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Save Kennedy Plaza! say riders and advocates at protest against RIDOT/McKee plan to destroy it

Neighborhood, social justice and transportation advocacy groups urge Governor Daniel McKee to halt the rollout of RIDOT’s flawed plan and start working with the community to develop a better one

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The Rhode Island Transit Riders Alliance joined with local organizations including South Providence Community Association (SPNA), the Kennedy Plaza Coalition, the Providence Streets Coalition, and Grow Smart RI at a rally in Kennedy Plaza’s Burnside Park Saturday afternoon to oppose the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT) proposed bus hub plan. The plan, say the groups, will result in an inconvenient and confusing transit experience and add time, long walks and additional buses to their daily commutes.

Around 70 people attended the protest, and the weather cooperated, even allowing some sunshine to peak through at times.

RIDOT’s plan for Kennedy Plaza includes breaking up the convenient bus hub into three or more hubs scattered throughout downtown. Elderly, disabled, students, parents with young children, the homeless population, students and BIPOC workers will be most impacted. The plan was produced with no input from transit users, and is being done to remove undesirable populations from an area that downtown real estate owners and developers want to turn into a virtual private park for the rich.

The plan is the subject of a TITLE VI civil rights complaint, and has been roundly criticized by the American Planning Association of RI. It will utilize money from a 2014 transportation bond that voters approved to improve public transportation infrastructure throughout the state, not destroy a working bus hub in Providence. In his recent budget, Governor Daniel McKee expressed full support for the plan, funding it fully and asking the General Assembly to pass an extension on the bond money, which expires this year. Asked if he plans to move ahead with the plan over the objections of community members, Governor McKee promised a thorough and public vetting of the plan, as had RIDOT, but to date no public outreach has been planned or offered, and the project is projected to have shovels in the ground in August.

Will James has the live stream, the video of the individual speakers is below:

“Our current campaigns include preventing the destruction of our central bus hub, expanding transit throughout the state, implementing the state’s Master Transit Plan and ensuring that essential amenities like bathrooms and sheltered waiting areas are available at each hub,” said Patricia Raub from the RI Transit Riders Alliance. Right now, the bathrooms at the Kennedy Plaza, Pawtucket and Newport bus hubs are closed to the public.

“The process that led to this plan, and the plan itself, remains the epitome of oppression, exclusion, classism and racism!” said Dwayne Keys, Chair of the South Providence Neighborhood Association. “The plan did not include robust community engagement, impact assessments, or democratic decision-making with those who ride buses – principles that the South Providence Neighborhood Association upholds with all planning projects. Until they agree to a process that creates an equitable plan with true inclusion, our effort continues with opposing the proposed multi-hub plan for Kennedy Plaza.”

“When RIDOT looks around, what do you think they see?” asked Terri Wright of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality). “Opportunity? Then my next question is: Opportunity for who? We need opportunities that are going to benefit residents of Rhode Island and disassembling the central bus hub in Kennedy Plaza and inconveniencing RIPTA riders is not one of them. This is not a broken system, so why tamper with it?”


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Transit justice advocate and Cumberland resident Norman Liu:

“Oftentimes BIPOC communities are left behind and oftentimes people in our communities don’t have a choice about how they can get around this state,” said Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the BLM RI PAC. So it’s really import that BLM RI PAC focuses on this aspect of public transit, just due to the fact that we need to get around better…”

“Kennedy Plaza is the core of our state’s public transportation system,” said Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence). “This has been going on a long time. There has been a long war on Kennedy Plaza. And we’ve got to say why: Because certain wealthy business men…”

“Paolino!” shouted someone from the crowd.

“And one particular very wealthy real estate developer do not like having some people in our public square who might not be rich,” continued Senator Bell.

Senator Bell urged those at the rally and those who may be watching now to call the office of Governor Daniel McKee (401-222-2080) and let your opinion about the destruction of Kennedy Plaza be known.

Liza Burkin informed those in attendance that Governor Daniel McKee and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti will welcome United States Senator Jack Reed and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, United States Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, and other state and local officials at the Providence Viaduct Northbound project site to kick off the 2021 construction season on Monday April 19 at noon. The event will be held under the Providence Viaduct. Follow Providence Place toward Providence Place Mall and look for an event parking sign shortly after Harris Avenue. Parking will be on the right, through the open gate.

Dwayne Keys pointed out that RIDOT’s plans for Kennedy Plaza are not in keeping with the state’s recently completed Transit Master Plan.

The protest then marched through Kennedy Plaza, from one proposed bus stop to another. Under the proposed plan, even the few buses that stop at Kennedy Plaza will be placed at opposite ends of Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park.

The multihued plan means that if you need a transfer, and your bus stops at the mall, you’ll have to walk from the mall to Kennedy Plaza to catch your next bus. The location of these bus hubs have not been finalized, but they will be spread across downtown.

Marching from one end of Kennedy Plaza to another, even for healthy active people, takes between two and three minutes. Now add rain, unshoveled walks, high heat, children in tow, or doing so with a disability, or while elderly.

Dwayne Keys:

“Since the birth and rise of neoliberalism in the seventies and eighties our government, mostly attached to corporations and lobbyists have been on a mission to privatize every single institution,” said activist Enrique Sanchez. “It’s become very, very dangerous, because people’s lives are put at risk.”

The walk from bus stop to bus stop continues.

Greg Gerritt from ECRI (Environmental Council of Rhode Island) pointed of Governor Daniel McKee’s hypocrisy on signing the 2021 Act on Climate bill and working to destroy public transportation.

“There’s been an undeclared war waged against poor people, Black people and Indigenous people since the very beginning of this country,” said Darren, a transit rider. “The state, in trying to break up Kennedy Plaza, is just another example of their offensive against the working class…”

Candidate for Mayor of Providence Gonzalo Cuervo speaks and offers support

Homeless activist Zan Berry of the Tenderloin Opera Company led the crowd in a song.

1Marching back to where the protest began:

Final words from Liza Burkin:

Final words from Patricia Raub:

The microphone was then opened to anyone in th crowd with something to say:

Joe Buchanon:

See also:

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.

atomicsteve@gmail.com

Freelance Journalist and Visual Artist, and Video Producer for Uprise RI. If you would like to support my work directly my username on CashApp, Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal is "willconns".