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Streetfilms: A Red State Capital Builds Ambitious Transit

According to Congress for New Urbanism President John Norquist, the Salt Lake City area has the fastest growing rail system in America. And as Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt pointed out last month, “It’s the only city in the country building light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars and commuter rail at the same
time.”


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32 Responses to Streetfilms: A Red State Capital Builds Ambitious Transit

  1. Truthspew August 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Yet at the same time they cannot for the life of them figure out how to fund a streetcar system for a couple of miles here in Providence. It’s stupid. First, beat up our congressional delegation – get funding from transit funds and build it. Only this time sure, go from Brown University to the Hospital Complex but drop a spur down Broadway or Westminster into Olneyville and beyond out toward Manton or Hartford. That part would make a bundle of sense.

  2. James Kennedy, Transport Providence August 13, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    The streetcar needs to have a right of way, like the ones in Salt Lake City appear to have. A two mile streetcar that travels at traffic pace the whole time wouldn’t be worth our time or effort. The idea that Barry published on your website about making part or all of Washington Street transit only would be great, especially if it went beyond Kennedy Plaza, connecting the tunnel and the West End with a completely car-free approach.

  3. Jef Nickerson August 13, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    If we had 8 lane roadways all over the city like Salt Lake does, it would not be a problem to create separated right-of-ways. We have a built environment more like european cities which have much of their trams moving with automobile traffic. Our system would be more like Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, or Toronto with transit lanes where feasible.

  4. Alex Bergeron August 13, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    What about Denver? They are certainly expanding their mass transit; including light rail, commuter rail and rapid bus, though it may be taking longer due to financing issues. I often consider those same issues when thinking of light rail possibilities in Providence. However, it can be done!

  5. James Kennedy, Transport Providence August 13, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    You don’t necessarily need eight lanes of traffic to have transit lanes. And transit lanes don’t always have to be present for the entire route, either. They can be used at choke points where the traffic would normally clog the route, and signaling can be used to give transit an advantage over cars when it’s coming through.

    I just think investing a lot of money into a streetcar makes little sense if we’re not going to think about it as a serious means of getting people places more efficiently than buses currently are able to. Especially when that means that other transit projects in the state that might use rail better (to Woonsocket, to Pawtucket, to Olneyville, to Kingston) have to compete for funds with the streetcar.

    I can already jog two miles, and if the streetcar moves at a pace that I can jog, then it’s not helping me much.

  6. Jef Nickerson August 13, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    People don’t jog to meetings and lunch.

  7. James Kennedy August 13, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    No, they drive. That’s the problem. And they won’t stop unless they like the alternative that’s being offered.

    By the way, I’m not trying to give you too hard a time. I just think people should think about the type of service they want more deeply than what the vehicle to carry that service would be. A couple of bus lanes with wider spacing between stops, and more frequency and span might be better investments than the aesthetics of rail.

  8. Ryan August 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Streetcars aren’t bad investments – the Providence Streetcar is a questionable investment because of routing decisions and the fact that it’s being used as stimulus for the Jewelry District (and even then, the Streetcar still probably costs nothing if the alternative is spending the same amount or more on parking).

    In my opinion, the Providence Streetcar and RIPTA’s R-Line should be inverted – a streetcar should go in on Broad and North Main, and RIPTA’s first Rapid Bus Line should follow the existing streetcar routing. The Streetcar is still a big question mark, but the existing 11/99 buses are both proven and outperforming every single other RIPTA route. Dropping the streetcar down Broad/North Main provides that route a sense of permanence that nothing other than infrastructure really can provide, and its ridership figures will never, ever be in doubt.

  9. Jef Nickerson August 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    No, they drive. That’s the problem. And they won’t stop unless they like the alternative that’s being offered.

    People don’t like buses.

  10. James Kennedy August 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    The reason people don’t like buses is because they sit in mixed traffic, don’t come frequently, have illegible routes, with poor timespans, etc. but all of these are characteristics of service quality. And fixing them requires things like a right of way. Using a streetcar because it’s more attractive is fine (and frankly, having grown up on the SEPTA trolley system, I feel as attached to the idea of a streetcar as anyone). But the project accomplishes little beyond being a real estate ponzi scheme if it’s not dedicated to predictable, frequent service.

    If rail was a magic bullet, we’d all love the People Mover. If buses never worked, then Bogota, Columbia wouldn’t get so much international press.

    You said that the streetcar would have lower operating costs than the buses, but never elaborated. I’d like to hear your argument for that.

  11. Jef Nickerson August 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    While streetcars require a large initial investment, their operating costs usually prove to be less over time. Streetcars have a longer lifespan than buses allowing streetcar vehicles to be used longer while buses need to be replaced more frequently. Depending on the energy source, electricity used to run streetcars is cheaper than diesel used to run buses. Streetcars run on tracks, which if installed correctly need less upkeep than the roads that buses run on. RIPTA seems to have a handle on what they’ve done wrong in paving Kennedy Plaza, but RIPTA is only responsible for Kennedy Plaza, they cannot control the paving materials on City streets. After an initial outlay to staff up and train mechanics, streetcar maintenance is less complicated and costly than bus maintenance, the more streetcar lines we have, the more return we get on that savings. The running on rails versus running on roads contributes to lesser maintenance issues. More passengers can be moved per vehicle over buses, meaning fewer drivers, saving labor costs.

    If you want to get the other benefits of a streetcar through a bus, you have to spend a lot of the money you’re spending to get to a streetcar. Enhanced stations with level boarding, off board fare collection, signal priority, street improvements to improve travel time, etc. Those things account for a lot of the price of a streetcar system.

    Less direct are the environmental benefits of streetcars. Of course depending on the source, electricity can be produced cleaner than diesel engines on buses produce power. Streetcars are not spewing fumes as they move about the city, and an idling streetcar is using very little energy. Streetcars are less noisy than buses, improving the outdoor environment along their routes and at stops.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting that the development benefits of a streetcar are a “ponzi scheme” exactly. It has been shown time and again that development follows streetcar routes moreso than enhanced bus systems.

    Yes, Bogata’s system works well, and it works well not only because they invested a lot of money in infrastructure to make buses act almost like trains, but because they don’t have a large middle class that can afford (or think they can afford) automobiles and don’t automatically eschew a bus.

    Eventually, we should have a system of streetcars branching throughout the city, that was Mayor Cicilline’s original vision. The currently proposed line is the nucleus of that system. Could we start with a Broad Street line instead? Sure, but it has to reach all the way downtown and we need the money to build that line. The feds are less and less in the mood to give out money every day and the State and the City don’t really have any. The proposed line is all we can really afford to get off the ground right now (if we can afford even that). If we picked it up, rotated it, and sent it down Broad Street or North Main instead, it wouldn’t really reach very far. This proposal connects our two largest employers through the downtown and a massive redevelopment area. It also builds a core upon which to build future extensions setting up the possibility to expand down Eddy, Prairie, Elmwood/Broad, Westminster, Broadway, Atwells, North Main, Smith, Waterman/Angell, Hope, Wickenden…

    The problems of running in traffic are not as big I think as you make them out to be. Most of the day and along much of this route, there is not a massive amount of traffic downtown. The bottom of the tunnel to Kennedy Plaza and Davol Square are likely the biggest traffic concerns. The proposal pushes the streetcar directly through Washington Place at the tunnel rather than looping around to Steeple like the buses do today, and at Davol the streetcar is proposed to use Hospital Street around a large development parcel avoiding much of the Davol Square traffic. Signal priority will also enhance trip time. And of course one goal of the streetcar is to encourage downtown workers to leave their cars at home and downtown residents to never even get a car. The current alternative is a series of parking structures.

  12. Ryan August 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    The feds are less and less in the mood to give out money every day and the State and the City don’t really have any.

    I want to point out that the feds are far more likely to give us money to convert the entire R-Line (with its proven ridership and revenue metrics) into a streetcar than they are to give us money for the Core Connector (whose current ridership figures are estimates and projections and for which two stated goals are revitalizing the Jewelry District and preventing a similarly expensive amount of parking from being built, which makes for far shakier ground to stand on.)

