Opposition Pans Fragmenting Kennedy Plaza Bus Hub
August 21, 2020
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) got an earful of opposition during a recent online board meeting for a plan to break up the central bus hub at Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence. But it’s unclear if the agency has a say in approving the concept.
Kennedy Plaza is the primary starting point and destination for all RIPTA bus routes in the state. The proposed reorganization of Kennedy Plaza shrinks bus service there to 28 percent of its current operation. About half of all routes would move south of downtown to a new bus station in the Jewelry District. The remaining routes would shift to a remodeled terminal at the Providence train station on Gaspee Street.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) promised that the additional hubs will reunite bus and train service in the city, especially for travel to and from Boston. The plan also offers more access to hospitals, the Statehouse, and state agencies on Smith Hill, according to RIDOT’s proposed Multi-Hub Bus System.
RIDOT said the new hubs will be modern transit centers with restrooms, indoor waiting areas, real-time information boards, ticket vending machines, bicycle racks, and bike/scooter share areas.
Callers to the Aug. 19 RIPTA board meeting unanimously opposed the concept, saying that fragmenting the bus system will inconvenience riders and discourage use of public transit. They panned the concept of a bus station on Dyer Street in the Jewelry District. The buildings are ill-suited for transit centers, and the remote location surrounded by parking lots, they said, will make it difficult to board connecting buses and it require more time to reach destinations.
“This multi-hub bus proposal flies in the face of what the voters in Providence want,” said Liza Burkin of the Providence Streets Coalition. “It’s going to create longer bus commutes, more and farther apart transfers, which will explicitly affect our elderly and disabled neighbors and create a more confusing and difficult transit system.”
Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association, said the added noise, traffic, and air pollution would be catastrophic and deter investment in the city’s so-called “Innovation District.”
“There’s no shred of evidence that this location is where the riders want to be, or want to have their bus hub located,” Steele said.
Others spoke of the ease of finding connections to schools and hospitals at Kennedy Plaza but feared that the fragmented hubs would make it harder to reach needed services.
Many praised the open and public vetting process RIPTA followed to decide past projects. But they criticized RIDOT for crafting the plan in-house with independent consultants, while excluding input from RIPTA and regular riders.
“And none of that has happened with the RIDOT process. It has been done in almost total secrecy,” said Amy Joy Glidden of the advocacy group Rhode Island Transit Riders. “This multi-hub plan is not acceptable.”
The bus rider group has an online letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo with hundreds outlining their objections to the project.
Rhode Island Transit Riders and other organizations have endorsed previous plans to redesign or relocate the downtown bus terminal, but the latest concept would hamper public transportation uses, they say.
“This entire process has been flawed from the beginning,” Steele said. “There’s been zero transparency, zero process, and a total absence of data.”
The plan is also opposed by Grow Smart Rhode Island and public transportation advocate and former RIPTA board member Barry Schiller.
In response to a question about the data used for studying transfers, RIDOT executive director Peter Alviti said the agency has reduced the frequency of transfers and aims to eliminate the need altogether.
“We continue to make progress on reducing the number of additional transfers by making shifts and revisions in iterative kind of analysis on the placement of routes and the routing of the various routes,” Alviti said.
It’s unclear which agency has the final say on the project. The Multi-Hub design was created from a 2014 bond referendum that awarded $35 million to RIDOT to improve transit centers.
Near the end of the recent meeting, RIPTA board chair Normand Benoit said “there may not be a vote because it’s not our project.”
Benoit offered that the board will hold another meeting on the proposal that will “offer a thoughtful response to the comments that have been made.”
Raimondo’s deputy chief of staff Nicole Verdi attended the meeting and reminded the board that, “We really want to try to make sure we can progress here and benefit RIPTA riders as well as the state.”
Verdi added, “Although it’s not a RIPTA project, it’s been a really collaborative project.”
After the meeting, RIPTA clarified in an email that “RIDOT, RIPTA and the City of Providence are working collaboratively on this project and will develop a joint recommendation.”
A follow-up inquiry about authority over the decision prompted RIPTA to say, “There has been a long public process over the past few years on different versions and the latest iteration of the plan is undergoing public review now. The next stage is to continue working on the design, working with third-party partners and conducting a Title VI (service equity) analysis.”
Public comments can still be be submitted to [email protected].