“Let’s just be very clear,” said Dwayne Keys, who heads the South Providence Neighborhood Association. “This is not just some simple transit plan. There are underlying reasons for removing those who they do not want in this area. This process and this plan itself is the epitome of oppression, exclusion, elitism, classism and yes, racism.“
About 100 people joined the Rhode Island Transit Riders, Prov X, South Providence Community Association (SPNA), Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), the George Wiley Center and many other social justice groups at a rally in Kennedy Plaza’s Burnside Park on a rainy Saturday afternoon to oppose the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT)’s proposal that would tear apart the bus hub and distribute it across downtown.
The proposed changes were part of a plan developed by RIDOT with no input from bus riders or public participation. The plan will add a second transfer to many commuters’ travels on RIPTA buses, meaning longer transit times, more bus transfers, and greater inconvenience, especially for the elderly and disabled communities.
“In this plan, there was no robust community engagement, no impact study, nothing. It is very clear that there was no respect or consideration for those directly impacted,” said Dwayne Keys, who heads the South Providence Neighborhood Association. “I want us to be very clear about what’s really happening and what are we are opposing. Number one, the impact to riders. This is not just zoning and transit. This is about a person being able to get to work on time and keep their job. This is about the students – hopefully we can get them back into schools and the classrooms – who use public transportation to get to school one time… This is about people who have medical appointments that need to get to their places on time to get the care that they need. This is about people with disabilities, who, if you look at [Kennedy Plaza], this location is the ultimate accommodation that they need for their lives. And overall, all those who use the bus to get where they need to go… The majority of the riders are black indigenous people of color, low to moderate income and working families.
“Those who are supporting [the plan] are predominantly wealthy and white – those two have got to go together – those who actually don’t use public transit,” continued Keys. “Some of them are actually property owners who have businesses and are renting right around here and they are looking at different ways and means of removing those who they deem undesirable from the area. Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. They’ve done this in many different ways and many different strategies. They tried it under the disguise of benevolence of St. Joe’s, with let’s help the homeless. And we saw what happened with that plan. They’ve done it already with the smoking ban. And remember that plan was to ban smoking in all of downtown, not just this section. And I kind of wonder if it was all about helping us, why didn’t we ban smoking in all the parts and all the city and not just this one?
“Let’s just be very clear,” said Keys. “This is not just some simple transit plan. There are underlying reasons for removing those who they do not want in this area. This process and this plan itself is the epitome of oppression, exclusion, elitism, classism and yes, racism.”
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Keys went on to comment that some of the politicians who are supporting this plan, notably Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, recently signed executive orders removing “Providence Plantations” from state and city documentation in an effort to combat systemic racism. “Yet now you’re moving forward with a new order that is going to reinforce the very institutional racism that you said you’re trying to eliminate,” said Keys, calling it “the ultimate contradiction.”
To date, RIDOT has held no public meetings to listen to and incorporate input into the proposed hub plan, a point repeated by several of the speakers. “We should all be outraged that such a major change in our transit system is being imposed without a single public hearing or workshop,” said Barry Schiller, a member of RI Transit Riders.
A proposal designed primarily by people who do not themselves take the bus and do not include riders in the planning process is unlikely to meet passengers’ needs, many observed. Terri Wright, a “life-long RIPTA rider” associated with DARE, called on Governor Raimondo to “take the bus for a year and see what it’s like to ride the bus regularly.”
Rally participants declared the $35 million in transit bonds voters approved in 2014 should be spent to improve public transit services, not degrade them. Patricia Raub, Coordinator of Rhode Island Transit Riders, asserted that RIDOT’s plan to move most buses away from Kennedy Plaza to a remote location on Dyer Street, “is not in passengers’ best interests, as it is too small for a full-service bus hub and doesn’t have the capacity to enable the transit system to expand ridership once the pandemic has ended.”
“This plan has got to go back to the table until we get the people who use transit, the people who depend on transit, the people we want to start using transit, to all be part of that conversation,” said Providence City Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13).
“Transit and zoning is very political,” said Lily Kirby from the George Wiley Center. “It’s a question of who gets to go where and when. It’s a question of who gets access to what spaces, who gets to live where, who gets to travel how. With this plan, it’s clear that it’s based on the opinions of wealthy property owners and large corporations and not people who actually ride the bus every day.”
Liza Burkin of the Providence Streets Coalition reminded everyone to go to this petition and let your opinion be known.
“The multi-hub bus plans will disproportionately inconvenience low-income communities, seniors, and persons with disabilities,” said Providence City Councilmember John Goncalves (Ward 1). “This system will lead to additional transfers for transit riders, adding to the stress of their commutes and also endangering the accessibility of public transit for RIPTA riders.”
“Who benefits from this plan?” asked Mie Inouye from Reclaim RI. “We’ve been told that replacing this hub downtown with multiple hubs will make our commutes more efficient, but we know, from our own experience and actually just looking at a map that it will make our commutes longer, with more transfers… So the question we need to ask is why DOT and Governor Raimondo want to take taxpayer money and spend it on a policy that hurts the people.
“The only way to make sense of this plan is to think about how they see this public space, how do they see Kennedy Plaza,” continued Inouye. “To downtown developers and to business interests, Kennedy Plaza is an eyesore. It’s something that deflates their property values. This proposal uses language of ‘opening up new development opportunities.’ But that’s just a nice way of saying, that it ‘moves poor people out of sight.'”
“it’s very tone deaf of the governor to continue to do things that make it harder for us as a community to progress,” said Brooklyn Toussaint of Prov X. “We can protest, we can continue to name our opinions, but at the end of the day, they control the narrative. And they’re going to continue to do these things that are unfair to us because they’re showing us, plain as day, that the inauguration speeches – they don’t matter. When they say they’re coming in to help Rhode Islanders, it’s not true. Because what they’re really coming in to do is to lace the pockets of the business owners, the people that benefit them, and keep their power intact.”
Isaiah-Tobias Lee of the Providence Democratic Socialists of America.
Providence City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3):
Andira Alves, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation:
Najeli Rodriguez from Prov X:
Charles Feldman, chair of the Mental Health Recovery Coalition: