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Opponent’s march against Raimondo’s plan to break up Kennedy Plaza



They’re not looking at the elderly people. They’re not looking at the people that have disabilities. They’re just looking at how they want to glorify Kennedy Plaza. They want to push the homeless people out… They’re not addressing the needs of the people…

[Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the plan was presented to the RI Foundation, not the Providence Foundation, as is the case. The providence Foundation did raise concerns about the plan.]

It was a cool, sunny Saturday in Providence as 75 people gathered in Burnside Park, the downtown park adjacent to the Kennedy Plaza bus hub, to make the trek to the Dyer Street location of a newly proposed second bus hub, and then onto yet another newly proposed bus hub by the train station near the Rhode Island State House. Due to it being a Saturday during a pandemic, traffic downtown was light. Those marching were able to cross through empty parking lots, normally filled with cars. Because it was not the middle of the summer or the winter, the temperature was perfect for walking, neither too hot nor too cold.

For people familiar with navigating Providence without a car, it was a rare day. Snow and ice did not block sidewalks or make them impassable. Construction crews were not digging up walkways or forcing pedestrians to take detours across busy intersections. Delivery vans did not block sidewalks. All these normal workaday obstacles are things that most of us take in stride, but imagine if you were sight impaired, elderly, needed assistance to walk, were pregnant or shepherding three small children through the city. The walk from bus hub to bus hub would seem a monumental undertaking.

Here’s the live stream from UpriseRI reporter Will James:

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), under the guidance of Director Peter Alviti and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, is moving forward with its plan to dismantle the central bus hub in Kennedy Plaza by transferring most buses to the Dyer Street and train station locations. The plan has been called racist, classist and ableist by bus riders and transportation advocates, who note that bus riders are disproportionately elderly, disabled and working class BIPOC.

Two weeks ago the Providence City Council took up a resolution to oppose the multi-hub bus plan. That there would be an opportunity for people to speak at the meeting was plainly advertised when the meeting was announced, but city councilmembers moved to stifle the public, scheduling a new meeting to take place after RIDOT begins securing the engineering companies it needs to build the project. Despite this lack of public comment, RIDOT was allowed to speak to the city councilmembers and told them that the entire plan would be completed inside of two years.

The Raimondo Administration, meanwhile, is lying to the public about the funding for the project, claiming that voters approved a bond to break up Kennedy Plaza four years ago. Though voters approved a transportation bond, the intent was to improve the transit system, not to make it worse for people.

Previous reporting:

Though about 75 people began the march. Not everyone was able to make it to the last stop at the Rhode Island State House. Below are all the speakers who addressed the participants at the various stops.

“We are here because the only way we could get our voices heard was out in the streets,” said Patricia Raub, coordinator for the Rhode Island Transit Riders. “We tried to come to the city council committee meeting… and we were invited to speak, but none of got a chance to speak despite the fact that there were 45 of us waiting to say what we had to say about the RIDOT failed plan to have multi-bus hubs in downtown Providence.

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“RIDOT keeps on saying they are listening to us, but they are not inviting us to say anything. So the only way they will listen to us is if we demand to have our voices heard.”

City Hall called John Prince, from Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), for his take on the multi-hub proposal. “But they gave me the wrong number to connect to the people I was supposed to talk to,” said Prince, adding, “but I don’t want to be on the phone. I want to address [the head of RIDOT] personally and let him know that my aunt ain’t going to walk from here to up there to catch a goddamn bus! That’s out of the question.

“They’re not looking at the elderly people. They’re not looking at the people that have disabilities. They’re just looking at how they want to glorify Kennedy Plaza. They want to push the homeless people out… They’re not addressing the needs of the people…”

“I’m asking the Governor to step in to call on the DOT to step away from their plan,” said John Flaherty, Deputy Director of GrowSmart RI, “and for her to commit to an open, public process about how best to fix Kennedy Plaza and improve transit.”

“We have a big fight here, and I support the people of Providence for what you’re doing,” said Gloria La Riva.

“When you have to take the bus, you have to take the bus. You’re going to work. You’re going to the doctor. [This multi-hub plan] is bullshit and it’s unacceptable ableism to make it harder to use public transit.”

Rhode Island Housing released ten opportunity areas for affordable housing, which is more pointed towards southern Rhode Island and in the suburbs,” said Jackie McConnell. “But our people cannot get to those housing opportunities because we spend money trying to redo Kennedy Plaza and not to extend our bus lines.”

“It’s important to understand the background of where this plan is coming from,” said Jonesy. “There’s no smoking gun … but if you start paying attention to who’s been advocating for it, a picture starts to emerge…

“Suddenly, RIDOT comes out with this plan from out of left field. They want to dismantle Kennedy Plaza and build several worse hubs in places we don’t want them. Why is that happening? …

“We know that Joseph Paolino … owner of properties downtown, has been advocating for years to remove buses and bus riders from the vicinity of his buildings. He’s on record. He’s spoken in the paper about it… He thinks that we, our presence in the world, our presence downtown, make his properties less valuable. And he wants to push for any way to get us gone…”

“This is just an example of our neoliberal, neo-fascist feudal servitude… It just further proves how okay we are with dividing the rich and the poor, Black and white…

“I just want to remind the Governor and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to remember who it is that uses public transportation,” said Rhode Island State Representative-elect David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence). “It is working families, low-income residents and our communities of color who depend on RIPTA. We depend on RIPTA to go to work. We depend on RIPTA to do our laundry, to get groceries, to access school…

“The only time we ever pay attention to public transportation is when we’re going to make the experience more inconvenient for the people that depend on it.”

“The decision to break up the public transit hub is a decision that is being made by politicians who are more interested in accumulating wealth and privileges than governing for the common good,” said Andira Alves, and organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “Raimondo didn’t present this plan to the people. Elorza didn’t present this plan to the people. It was imposed from the top down by a class that doesn’t even take public transportation.”

John Flaherty:

“Our city makes our students, especially high school students, rely on public transportation.”

Gina Raimondo and Joseph Paolino are “not making some fatal mistake or something like that. They’re not confused. They’re no misinformed… The actively want to harm Black and brown people.”

“Have some compassion for the City of Providence,” said Terri Wright an organizer at DARE. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. We are all wearing masks. We should not have to worry about breaking up Kennedy Plaza at a time like this…”

Kennedy Plaza Space Transformation Station Yuranians were on hand:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.