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Tech and procedural problems plague PVD City Council hearing on multi-hub resolution



The Governor has made it clear she wants busses out of the plaza. RIDOT is moving as swiftly as possible to achieve this and the agency isn’t following the more inclusive process of engaging stakeholders, including riders, to come up with a solid plan.

In order to speak at Wednesday evening’s Providence City Council Committee on Urban Redevelopment Renewal and Planning (URRP) meeting, you needed to sign up in advance, using this online form. If you simply tuned into the Zoom meeting and tried to use the raise hand function, you were ignored.

On September 3 the Providence City Councilmembers Councilmembers John Goncalves (Ward 1), Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) and Rachel Miller, (Ward 13) introduced a resolution opposing the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Multi-Hub Bus System plan. This is an extremely important, time sensitive issue as RIDOT and the Administration of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is rushing this project through the process, despite having not consulted with any members of the public who use public transit.

“Though the City Council does not have a decision making role in the process, they can support and amplify the community’s message,” pointed out transportation advocate Liza Burkin in her testimony.

Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) referred the resolution to the URRP Committee, chaired by Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), for consideration.

At the next URRP meeting which was advertised as having public comment, around 45 people called in to testify. Instead of allowing the public to testify, the committee decided to hear only from a representative from RIDOT and schedule another meeting to hear public comment about three weeks later. This was done, they claimed, to allow more people to speak. Instead, it had the opposite effect.

Wednesday night’s Zoom meeting was plagued with technical issues, and many people who signed up to speak could not get through. City Councilmember Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4) displayed boredom and impatience with the process, suggesting that people with technical issues be dismissed so that another speaker could be heard. Instead of welcoming public comment, the committee once again treated public comment as a chore, as something that had to be drudged through.

Once again, over 45 people were on the Zoom meeting, some wishing to speak who had not signed up in time, others who had signed up but were not allowed to speak due to technical issues. Only 21 people spoke at the meeting.

For background on RIDOT’s proposed multi-hub plan, see:

Below is all the video from the hearing.

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Chair Harris introduces the hearing:

Before public statement started, Chair Harris entered for letter, testimony from the public in written form, into the record. Each letter was voted to be entered into the record separately.

Technical issues, prompting Councilmember Narducci to propose moving onto the next speaker.

David Kolsky is the first speaker:

“This proposal will cost many rider, including myself, both time and convenience,” said Chris Arly [?].

“This is essentially a plan to throw poor people out of downtown,” said Greg Gerritt. “It says, let’s get rid of the bus station so we can do real estate speculation.”

“The Governor has made it clear she wants busses out of the plaza,” said Patricia Raub, coordinator of the Rhode Island Transit Riders. “RIDOT is moving as swiftly as possible to achieve this and the agency isn’t following the more inclusive process of engaging stakeholders, including riders, to come up with a solid plan.”

Phillip Trevet [?} asked that the two councilmembers who worked so hard to shut down public speaking at the last URRP hearing (Councilmembers Narducci and Michael Correia (Ward 6)) recuse themselves from voting on the resolution should it come to the full chamber. “If they’re not invested in hearing from fellow councilmembers, much less constituents, they shouldn’t be part of any vote.”

“We should be making [using the bus] as convenient as possible,” said Kathy Berenger, a tree planting advocate and urban forester. “Every dollar that we spend should be made to make our riders, especially our most vulnerable riders and the heaviest users of the bus system to make it easier on them.”

“Anybody involved in this decision should be riding busses, even if they have to take a week off and just ride busses and find out what they’re doing,” said Jane Arnold. “Second, ask the riders. Make it easy for them . Make it easy for the woman carrying eight bags of groceries… And third, can you do something about Kennedy Plaza to keep it clean?”

“We cannot hope to address the climate crisis by making the bus more difficult to use,” said Mal Skowron from the Green Energy Consumers Alliance. “But this is not just a climate issue. It’s also an equity issue because the people most affected by the multi-hub plan will be low-income people and people of color in Providence.”

“I believe this is a racial justice issue,” said Bobbi Houlihan. “I think the DOT plan will help Paolino.”

Joseph Paolino is the former Mayor of Providence and the owner of real estate downtown that abuts Kennedy Plaza and owns many car parking lots that will benefit from more cars and less busses being used downtown.

Kennedy Plaza, said Barry Schiller, a lifelong transit rider “is where people want to go. It’s near the Post Office, banks, coffee shops, City Hall, URI, Providence Place [Mall], Burnside Park, the skating rink. We don’t want to go to Dyer Street, which is at the fringe where there’s no services and is a scary neighborhood after dark.”

“In the past, RIPTA has sent survey takers to Kennedy Plaza to find out people’s opinion on taking the busses,” said Charles Feldman, who is with the Oasis Recovery Center. In order to get the services they need, people in recovery need access to decent transportation.

“By making before and after school commutes more complicated and arduous we have intentionally deprived students the opportunity to connect to supportive after school programs,” said Xan.

Wendy Thomas, who has ridden the bus for forty years, said that every time Kennedy Plaza is redone, she has to help seniors navigate the system anew.

“This is a plan for wealthy property owners downtown to get people they don’t want to see out of sight,” said Nina Wolff Landau, “which, let’s call it what it is: It’s racist and it’s classist and it’s outrageous.”

“This is a plan that has been developed by people who do not use transit,” said John Flaherty, deputy director of GrowSmart RI. The plan makes navigating by buss more confusing and “it’s going to take longer to get where they’re going.”

“I want to thank you for hearing our voices tonight,” said transportation advocate Liza Burkin. “Our voices have been systematically shut out of this process.”

“A good public transportation system means less traffic, which means cleaner air, which means less asthma and cancer as well as climate change,” said Kate Schapira. She made the case that a less convenient more confusing bus system will start a vicious cycle of less bus ridership, less revenue, and more cuts to public transportation.

“RIDOT is not directly responsible to voters or to bus riders but they do answer to Governor Raimondo,” said Jonesy. “Governor Raimondo needs to near from you that it is not acceptable for RIDOT to ignore the needs of Providence residents and bus riders.”

RIDOT representative Steven Devine, at the last URRP meeting, “literally provided you with more untruths than truths,” said Sharon Steele, President of the Jewelry District Association. RIDOT has “merged their lack of process with arrogance and incompetence. We are in a position where we don’t know which proposal they’re going to pursue, it seems they’ll throw it all against the wall and see what sticks.”

The process is happening much too fast “without proper community engagement,” said Jesse Morrow. “We need to hear the ideas coming from transit riders…” Morrow also noted that many of the purported benefits of the multi-hub plan being put forth by RIDOT are misleading and incomplete.

“We are being silenced by RIDOT and their process,” said transportation advocate Randall Rose. “As awareness grows among riders they are getting more and more outraged as they realize what’s in the works.”

As the members of the URRP committee rushed to close the meeting, Councilmember Goncalves asked to be heard and urged the committee to pass the resolution immediately. Chair Harris declined to bring the resolution to a vote, and the meeting closed.

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.