    The Core Connector’s routing actually parallels the R-Line between Empire and Exchange, and only fails to parallel it the rest of the way to North Main because the R-Line now serves the train station and the streetcar will not. That’s no coincidence, because the Empire/Washington/Exchange stretch of the routing is indeed a fantastic nucleus for a future rapid transit network. Meanwhile, the Core Connector swings out on a huge deviation from the relatively straight line of a Broad-North Main streetcar to serve the Jewelry District (and its here where I can sympathize with James, although I think “real estate ponzi scheme” is too harsh for the streetcar…) and provide front-door access to the hospitals, but the hospitals are only 1/2 of a mile away from the R-Line and I’m extremely confident that the main ridership demographic on the streetcar is going to be hospital workers and hospital visitors, rather than (esp. disabled or otherwise limited-mobility) hospital patients. It’s even worse on the other end of the Core Connector, where Brown is but 1/3 of a mile from the R-Line’s routing and doesn’t have a potential market of handicapped individuals to fall back on as justification for front-door service.

    Replacing the R-Line with a streetcar provides a far more relevant and far more useful nucleus to Providence’s future rapid transit network – and it doesn’t rely on a bunch of questionable metrics and promises of development around the line to start delivering results on Day 1.

  13. Peter Brassard August 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    In most cities with rail mass transit, generally a 1/2-mile+ is little far for employees to walk. A 1/4-mile or 5-7 minute walk is ideal. Most Boston and Manhattan stations in employment districts are within a 1/4-mile or less.

    From Empire & Broad to Davol Sq it’s a 1/2-mile (10-12 min) and to the nearest hospital entrance is a full mile (20-25 min). Very few would walk this from a train or bus stop. Think heavy rain, heatwave, or snow-ice-slush.

    Ryan, your suggestion that funding might be more available for the R-line because of a proven ridership might be right.

    So why not propose a mainline, the R-Line route, plus two spurs:
    KP to Thayer (0.57-miles) and
    Broad & Empire to Davol Sq (0.50-miles) [or as an alternate a straight shot down Richmond/Eddy to Globe/service yard (0.66-miles), which would be within a 7-8 min walk to the hospitals].

    If the R-Line and the Spurs each operated on 10-minute headways, the Downtown Core from KP to Empire & Broad would operate at 5-minute headways, not bad.

    By the way streetcars often last 40- to 50-years. The Newark Subway PCC cars from the late 40s are still in use, but now in San Francisco because NJ Transit modernized the Newark Subway cars a few years ago. Those streetcars have been in service for 65-years! New Orleans has some older ones still in use on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District.

  14. Ryan August 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Minor clarification point: hospital employees would be walking from a Hospitals stop at Broad & Blackstone – significantly closer than Broad & Empire – 10 to 12 minutes walk, by my estimation. You’re likely right about the inclement weather concerns, however.

  15. James Kennedy, Transport Providence August 14, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Ponzi scheme might be a little harsh. I’ll back off from that statement. Nonetheless, the strongest arguments I’ve heard for streetcars versus buses is that it’s meant to be a boon to development efforts, and the general premise I’m trying to communicate is that I think development is a positive side effect of transit, while getting people to move efficiently is the main goal.

    Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit says that 1/4 mile is the best spacing, just like what Peter notes. But he also says that people have been known to be willing to walk farther for better service. This makes sense in my experience as a transit rider. I lived along three or four bus routes within a block of my house in Upper Darby, but would often walk to the trolley a mile away because I found that to be more reliable. The trolley in Upper Darby, PA runs on its own right of way, though, and has preferred signaling at all but the most heavily used intersections. I think it’s worth thinking about how giving preference to transit in certain corridors could work to improve service.

    A major theme of Walker’s book is that geometry has to be at the center of how we think of transit. So, for instance, he talks about West Laguna, which was a relatively failed urbanist experiment, as an example of a place that seemed to be well designed for transit, but never got a transit base. He points out that even though the area was designed to be dense and walkable, that it wasn’t in a straight line with San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco, so any transit would have to run like a cul-de-sac suburb service (think of the most circuitous RIPTA bus lines). That meant low frequency, and peaked service, and made operating costs high in relation to ridership, etc. I agree with Ryan that the proposals about the Jewelry District have to be very carefully ferreted out, because what it sounds like we’re talking about is creating a kind of cul-de-sac trolley.

