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Author Archive | Peter Brassard

Rhode Island Transit Future: Ideas – Urban Core Light Rail — PRO-TRAM

Multimodal Transportation

Max light rail, bus, and streetcar operating in the street in Portland, Oregon. Photo (cc) Kevin Zolkiewicz

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.
This is fourth of a series on ideas for Rhode Island’s transit future.

walkinpvd-iconRIPTA’s bus hub proposal and bus rerouting for Downtown Providence will produce headways (the time between arrivals) of two to six minutes. Headways for the streetcar are proposed to be ten minutes and the streetcar path would mostly duplicate RIPTA’s proposed Downtown bus route trunk lines.

With RIPTA’s planned improvements, does the streetcar proposal make as much sense now? How might the streetcar or light rail route be modified?

There are officials, members of the transit advocacy community, and the public, who suggest that Rhode Island might only be able to build a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Creating a BRT system covering most of the urban core would be a tremendous improvement that would complement the existing bus system. However, BRT could be reaching for the low bar and forfeiting greater benefits. Rhode Island might do better and BRT should be viewed as just one option. For this discussion, I will be proposing light rail, but it should be understood that light rail and BRT are interchangeable.

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Rhode Island Transit Future: Ideas – Commuter Rail – RI-TRAIN

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Morton Street Station on the Fairmont Line in Boston. Photo (cc) Pi.1415926535

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.
This is third of a series on ideas for Rhode Island’s transit future.

walkinpvd-iconUnfortunately, TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction Stations are still not doing well, only attracting about 400 passengers per day each partly because of marginal service.

The state needs to start the Rhode Island instate train as soon as possible. Infill RIPTA buses should be looked at as a temporary solution.

The following diagram revises my commuter rail or shuttle train proposal from 2012. I reduced the stops from the 2012 plan and am proposing that all MBTA trains to and from Boston originate or terminate at Providence Station.

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Rhode Island Transit Future: Ideas – Late Night Bus Routes – RIPTA-24

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RIPTA bus at night. Photo (cc) .sanden.

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.
This is second of a series on ideas for Rhode Island’s transit future.

walkinpvd-iconIn recent articles and comments to posts, people have suggested that RIPTA might do better if it offered 24-hour service. Twenty-four hour transit would serve a population that is generally forced to drive, which includes nighttime service workers, hospital employees, restaurant, bar and nightclub goers, and travelers.

I started looking at what night service might look like, but before this Boston Globe article came out about the MBTA late night service being on the chopping block.

Regarding the Boston area transit system, besides being more extensive than Rhode Island’s, they have the challenge of providing both nighttime bus and subway service. With the subway the costs go up dramatically, especially if trains are mostly empty. The Providence area is nowhere as complicated as in Boston, so a simpler strategy is possible for providing an affordable late night service.

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Rhode Island Transit Future: Ideas – BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) – PRO-BUS

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TransMilenio – Heroes station in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo (cc) Jorge Láscar

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.
The Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC) with the collaboration and assistance of Grow Smart RI will present on Tuesday, December 1st NEXT STOP: Making Transit Work for Rhode Island, a forum for business, civic and political leaders—together with transit riders.

The following is the first of a series of articles meant to encourage thought and discussion on Rhode Island mass transit issues. I will try to offer perspective on several transit modes, as well as suggest potential strategies for improving transit in the state. I urge others to put their own ideas forward and to comment and improve upon mine.

walkinpvd-iconThe primary issues for Rhode Island mass transit are:

  • Travel times
  • Frequency of service
  • Negative cultural perception of transit
  • Limited funding

The first topic, which follows, is on BRT (Bus Rapid Transit).

BRT is the use of buses using mostly exclusive right-of-ways to increase travel speed and reduce delays. The system features stations with platforms. Fare payment occurs within the station or elsewhere, but not on the bus. Generally, when a bus enters a station, multiple doors open to speed up the boarding process for passengers exiting or entering.

The state is interested in exploring the possibility of incorporating BRT routes as a part of the Olneyville Expressway replacement. Others, as well as myself, have suggested downgrading the highway(s) to a boulevard, similar to what has been done with the West Side Highway in New York and the Presidio in San Francisco.

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Wickford Junction Station and the Route 2/102 Park and Ride

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Park and Ride at Routes 2 and 102. Image from Google Maps.

