the riding public, as we go forward, we’ll be working toward providing a better experience at each of the hubs,” Alviti said.

There is, however, a growing chorus of objectors who say public input from riders should happen, along with additional study, before a concept is approved.

A statement by the advocacy group Rhode Island Transit Riders noted reports of contamination at the National Grid site on Dyer Street.

“We have repeatedly made it clear that this plan would do lasting damage to Rhode Island public transit. It would harm the vast majority of bus riders, not help them as the governor claims. This plan must be stopped,” according to the group’s statement.

The City Council passed a resolution Oct. 15 opposing the project. The Environment Council of Rhode Island approved a resolution Oct. 5 asking Raimondo to suspend the project until a robust stakeholder review can decide how the bond money should be spent.

During an Oct. 21 meeting of the RIPTA board of directors, transit advocate Barry Schiller asked, “If you were taking a bus downtown would you rather go to Kennedy Plaza in the middle of everything, or Dyer Street where there’s nothing around it but parking? It’s pretty clear that you’d prefer to go to the center where everything is.”

Public-transportation proponent Randall Rose noted that there hasn’t been a hearing for riders to speak directly with the designers of the multi-station plan.

“The main problem is getting rid of the central transit hub at Kennedy Plaza means that things will be a lot worse in our transit system,” Rose said. “Any system with no central transit hub is going be dangerous for riders, it’s going to be difficult for the disabled. It’s going to be destroying the value of public transit in our state and making it difficult for people around the state.”

Grow Smart Rhode Island is exploring legal and legislative options to challenge the Kennedy Plaza bus realignment.

“We just believe the administration’s plan is fundamentally flawed,” John Flaherty, Grow Smart’s deputy director, said.

Flaherty noted that there was no substantive reason to have the no-questions-allowed Nov. 5 press conference, because it lacked substance and details. He questioned having the proposal, which impacts the entire state, advance separately from the ongoing update of a statewide transportation plan, Transit Forward-RI 2040.

RIPTA board chair Normand Benoit said at the Oct. 21 meeting that change is needed to address the decrease in ridership. Benoit spoke of working near Kennedy Plaza since the mid-1970s. City Hall Plaza is no longer the epicenter of commerce in the state and many businesses and services have migrated from downtown. Until relatively recently, the Jewelry District was nearly abandoned but now has attracted universities, medical services, businesses, and residential development. The transit hubs will be closer to places where people live, work, and go to school, therefore fewer riders will need to reach Kennedy Plaza, he said.

Benoit referred to the perception of high crime in Kennedy Plaza, where he said he was once mugged. Creating smaller hubs, he said, will increase safety as policing becomes easier.

Benoit acknowledged the concern about the need for additional transfers. “But we have plenty of time to minimize any negative impact by reconfiguring routes if need be,” he said.

A new downtown transit connector (DTC) bus that runs every 5 minutes between Rhode Island Hospital and the three hubs will reduce the need for transfers, according to proponents of the plan. The DTC buses have been running since January and have shown the highest increase in ridership among all bus routes, according to RIPTA.

“I get that people don’t like change,” Benoit said. “But in my view [Kennedy Plaza] has proven not to work as the primary hub and we need to make major changes if we are going to have a vibrant public transit system in Rhode Island in the future.”

With an estimated 2023 completion date for the multi-station project, Benoit said there will several opportunities for the public to address design elements, route changes, and problems such as the transfer issue.

Otherwise, he said, “the status quo of incremental changes will lead to continued erosion of our transit system.”

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  1. The governor is a lame duck. She has never cared about input from the people that she serves only those to fill her coffers. I hope Biden remembers that she supported Bloomberg before him. The people who use the system know what’s best. Certainly she shouldn’t turn to RIDOT. Just drive under the crooked bridge on Division Street in East Greenwich…someone didn’t know what they were doing and the cover-up on the contaminated soil in any other administration would have had someone fired.

  2. We had in past years a multi-hub system in Providence. It was a pain to navigate for me, and I was in my teens. Then the big improvement happened with the central nexus of Kennedy Plaza. It was a vast improvement. It seems that the powers to be want to go forward with a similar plan that was flawed decades ago. Here we go again.

  3. I don’t see any mention of all the Providence high school kids who have to rely on city busses to get to school and back as well as to jobs and getting around. Parceling out bus station centers isn’t helpful to them. You would think the Adults trying to ramrod this through would actually care about our kids over money.

  4. The Governor is lying about a lot of things. She is lying about what the voters approved which did NOT call for destroying the central bus hub. She is lying about all the public input as ALL the riders "input" – asked about only after the decision to destroy the KP hub was already made – was to keep a central bus hub in a convenient location, totally ignored. She is lying about the need to better connect the train station – it is already extremely well connected to the city with the Downtown corridor and about 280 buses/day each way on Routes R, 50, 55, 56, 57. She is lying by omission about the reason for the whole plan – its really to help Joe Paolino get rid of the passengers, disproportionately poor and people of color, from the Plaza because he bought property nearby.
    I don’t like criticizing the Governor this way because in some ways she has been OK, but this plan is outrageous.

  5. This is the right thing to do. Yes, some potential issues need to be addressed but overall getting it out of Kennedy Plaza, IMO, is the right thing to do. I lived in KP and I was harassed every single time I left my loft. I had to file reports due to the harassment. My company had to walk through and endure the harassment as well. The CVS closed due to theft, the 7-11 can’t open both doors due to theft. Drug deals happen 24-7 as I have witnessed the whole year I lived there. Also, my packages were stolen and mailmen did not want to deliver my mail, I had to go to the post office to get mail. Fire and police departments were out there every single day. Squatters in Biltmore and CVS, fights everyday. I wouldn’t recommend any tourist walk through KP or the park. Kids would go out there and had to have security escorts. So, yes another solution needed to occur for tourism, locals tenants, students and businesses. Moving the station is ideal for those but other issues (disabled and students) should also be addressed. It’s about 10-15 minute walk from the new hub to KP so not out of reach for most.

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