    On the other hand, if we created a system with exchanges, maybe we could run a service all the way down Main, through the capital, past the train station, through Kennedy Plaza, and into the Jewelry District, and that could pick up people from the other line. Since the north-south streetcar I’m talking about is kind of a long line, that would necessarily mean that it needs to have a right of way for at least some of the route, or else it could get easily backed up. You need reliable, frequent service to make transfers work, but transfers are better than having cul-de-sac service that’s infrequent.

  16. James Kennedy August 14, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    This is an article from Human Transit’s blog that talks about the differences between buses and rail.

    http://www.humantransit.org/2011/02/sorting-out-rail-bus-differences.html

    Many of the differences are not inherent to either system, but to how they’re operated.

    Basically, I would say, let’s build the streetcar, but let’s make sure we do it with the other factors in mind.

  17. Jef Nickerson August 14, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    I don’t understand how the Jewelry District and the hospitals are a “cul-de-sac.”

  18. James Kennedy August 14, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Running service through downtown would be most logical if it was directly connecting a series of important things in a straight line, which could then get connecting lines built off of them over time. I guess what I’m saying is that going to the hospitals through the Jewelry District doesn’t seem like the most logical straight-line route. It seems like a specialized service that doesn’t build off of the geometry of Providence very well.

    I kind of question the idea that connecting the two biggest employers in the state is itself a really good route choice. I know that sounds compelling, and of course there are going to be some people making trips between those two locations, but how many, overall? Are there really that many people who travel between Brown and the hospitals, that the route should go that way, rather than another? And if the streetcar only connects those two miles, in mixed traffic, what would the advantage be, even to those riders who do make that particular trip? I’m guessing a significant number of professors, doctors, and nurses live in the suburbs, although certainly not all of them. If we design a transit system that doesn’t do much to help them get to work without a car, why would they abandon their car mid-day to take a streetcar?

    Understand, I’m saying these things as someone who wants to see transit be the primary means of travel for most folks, supplemented by bikes and walking. I’d be just as happy to never see a car in the city again. But we have to ask these kinds of tough questions about the route and the types of service it offers if we’re going to drop money on a new investment.

  19. Ryan August 14, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Here’s a question that I’m just going to throw out there, spitballing as it were. Not expecting an answer.

    How much would it cost to build a viaduct or tunnel connecting Broad & Empire to KP and the train station directly?

    I don’t know if the city is even ready for an El (it’d certainly add character), but the benefit of grade separation through downtown is more than worth an assessment of the costs, at least.

  20. Peter Brassard August 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    Empire & Broad to Kennedy Plaza to Providence Station is roughly 3/4-of-a-mile in length.

    The times to build subway tunnels in Providence was either in 1914 when the city council first approved a four line subway system or when the project was revisited and passed over by the city traffic commissioner in 1926. Current costs for San Francisco’s Central Subway and New York’s Number 7 Extension tunnel projects run about $1-billion per mile.

    I couldn’t find specific costs elevated train structures, but for even light rail the footprint would be broad and would amplify noise and be a serious eye sore. Typically els reduce real estate values for adjacent properties.

    If mixing streetcars with traffic is that much of a concern then it might make more sense to close a street(s) to cars to create a dedicated right-of-way for streetcars and buses instead of constructing a tunnel or an el.

  21. Jason August 15, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    All I ever hear from critics of the street car are two things that every single supporter of the street car complete agrees with: we need more of it and it should run even better.

    No one is going to disagree with the idea that we should be serving a larger network across the city. No one is going to disagree with building dedicated ROW where possible. Both of these things cost a tremendous amount of money and it’s not clear we can get the amount the current plan costs.

    Everyone sees this as a first step to a broader network. Every time we talk about rapid bus with dedicated ROW and signal priority, we’re talking about spending a huge chunk of the cost of a street car system. We’re at a moment where borrowing is cheap, the equipment costs are upfront but potentially lower over the lifetime, and the alternative is parking infrastructure whose costs are of a similar magnitude.

