Greater City Providence

Providence streetcar back on track


Rendering of proposed Providence Streetcar at Empire Street.

In late 2009 then Mayor David Cicilline unveiled the Metro Transit Study, calling for the return of streetcars to Providence. In the intervening years, the Core Connector study has looked at the possibilities for doing just that, through studies and public meetings. A locally preferred alternative route connecting the East Side with the Hospitals area in Upper South Providence has been approved by RIPTA.

Then, we entered our fiscal emergency and the streetcar was put on the back burner.

In March of this year, Mayor Taveras gave his Economic Report and expressed his support for seeing the streetcar project continue. Last week, the City of Providence Department of Planning and Development applied for a Federal TIGER grant to partially fund the streetcar project.

The TIGER Grant Application calls for $39 million in federal funds to use towards the $114 million project.

The grant states the remainder of the project would be funded by City TIF Bonds ($54.32 M), RI Capital Plan funds ($15 M), RIPTA CMAQ funds ($5.25 M), and a RIDOT land transfer ($0.80 M).

Operating funds and debt service totaling $6.93 million per year would be funded by the TIF; an Assessment District; parking revenues; fares (~$2), sponsorships, and advertising revenues; and a three year CMAQ subsidy.

The TIGER Grant application included letters of support from RIPTA, the RI Convention Center, Brown University, the College Hill and Jewelry District neighborhood associations, the Providence Foundation, Grow Smart RI, AARP of Rhode Island, the Sierra Club of Rhode Island, House Speaker Gordon Fox, and others.

If the City receives the TIGER funding, construction could begin as early as 2015 following completion of design and environmental revue, with service commencing in 2017.

[alert type=”muted”]See Also:


1The Governor would rather we build a rotary and by-pass road in Warwick.
2Yes, that’s me from 2011.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I understand that there are funding challenges, but 12 minute peak and 15-20 minute off-peak headways are not frequent enough.

  • It’s good to see this back on track, but frankly, the red coloring is hideous – it doesn’t fit with the existing buses, the red trollies are on their way out again (to be replaced by green trollies), and matching them to the color but not the styling of the trollies doesn’t make any sense anyway.

    Blue streetcars would be a much, much, much better choice and as far as I’m aware, there’s no cost difference between what color streetcar we want to have.

  • I’m a huge supporter of the streetcars, of course, but oddly enough, one of the things that has to be considered is how streetcars would negatively affect biking. Crossing trolley tracks is a really testy thing to do on a bike and causes accidents sometimes.

    I think this is totally possible to overcome, but it should be part of BPAC’s planning to think of how to make sure that cycling routes are considered in the laying down of new tracks.

  • None of the branding has been done for the project yet, the red color is just a rendering. As for the trolley buses, I haven’t heard anything about bringing back green ones, I’ve heard actually that RIPTA would be happy to phase them out entirely.

    Streetcars and bikes, see Portland.

  • The more I think about this project’s current setup, the more nervous I get. Don’t get me wrong, I want this project to succeed and have the streetcar route network expand. However, that expansion in going to be contingent, in no small part, on the success of the Downtown Connector. To me, the only beneficiaries of the current route are Thayer Street riders because Thayer Street has a high residential population base and this base is most likely to be commuting to the Jewelry District and hospitals for school and work. If I’m downtown, I can walk to points along the route faster than it would take to wait for and ride the streetcar. Plus, the connection to the train station is not ideal, which is a function of the decision 20-30 years ago to relocate the station to its current site. If we were doing this right, we would have an east-west and a north-south route with high frequency and better intermodal connections. However, federal, state, and local funding of transit takes a back seat to other transportation priorities in this country. Yes, the development along the connector route could help, but it is speculative at this point. I just do not want to see the worst case scenario realized in which people do not ride and we end up with a perceived boondoggle when we should have the start of a bright future of transit oriented development that is the foundation for growth in Providence.

  • Jef, the trolley buses were touched upon at some of the public hearings held recently. The salient points:There is at least one turn (“Wickenden Street” on Route 92 – I should have asked for clarification as to whether that meant Wickenden/Ives, Wickenden/Brook, or both) that RIPTA claims a full 40′ bus cannot handle. The trolley buses are slightly shorter (I forget if it’s 35′ or 37′) and can handle such turns, so they’re there to stay for the foreseeable future.
    The red coloring conflicts with Viking Tours trolley buses in Newport. Too many tourists were boarding the wrong bus, you can’t point people to “take the red one,” that sort of issue. Newport initially protested against the offer of switching back over to green, but suddenly decided green wasn’t all that bad when RIPTA threatened to just start using normal buses on Route 67.
    If RIPTA is claiming turns on and/or off of Wickenden Street aren’t doable by full size buses, I have an extremely difficult time believing that a similar problem doesn’t exist at Prairie Ave & Early St, precluding use of full size buses on Route 6, but I neglected to ask about this. The Colony House deviation is being eliminated, but only during zoo operating hours – so that turn is still a potential problem before the zoo opens and after it closes.

    Of course, there’s also the fact that “bus stigma” is apparently still strong enough that a proposal for limo jitney service out of Providence Station doesn’t immediately get laughed right out of the room, so even absent any turning problems for Route 6, I have a hard time believing that route is in any danger of non-trolley bustitution now that it is to connect the zoo and the train station – even if RIPTA would love to get rid of the trolley buses.

  • Oh, for the love of…

    Apparently my unsorted list tags were stripped from the comments. I was under the impression that was a supported tag.

  • The trolley buses should have an at least 10 year life span, I can’t imagine RIPTA would (or even could do to federal funding rules) replace them just because someone in Newport was unhappy with the color.

