Riders Need To Be Heard

The fate of the downtown Providence bus hub, which has long anchored Kennedy Plaza, has sparked considerable controversy. Rhode Islanders who ride the bus have been angry and distressed that the hub might be moved to a worse location. But now there’s a chance things may be moving in a better direction. RIDOT, which has driven efforts to push the hub further away, now says they will present three bus hub options for feedback in a series of planned public hearings. Gov. Daniel J. McKee, for his part, has stressed the importance of public input in the process.

RI Transit Riders (RITR), long an advocate of improving transit for Rhode Islanders and involving transit users in the decision-making process, is pleased that after more than a year and half since RIDOT unveiled its Providence Multi-Hub Bus Project, there will finally be public hearings. The question is how best to use the transit funds approved by Rhode Island voters in 2014.

RIDOT proposes three options: 

 Option 1, the Multi-Hub, is the RIDOT plan widely rejected by transit advocates and riders that would inconveniently divide the main bus hub at Kennedy Plaza into three hubs. RITR is dismayed that this option is still being discussed and questions why RIDOT hasn’t dropped it. 

 We appreciate, then, that the state is once again considering an option of keeping and improving the Kennedy Plaza bus hub (Option 2). This economical approach is currently our preferred option, though we suggest using some of the money saved by this option to enhance the terminal building and improve lighting, signs, landscaping, and street signals. 

 Kennedy Plaza is the ideal bus hub location because it’s near downtown destinations where passengers want to go (City Hall, URI, hotels, the Post Office, banks, the mall, etc.) In fact, in 2018 the City of Providence completed an extensive public hearing process that yielded a widely accepted plan that is still a good model to follow. It improved safety and vehicle circulation around the Plaza, kept the buses in KP and created extra public space near the skating rink–all for only about $3.2 million. This means that, unlike all RIDOT’s other options that would exhaust and overrun the funds provided in RI’s 2014 transit bond, money from that 2014 bond would still be available for its stated purpose of funding other transit system improvements around the State.

 As far as we know, the only people who did not like this plan were wealthy downtown real estate owners determined to evict as many transit riders as possible from Kennedy Plaza in a misguided attempt to rid the public space of people experiencing poverty, homelessness, and substance use disorders. We want to be clear: simply moving transit operations, at huge taxpayer expense, will not solve these deeply challenging social problems. Only investment in affordable housing, mental health, harm reduction, and other wrap-around supportive programs will.

RIDOT is adding one more option–on Dorrance Street (Option 3), described as a single hub in a five-story building with ground-floor retail, an indoor parking garage, and a top floor of moderately priced apartments. Its proponents tout it as a complement to the adjacent I-195 Redevelopment District –– but it comes with a $77 million price tag. 

 Many vital questions about the project funding, features, management, timeline, and public engagement process remain for Option 3 –– and with them, our uncertainty. We hope to get some answers at the upcoming public hearings. 

 RI Transit Riders wants this process to be collaborative so that it genuinely improves transit and environmental sustainability, and addresses equity in transportation in keeping with the state-approved Transit Master Plan. Let us make sure that our collective decision regarding the central bus hub in Providence contributes to these goals.

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