    It’s silly to not include all benefits and all costs. If we want to pretend like we don’t care about development around transit, we won’t build very much transit. The costs don’t make sense purely as a people-mover for almost all of these improvements.

  22. James Kennedy August 15, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    “If mixing streetcars with traffic is that much of a concern then it might make more sense to close a street(s) to cars to create a dedicated right-of-way for streetcars and buses instead of constructing a tunnel or an el” (Peter Brassard)

    This is what I envision, not a tunnel or an El. Why would it be expensive to close off a few blocks of street? And yes, I think it would be costly upfront to do some signaling changes–I think I recall hearing an estimate that one signal change is like $100,000–but that’s certainly worth it.

  23. Ryan August 15, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Except for the fact that the costs absolutely make sense as a purely people-moving solution in the case of the R-Line. We know that they make sense because we actually have those ridership metrics down on paper as exact numbers, not guesswork, not estimates, and as Day 1 figures, not year one.

    You’re right in that, if weighed against the alternative of huge parking structures as a black/white, either/or, “this WILL happen unless you do that” dichotomy, then the cost of that parking has to be subtracted from the cost of the streetcar.

    However, if it is NOT so cut and dried – if the streetcar doesn’t prevent these structures from being built, or worse yet, if “streetcar parking” becomes an impetus to construct additional parking at the hospital end of the line, or even if it simply turns out that threats of massive Jewelry District parking infrastructure are idle and no garage will be built there either way? Well, if any or all of those things are true, then the streetcar is quite clearly NOT in a dichotomy with parking and subtracting the cost of the parking from the streetcar stops being an honest representation of the facts.

    It also needs to be mentioned, since I don’t think it has been yet, that the cost of project failure, and the risk of project failure, needs to be factored into the cost of the streetcar. I think even advocates for the streetcar can agree that it’s a risky investment to say the least. So what if it fails? Well, the costs of that aren’t financial – they’re political. A failed Core Connector means that the shadow of the failed project will cast heavily on any and all future transit projects of a similar scope – basically, anything that equates to new physical infrastructure. If the Core Connector fails, you can forget about the streetcar network.

    Will it fail? Maybe, maybe not. But I can guarantee you (again, because all the metrics and measures are known quantities and there’s no need to “guess”) that an R-Line Streetcar will not. I’ll say it again: Broad-North Main is the closest thing to a slam dunk we have – today, next year, and next decade. It’s going to cost more on paper, sure – but it’s also far more likely to secure fed funding, and the benefits are also accordingly much higher.

    Sticker shock is no excuse to pick a questionable routing on development merits over a proven route that consistently puts up some of the best metrics in the entire RIPTA network – especially when we haven’t even gotten a sticker for the R-Line Streetcar to be shocked by!

  24. barry August 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Thanks folks for all the interesting comments on the streetcar issue.
    One question I have relates to prioritization of all the various ideas for alternatives to single occupancy auto travel. Considering RI’s highway and bridge maintenance needs and our limited funding sources both locally and in Washington, how does a PVD streetcar, proposed as it actually is, fit in as a prirority as compared to commuter rail infill stations (Pawtucket, Cranston, East Greenwich) or expansion (Kingston, Woonsocket,) bringing bikeways to the core cities of Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Providence etc (also finishing the South County path to the coast and connecting to URI) plus funding various Ripta ideas for better service in their “strategic plan?” In my view, being a member of the Transportstion Advisory Committee that sees all the transportation plans, we can’t do all these any time soon, but there is little helpful overall prioritization. (By the way, RIDOT gave priority to Federal TIGER grant application to the Appanaug bypass, no public input into that)

  25. James Kennedy August 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    It’s also a bit of a straw man to talk about parking as if any of us here want more of that. I’m helping organize Park(ing) Day in Providence, and if there’s one subject I can be counted on to rant on and on about and bore everyone around me with, it’s definitely the need for parking reform. Clearly, any transit project has the advantage of reducing the need for parking structures.

