The State Planning Council last week adopted Rhode Island’s “first-ever comprehensive statewide vision and long-range master plan for the future of transit in the state.” Called Transit Forward RI 2040, the plan “outlines a vision and blueprint to enhance and expand Rhode Island’s statewide transit system, help revitalize its cities and towns, provide greater access to economic opportunity, reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector and support transit-oriented housing and commercial development along key transit corridors.”
The Transit Master Plan (TMP) has been hailed by transit activists such as Grow Smart RI Executive Director Scott Wolf, who called it “a significant smart growth milestone for Rhode Island” and added, “this bold plan should play an important part in ensuring that Rhode Island emerges from the pandemic as a more vibrant, sustainable, equitable and opportunity-rich state for all our residents.”
But there is a contradiction in the Raimondo Administration’s adoption of the Transit Master Plan, and that’s RIDOT (Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s) plans to break up Providence’s Kennedy Plaza bus hub into three smaller, less convenient bus hubs. As Grow Smart RI’s Deputy Director John Flaherty points out in a press release celebrating the adoption of the TMP, “Notably, the controversial RIDOT-led Multi-Hub proposal for Downtown Providence was neither conceived nor vetted as part of the RIPTA-led transit master planning process. Advocates continue to call on the Governor to withdraw that proposal.”
UpriseRI spoke with Flaherty about this.
UpriseRI: What does it mean, do you think, that the Raimondo Administration approved this plan, while at the same time pressing for a development proposal – the breaking up of the Kennedy Plaza hub – that does not conform to this plan?
Flaherty: If you look at the Transit Master Plan, that went through a very thorough vetting process, was very data driven, and had a lot of public feedback in its development… But the Transit Master Plan just didn’t deal with the [downtown hub issue. They] just sort of skipped over that. It looked at a lot of improvements for putting more service on the street, improving frequency, trip times, all the things that are important to making a better transit system, but it skipped over Kennedy Plaza.
I think it’s a bad move on the Administration’s part to push through this multi-hub plan, without the same kind of public engagement and vetting and data driven process that the Transit Master Plan went through. Because if it was a data driven process and plan, then I don’t think they would have come to the conclusion that it makes sense to break up the central hub into a series of hubs where transfers take place in different locations.
The motivation for the multi-hub plan is very different from improving public transit.
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UpriseRI: There are some basic principles outlined in the Transit Master Plan upon which it is based, such as making public transit more convenient, but the multi-hub plan is in contradiction to this idea, because it’s making public transit less convenient.
Flaherty: That’s a very, very good point. In that sense, one could claim that the RIDOT multi-hub plan is not in conformance with the statewide Transit Master Plan because the Statewide Master Transit Plan emphasizes the importance of convenience and trip time, and what RIDOT is proposing is antithetical to those principles.
RIDOT and the Administration will probably dispute that. But I think transit advocates would have a really strong argument to make. That the multi-hub goes against principles that are outlined in the TMP having to do with convenience and speed.
RIDOT recently said, “We’ve reduced the number of people who will be inconvenienced by the multi-hub plan, and we hope to get that number down to zero.” And my point is why would you do anything that’s at best neutral, and not an overall improvement to the transit system?
UpriseRI: So the multi-hub plan will only inconvenience some people, so it’s okay? How many are we talking about being inconvenienced?
Flaherty: Right now it’s down to 400-500 people a day.
Grow Smart RI first pitched the concept of a transit vision and master plan following a forum it hosted in December, 2015 at which the Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate President each spoke.
According to Grow Smart RI, “77% of Rhode Island’s population lives within a 10-minute walk of a transit stop, yet the United States Census shows that less than 3% of our residents use transit as a means for getting to work. Making the transit system more user-friendly, convenient and faster will benefit all Rhode Islanders, including commuters and those seeking efficient ways to access a variety of services and amenities. And with the transportation sector accounting for the single-largest and fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast, increased use of transit could play a significant role in fending off the worst impacts of climate change.”
- American Planning Association of RI says RIDOT/Raimondo multi-hub bus plan is harmful to people of color and people of lesser means
- Raimondo and Elorza push ahead with multi-hub bus plan despite the objections of riders
- At RIPTA Board meeting, bus riders testify against the planned destruction of Kennedy Plaza
- Opponent’s march against Raimondo’s plan to break up Kennedy Plaza
- Community groups rally to oppose RIDOT’s Multi-Hub Bus Plan and the deconstruction of Kennedy Plaza
- RIDOT faces strong opposition to multi-hub plan at public meeting
- Local transit advocacy groups and other orgs oppose RIDOT bus hub plan
- With climate change looming, why is Rhode Island making public transportation less convenient?
- Governor Raimondo’s Multi-Hub Bus System plan