    RIPTA was all set to eliminate the trolley buses a few years back, turning radii be damned (I think the plan was to use existing short buses and/or vans), it was a campaign by the visitor’s bureau in Newport that made them order new trolleys instead of scrapping them.

  • Jef, I’m guessing “replace” in this context probably means “repaint.”

    At least, I’m really, really, REALLY hoping it does. Cans of paint are cheap, new vehicles aren’t.

  • I just posted on Facebook how we’d not seen any activity on this since 2012. Good to see the funding is coming into place. I suppose construction will begin in late 2013 to 2014.

    I still maintain the line as currently configured is WRONG. If you look at every bit of research on tracked transit they have always been from depressed area to urban core and back. So one that makes more sense would be to link Olneyville to Downtown.

  • I don’t see it “back on track” just yet as there is no assurance of a TIGER grant, CMAQ funds are very competitive and subject to the approval of the State Planning Council that has a big wish-list for projects (see Pawtucket train station above for example) there was opposition from property owers to an assessment district, and I think there is a general lack of enthusiasm for the project from all but the Mayor/city planners, Brown, and streetcar fans – I think because this project is not big enough to serve enough peiple or really contribute to revitalization of a district as Tony suggested, perhaps could also be Allens Ave area on to Eedgewood – (thats what worked in Portland.) In addition $2 fare for such short rides when a plethora of parking is available will be a hard sell.

    I think what worked in places such as Charlotte, Phoenix, where I was told voters actually approved some taxes to pay for it, was a vision presented of a streetcar or light rail system, even if not built all at once, that excited people from throughout the region. If the current PVD proposal was put before voters in that way, would anyone expect it to pass? Its not big enough, and since there are fixed costs of a garage, electric system and such, its expensive per mile. While I could well be wrong, I honestly don’t think it can actually get funded as is.

  • I have to admit a large part of my support for the streetcar is rooted in the assumption that actually building it will invalidate and prevent the paving of several hundreds of new parking spaces in the Jewelry District – if that’s a valid assumption and a legitimate possible outcome of the streetcar, then the real cost of the streetcar as designed is either $0 or less than that.

    If, however, that is not valid – for example, if the conversation starts to become about where streetcar users might park their cars to get on the streetcar, or if the streetcar moving forward again fails to have any appreciable impact on calls for more parking – then the largest draw of the streetcar evaporates entirely – and frankly, it does become a wasteful project.

    I think it’s still too early to tell whether and what kind of effect just establishing the streetcar as a thing that will certainly happen would have on the revitalization of that area – but in the meantime, I think Barry has a point about the small size (read: “modest beginnings”) of the project possibly being to blame for some of the low enthusiasm surrounding the project.

    I mentioned the possibility of an R-Line Streetcar previously, which would make for a fine (if ambitious!) streetcar route. The R-Line is also featured rather prominently on the proposed route map and wouldn’t you know it, most of the streetcar stops are a 1/2 mile walk away from the R-Line’s proposed routing.

    Another option might be converting Route 92 into an actual Green Line Trolley (does anyone actually call it this?) – now that it’s being merged with Route 26, this would also allow Atwells Avenue to be served by streetcar. I don’t know how much legitimacy is behind the aforementioned claim of turning radii problems on Wickenden and I don’t know if a streetcar would or wouldn’t be able to handle such turns, but the option is certainly worth exploring.

    And even if we know that “the money isn’t there” for a 92 trolley conversion or an R streetcar or any other extension or addition that you could name, is there any real reason that this all needs to be built in one go? Couldn’t we certainly have a Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3? Just adding a Phase 2 to the project plan is bound to generate at least some degree of excitement, in my opinion.

  • Not for nothing, but this post is among the most shared on social media that this site has ever had. Sure, the readership is a self-selected group of urban enthusiasts, but 71 shares to Facebook is nothing to sniff at in terms of enthusiasm.

  • What annoys me is that Providence is still trying to redevelop Jewelry while the Bank of America Tower is empty. This kind of redevelopment is a smaller-scale version of Buffalo’s insistence on continuing to suburbanize while the metro area is shrinking. First fill Downcity, then worry about the Jewelry District. With the redevelopment impetus removed, there’s no reason to prioritize the hospitals above existing transit ridership on Broad and North Main. Portland’s streetcar is a low-frequency loss leader for upzoning, but at least Portland has enough population growth to justify this; Providence doesn’t, and needs to prioritize existing neighborhoods.

  • Am I the only person in the world who’s NOT excited about these streetcars? I just think it’s a whole new kind of thing to maintain and crumble over the years.

    I’d much rather see more trolleys set up to really move people around the urban core, lots of frequent ‘loops’ that each touch Kennedy Plaza.

    I think part of ‘planning’ has to include long term costs and recognize that Providence has a REALLY bad track record of taking care of the things it buys. That’s not going to magically change any time soon.

  • Once the investment is made, streetcars last longer and require less maintenance than buses.

    Also, speaking of crumbling, buses inflict a surprising amount of wear on pavements.

  • But even if they costless in the long run, which I’m a bit suspicious of, they’re not a replacement for buses here, they’re a supplement to the system. A supplement that requires new staff with their own expertise, a whole new set of tools, and lots of upkeep to keep the system running.

    Maybe the answer -is- to have streetcars run the main routes all over town from Kennedy Plaza, then have buses doing long-haul trips from a nearby station that won’t scare away the suburbanites.

  • Other than the separate place for suburbanites, of course the answer is that the street car should be used along the most popular transit corridors, especially where there are opportunities for transit-oriented development. But you have to start somewhere, and going with the highest density of day time use along a 1 mile stretch in the city that passes through the existing transit hub is as good a place as any to start, in my opinion.

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