    Ryan’s articulation of what would happen if the streetcar isn’t effective in terms of preventing further funding for other projects is something I feel too, but hadn’t expressed in an effective way. I totally agree that we need to be careful not to do half-measures that don’t work, in case those half-measures prevent us from doing more complete things in the future.

  26. Jef Nickerson August 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I don’t disagree that we need to set priorities if only for the order in which we do things and the capacity with which we have to run concurrent projects, even if money were no object.

    But it seems we only talk about either/or, this or that, when it comes to non-automobile projects. We can’t do the streetcar, because then what about Pawtucket station..? No one ever said, ‘we can’t do the Providence Viaduct because we had to do the Pawtucket River Bridge or the Apponaug Bypass.’ It is just a given that all auto projects will get done, it is never either/or. Why do transportation advocates allow themselves to fall into the trap of their non-auto or complete street projects having to fight with each other?

    Here’s some things we’ve spent, or plan to spend money on:

    • $114.4 million – Providence Streetcar
    • $610 million – Iway Project
    • $460 million (1999 dollars) – Providence Place (public/private)
    • $163.7 million – Sakonnet River Bridge
    • $169 million – Providence Viaduct
    • $33.6 million – Apponaug Bypass
    • $297 million – 6/10 Olneyville Interchange
    • $110 million – City of Providence 2012 structural defecit
  27. Jason August 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Ryan: I have no problem making the R-line a streetcar. I would be happy to see that happen. Period. Full stop. I don’t want that to distract from the rest of the point I was trying to make.

    As for parking either/or, we know that they are looking to build additional parking capacity all over the I195 land and that accessibility to folks, wherever they come from, is seen as a major obstacle to full utilization of the space. There has to be some point in time where transit advocates begin pushing for developers and planners to recognize that access does not just mean access from Cranston or Warwick by car. The streetcar, with substantial momentum behind it, may as well be that time. It’s the most likely scenario we’re going to get for a while to help people to understand that you need access to get X number of people in and out, and you can do that with transit, not just parking.

    I firmly believe that a streetcar will either 1) act as a direct substitute for parking or 2) increase the number of people downtown dramatically. Both are extremely good outcomes.

    As for the likelihood of the streetcar failing, I think that depends on your time horizons and measures of success. I think Downcity is fairing extremely well over the last ten years and despite some high profile fuck ups, has seen increasing residents and increasing commercial activity at a sustainable rate. I expect to see that continue for the next 10-15 years because there is plenty of underutilized property/buildings and I don’t think the trend toward urbanization is going to turn back sharply any time soon. Under these conditions, I am doubtful that the streetcar will “fail”.

    I wouldn’t argue against moving the streetcar line to the R-line if I thought we could get the support across multiple groups needed more easily for that project than the one that has already had so much work put into it. I don’t think that’s a reality, from the local or federal perspective. I don’t want to sink more money or time into planning and new advocacy in new communities and to abandon an existing rebranding (RLine) for the hope that in 5 years we’re ready to go with something we hope the feds will be more receptive to maybe. Not when we’re already close to building another critical core part of any future network. If that’s what it takes, I’ll be there supporting it.

    There is no question the goal should be urban infill for the commuter rail along side much better transit service within Providence and the surrounding area. I would love to see Rail along the R-line (though I’d prefer going down Elmwood for a more direct connection to a Park Avenue commuter rail station in Cranston). I think we also need to go down Broadway or Westminster to the Olneyville station. I think we should extend all the way to the Pawtucket station potentially up North Main.

    I want to see the community around transit get around a map that shows the clear extensions from a core spline that demonstrate the comprehensive plan for getting where we need to be and then work out priority by building in the order that makes sense. Where can we spend the most of the upfront money and get a viable service so that a big push and success for that portion makes the rest of the system far more easily attainable? What projects are controversial on their own but with the support of other aspects of the network being built up will become far easier to justify?

  28. James Kennedy August 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    What Jef and Jason said both sound reasonable. I think we should keep the routing, go for a streetcar, but definitely put in an extra push for a ROW on Washington or Exchange. The BPAC suggested that in KP plans, or no?

  29. Andrew I August 16, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    What we learn from the video is that no matter how “conservative” the local politics, taxes can be approved to pay for nice things IF the nice public things are going to be used by white people.

