Editorial & Opinion

Robin Xiong: Building a transportation system for people

How the east side of Providence could catalyze major improvements in statewide transit.
Photo for Robin Xiong: Building a transportation system for people

Published on August 11, 2022
By Robin Xiong

Rhode Island’s current transit system is primarily designed to accommodate cars, not people. The decision to prioritize cars drastically increases air pollution – one key reason why over 1 in 10 Rhode Islanders have asthma and why the transportation sector accounts for over 1/3 of our state’s carbon emissions. Our car-centric transportation system also imposes a heavy financial burden on Rhode Islanders. In addition to the high cost of personal vehicles, an investment that only depreciates, people must purchase car insurance and contend with fluctuating gas prices, all in order to freely and conveniently get around.

Fortunately, there’s a lot that our state government can do to make rapid improvements to Rhode Island’s transportation systems, both to curb carbon emissions and to ease financial stress on consumers. On Providence’s East Side, we have an opportunity to lay the groundwork for many of these improvements. Here are some of the policy ideas that, if elected, I will advocate for in the State House to build transportation systems that put people, rather than cars, first. 

High Speed Mass Transit

Rhode Island should greatly increase funding for RIPTA, to ensure that buses run much more frequently, and to create new bus lines to reach underserved parts of the state. With proper funding, buses would be kept in better and cleaner condition, and RIPTA could create new bus stops across RI, making the entire bus system much more convenient and accessible. The state should also reserve one lane of multilane highways for buses to accommodate the expansion of mass transit. In order to curb emissions, RIPTA’s bus fleet must be electrified. To encourage widespread use of decarbonized mass transit, and to connect Rhode Islanders with opportunities for work and leisure across the state, we should entirely eliminate bus fare and make our transit systems maximally accessible to people with disabilities.

Walkability and Bikeability

We should also redesign many of our streets to be more convenient for pedestrians and bikers, and this is one area where the East Side could really lead the way. Bike lanes should be expanded on most streets on the East Side, and concrete barriers should be erected, when necessary, to protect bikers from traffic. In more densely populated areas home to small businesses and growing communities, like Thayer and Wayland Square, streets should be closed to traffic more often. Studies indicate that shutting down streets to car traffic in commercial areas like these helps local businesses because pedestrians prefer to shop in places that aren’t dominated by cars. By expanding bike lanes and periodically shutting down streets, the East Side could pave the way for more progressive transit policies statewide by vividly demonstrating the benefits of a redesigned transit system in which cars take up less space.

To move Rhode Island toward transit policies that are pedestrian-friendly and biker-friendly, our state legislature must offer hefty financial incentives to municipalities in Rhode Island that implement policies designed to improve walkability and bikeability. If elected to office, one of my top priorities will be ensuring that the state legislature works closely with towns and cities, including Providence, to create more bike lanes and car-free streets.

Electrification

To the extent that personal vehicles remain a feature of our state’s transportation system, we should aim to electrify them as quickly as possible. Before we can realistically expect people to transition en masse to electric vehicles, our government needs to build hundreds more charging stations across the state to reduce range anxiety and make owning an electric vehicle more convenient.

I hope to work in the State Senate to build new transportation systems for the people of Rhode Island, featuring high speed mass transit, walkable cities and streets, substantially more bike lanes, and far less pollution.

Robin Xiong is running for the senate district 3 seat and faces incumbent Samuel Zurier in next month’s primary.

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