RI Transit Riders: Kennedy Plaza tunnel idea ‘virtually dead on arrival’ and ‘ridiculous’

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“…cars are like dinosaurs waiting for their asteroid, and we have to think about how people are going to move around the state when cars are gone…”

Rhode Island Transit Riders, an independent grassroots organization devoted to promoting public transportation in Rhode Island, has come out strong against the recently proposed dismantling of Kennedy Plaza. The group was joined by other public transportation advocacy groups at a press conference in Burnside Park Wednesday.

Patricia Raub

“We oppose the recently proposed multi-hub transit plan unveiled by the state for a number of reasons,” said Patricia Raub, coordinator of RI Transit Riders.

Under the plan as proposed, bus traffic would be diverted to an underground tunnel, and Burnside Park would be connected to Kennedy Plaza via two pedestrian bridges. The Kennedy Plaza hub would be divided into separate hubs spread around the city. Passengers would be required to transfer between hubs, adding an additional bus or minutes of walking to continue their journey. Money approved by voters to improve the Kennedy Plaza bus hub will now be used to tear up Kennedy Plaza instead.

“This is a misuse of those funds,” said Raub.

Calling the plan to build a tunnel, “virtually dead on arrival,” and “ridiculous,” Raub quipped that “one does not build a tunnel through the central plaza of a major city by simply using a Sharpie to draw a line on a map.”

The plan will cost millions of dollars which has been earmarked for commuter safety, said Raub. She also pointed out that this would be the third time Kennedy Plaza has been dug up in the last few years.

Transportation advocate (and UpriseRI contributor) Barry Schiller is a former member of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) Board of Directors.

“I’m kind of sad that we have to be here to be negative,” said Schiller. “Negative about the process… That somebody powerful enough to have the ear of the Governor has overcome all the planning efforts that are going on by Statewide Planning, by the City of Providence, and the efforts that our Transit Riders group have made.

Instead of listening to politically connected insiders, Schiller suggested working together to build “a first class transit system that serves our economy, serves our mobility, serves our environment…”

“We believe, by working together, we can achieve the dual goals we’ve been talking about,” said John Flaherty of GrowSmart RI. “Which is to achieve a more attractive, safe, vibrant center here in the middle of Providence, together with maintaining the convenience of transit riders being able to access the transit system.

“What we need is transit vision, not tunnel vision,” concluded Flaherty.

One major hub, “works for the passengers and it’s a benefit to the ridership that they are able to transfer efficiently and have access to public restrooms here at Kennedy Plaza,” said Tom Kuhn, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Division 618 which represents RIPTA employees.

“As far as we’re concerned, transit is transit,” said Peter Brussard, Chair of the Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers. “It’s vital to us that we have a vibrant system that connects the east and west routes for the bus system and connecting to the train stations.”

“We have to do everything we can to get more cars off the road,” said environmentalist Greg Gerritt. “I started thinking about cars as like dinosaurs – you know they run on dinosaur remains – but cars are like dinosaurs waiting for their asteroid, and we have to think about how people are going to move around the state when cars are gone…”

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About Steve Ahlquist 1078 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com