    Here, even though everyone in positions of power can plausibly deny being a racist, there is plenty of money for highways and garages and schools to serve white people but it is “politically impossible” to spend much on those others. Shame.

  30. barry August 16, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Noting Andrew’s comment, in the case of Rhode Island, there is a current RIDOT sponsored transit promotion of half-fare round trips for Ripta passengers using the park and rides, (and for “free” parking at Warwick and Wickford Jct commuter rail stations,) while no such promotion for the largely low income working people of the city who have to pay full fares for a much shorter ride. I think it is intended to help mitigate possible disruption from the viaduct reconstruction, but s this just?

  31. Ryan August 17, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Ryan: I have no problem making the R-line a streetcar. I would be happy to see that happen. Period. Full stop. I don’t want that to distract from the rest of the point I was trying to make.

    As for parking either/or, we know that they are looking to build additional parking capacity all over the I195 land and that accessibility to folks, wherever they come from, is seen as a major obstacle to full utilization of the space. There has to be some point in time where transit advocates begin pushing for developers and planners to recognize that access does not just mean access from Cranston or Warwick by car. The streetcar, with substantial momentum behind it, may as well be that time.

    And I have no problem with the Core Connector streetcar – I have a problem with the fact that it’s being built first.

    The streetcar doesn’t really provide access to the Jewelry District for anyone in Cranston or Warwick, or really anyone who isn’t either within walking or biking distance to somewhere on the streetcar route already. That’s fine, if your stated goal is to promote access to Providence only for people who are already living in Providence and you don’t care if access for people outside of Providence is promoted in some other way – and I want to be perfectly clear, I very much doubt that the streetcar is going to have ANY noticeable impact on the calls for Jewelry District parking for that reason alone, never mind the others.

    I don’t believe anyone here wants to see more parking get built in the city – but I also don’t believe that the streetcar is liable to actually stop new parking or dampen the demand for new parking. It’s not substantial enough for that – it doesn’t reach enough places and at least 1/4 of the places it does reach right now need to develop significantly before they become destinations.

    The fact of the matter is the Core Connector is the glue that would bind together a functional, first-class streetcar network – if that network was already in place. The odds of it failing (and I define failure as significantly underperforming versus expectations) drop significantly once there’s a Broad-North Main Line and/or an Atwells-East Side Line feeding into the streetcar. As Jef said, this shouldn’t be an either/or thing as far as investing into transit projects is concerned – it should be a given that all these lines get built eventually, along with statewide transit signal priority, bus lanes on every single road that a bus runs on in Providence, crosswalks at every single intersection in the state (rural auto-centric environments are an excuse to make pedestrian traffic phasing on-request-only, not to forgo it), commuter rail to Pawtucket and Woonsocket, commuter rail to URI in Kingston and Westerly, commuter rail to Fall River and Newport, a Northeast Corridor commuter rail bypass through East Providence via the East Side Rail Tunnel, light rail or commuter rail to West Warwick on the Washington Secondary, and intercity rail to Hartford and Cape Cod.

    All of these things should get done in time, but that doesn’t mean they are all Priority #1 projects. And I don’t believe that the Core Connector is a Priority #1 project. In fact, I believe that it is priority #3 – behind the Broad-North Main Streetcar and the Atwells-East Side Streetcar. Build those first, then tackle the Core Connector.

    Or, hell, build all three at the same time. I’d quite like that, actually.

  32. James Kennedy August 17, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I find it alternately troubling and amusing that the local GOP has seized upon my Eco RI article criticizing the streetcar proposal. As stated above, I share many of Ryan’s concerns. Jason made a pretty strong pragmatic case that the connector might make sense for political reasons. But ultimately the biggest issue is whether we’re going to do the streetcar right. I hope we don’t treat the mode as magic and ignore the service issues, though.

    Even the well intentioned among politicians tend to be motorists, which I think means they don’t understand the frequency, span, service reliabilty, etc. in question and how that relates to giving the streetcar a surface ROW–which I think would be affordable and just requires political will. We have to make the conversation about that, or they will take the hint that it doesn’t matter.

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