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At RIPTA Board meeting, bus riders testify against the planned destruction of Kennedy Plaza



Whenever they claim they’re going to make Kennedy Plaza a more wonderful place it’s really just an excuse because some influential people want the busses out of Kennedy Plaza. It’s like Trump just repeating the same lies over again. Why do we have to listen to this same, tired script again?

During the public comment period at Wednesday’s Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) Board of Director’s meeting, 15 members of the public called in to testify against the Rhode island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) plan to break-up Kennedy Plaza, the system’s central hub, and distribute the buses to the outskirts of downtown. The plan, heartily endorsed by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and by a cabal of downtown real estate owners, is intended to move students, working class folks, BIPOC, poor and homeless people out of the downtown area.

No one who takes the bus was consulted on the plan. No one in favor of the plan is a bus rider. The plan to have three bus hubs downtown means longer commutes as people trek by foot from one bus hub to another or avail themselves of a third bus to make their transfer. The new design will make it harder for the disabled, elderly, or parents wrangling young children to use the bus system. The plan will steal time from people who use public transportation, adding to the length of commutes. The plan has been labeled racist and classist by critics.

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Ahead of the public comment RIPTA CEO Scott Avedesian, a Raimondo appointee, presented the latest iteration of the multi-hub plan to the board. It took over twenty minutes, and Avedesian only got through about a third of the thirty pages. It was clear that some aspects of the plan are still in flux, even though the expectation is that construction will be done in about two years, and bids will soon be accepted for some of the work.

Here’s all the testimony from that meeting. No one spoke in favor of the multi-hub plan:

“This project is being rammed down the public’s throat,” said Patricia Raub, who leads the Rhode Island Transit Riders, a group that advocates for good transportation policy. Like every transportation advocate in the state, she is against the plan. “The idea that there has been any public outreach… is laughable.”

“It seems to me this process has been backwards,” said Jane Arnold. “If you’re going to improve a public transportation system you start by talking to the people who depend on that system – to get to work, to get to school, to shop, to go to entertainment, to take their kids everywhere they want to go – and you start with asking those people. You don’t start with a plan and say, ‘Okay guys, here it is, what do you think?'”

Besides negatively impacting riders who currently use the bus system “I also urge you to appose the plan because I think it will make it harder for RIPTA to improve service in the future,” said Chris Sulley[?], a regular bus rider, noting that RIPTA’s analysis of customers who transfer doesn’t take into consideration weekly and monthly passholders, only people who purchase transfers.

“While there might be other locations for a downtown hub, I want to defend Kennedy Plaza, where we already have the infrastructure,” said Barry Schiller, a long time transportation advocate and UpriseRI contributor. “It’s the center of the city – where most people want to go.”

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“First and foremost, public transportation needs to serve the people who use it consistently,” said Lena, a Providence resident. “To start public engagement so far down the process of building this plan and really, not to start [public engagement] until public pressure from the Transit Riders and pressure from city councilmembers in Providence, I think is pretty appalling.”

“We approved the transit bond in 2014 to improve bus access and capitol improvements for bus hubs throughout the state,” said Liza Burkin, an urban planner and community organizer. “I don’t know how many times that must be stated. That’s the language of the bond. These funds were not intended to be solely spent in downtown Providence. This is a misuse of public funds.”

The Raimondo Administration has not been honest when they say that the multi-hub plan currently under consideration was approved by voters.

Given that the plan Avedesian presented to the RIPTA Board during the meeting is very different from the plan presented weeks ago, Sharon Steele, President of the Jewelry District Association, said that the public engagement should restart. “How can someone react to something they have not seen in a matter of minutes?” asked Steele. “If, as Director Avedesian has said, the outreach started in July and will continue through October, in our world, the new outreach starts today, because there is a new deck.”

“To be honest with you, I don’t have any confidence in RIDOT,” said John Flaherty of GrowSmart RI. “It wasn’t always that way, but as a result of several recent decisions and actions, I’ve gotten to that point.”

“Stakeholders feel that they have been ignored or dismissed. Public comment alone is not even sufficient to engage the riders and users,” said Jesse Morrow. “We need question and answer sessions. We need to have town meetings in a way that we can gain the input and insight of the riders, of transit users, of the RIPTA and RIDOT employees this will impact…”

“My expertise is as a rider. I am a disabled chronically ill person living in Providence. I don’t have a car, I rely on the buses,” said Lee Rodman. Sometimes, when going to a medical appointment, “there is a transfer. It happens. And for me, that bus ride, to and from my appointment, because of my health conditions, it’s exhausting. It exacerbates pain. It exacerbates symptoms. It’s a big deal. adding a [second] transfer to that is going to make some of my medical appointments inaccessible to me…”

“This multi-hub plan would pose an added barrier, especially for lower income students, students of color, homeless students and students with disabilities,” said Xan, a teacher in Pawtucket. “Many of these students are already vulnerable to discriminatory policing from Providence Police or school resource officers and by decentralizing the Kennedy Plaza hub we’re them at greater risk of unfair punishment…”

“Whenever they claim they’re going to make Kennedy Plaza a more wonderful place it’s really just an excuse because some influential people want the busses out of Kennedy Plaza,” said Randall Rose, a transportation activist. “It’s like Trump just repeating the same lies over again. Why do we have to listen to this same, tired script again?”

“I always felt that RIPTA does try to listen and I don’t feel that way at all about the Department of Transportation,” said Susan Bealy[?]. “Their casual disregard of public comment is just shocking to me.”

“The problem here you’re solving isn’t the bus system,” said Jackson Cantrell (an UpriseRI contributor). “In the best case it’s a city beautification plan and in the worst case it’s that a couple of property owners are sad that there’s too many working people near the apartments and hotels there.”

“This is going to increase the time for people to get where they’re going,” said Wendy Thomas. “Our time is valuable.”

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.