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

On Tuesday, January 15th there was a meeting of the Rhode Island State Properties Committee, where the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) requested clarification regarding a Request for Proposals (RFP) to sell the Route 2/102 Park and Ride lot near Wickford Junction Station. The original RFP offered to sell the land for private development, but stipulated that the Park and Ride lot would have to be relocated and rebuilt at the expense of the developer.

RIDOT asked for clarification on whether the intent of the RFP would still be valid, if the agency dropped the requirement that the Park and Ride lot be relocated and rebuilt. The committee indicated that they would not support that change. They felt that it would be a clear departure from the original RFP and would create unnecessary hardship on the public that relies on the free lot to access public transit or to park cars when people car pool. The committee chair also said that they had been told in the past by RIDOT that the Wickford Junction Parking Garage would not be available for free.

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Commuter Rail, Urban Infill Stations, and Shuttle Train Rapid Transit

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DMU train in Luxumbourg. Photo (cc) bindonlane

This post was submitted Greater City: Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

Rhode Island’s commuter rail service as currently conceived may not be conducive to encouraging ridership. Distances between existing and proposed stations are too far. Much of the focus has been on extending the system further into low-density suburbs. For Rhode Island commuter rail to succeed, more needs to be done to take advantage of existing walkable urban neighborhoods that have a high potential for passengers. Some of these areas have large amounts of commercial/industrial space or development opportunities. Due to Downtown Providence expansion, the rail system will be challenged, as long as there’s no internal downtown high-frequency transit, such as the proposed Core Connector, to directly link rail passengers to the far reaches of downtown.

Rhode Island’s commuter rail doesn’t capitalize on density variations and neighborhood assets of the Providence area. If Rhode Island’s commuter rail functioned as a rapid mass-transit system, besides increasing the number of passengers, it would help to revitalize and expand development opportunities for neighborhoods along the rail line. The implementation of medium frequency shuttle train service within the Rhode Island instate rail corridor would offer predictable headway times at regular intervals that could operate in addition to MBTA commuter and Amtrak trains. Air and intercity train travelers, commuters, and the general public would greatly benefit from this level of service.

A variation to a commuter rail or shuttle train is the German S-bahn or French RER or San Francisco’s BART. An S-bahn type system is usually the same as commuter rail in suburban areas, but differs when it’s within the central urban core, where it has characteristics of a subway or metro. Usually stations within the core zone are located close together at quarter- to half-mile subway station distances and schedule headway times typically fall somewhere in the middle of commuter rail and subway schedules. Depending on the city, central core rail infrastructure can be underground or at grade utilizing existing rail corridors. A hybrid of a shuttle train and an S-bahn might be best for Rhode Island.

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Peter Brassard: RIPTA presents its Vision for the Future of Transit in Rhode Island

RIPTA

Greater City: Providence reader Peter Brassard attended RIPTA’s 5-year plan community meeting yesterday. Here are is what he learned.

The Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC) and the Transit 2020 Action Committee hosted Tuesday’s Community Briefing for RIPTA’s 5-year Strategic Plan at URI’s Janice Paff Auditorium in Providence.

Mark Therrien, RIPTA Assistant General Manager explained that RIPTA’s philosophy has made a major shift from a “last choice transportation” option the predominant view through the 1980s to become a “business transportation” system through the 1990s to the current philosophy of a provider of “multi-modal, convenient, and attractive” transit system that would “promote economic growth, and support thriving, livable communities.”

RIPTA sees itself as a “mobility manager.” Goals include increasing ridership, addressing demographic changes of system users, developing new modes, such as Flex Service that has been introduced to some suburban areas, which differs from fixed route service by offering individual direct pick-up and drop-off for passengers. RIPTA should be used as a tool to assist in economic development for “people going to work.” The five-year plan will work towards changing RIPTA’s image by improving information and service.

Development of a multi-modal, regional transit system is a priority. Intermodal connections can be improved by providing direct bus connections to train stations and reinforce connections to other modes such as bicycle, cars, and private buses. To support regional mobility, attempts will be made to have federal restrictions removed, which prevent RIPTA from crossing state lines. Another priority is to effectively address the needs of individuals with disabilities and the growing senior population. RIPTA wants to become the definitive transportation manager for Rhode Island.

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Why a Monorail is Better than a Streetcar

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

A monorail is a better choice than a streetcar. The construction costs for a light monorail are similar to streetcars, but operational costs would be roughly 70% less. It is true that both conventional bus transit and Bus-Rapid-Transit (BRT) have the least expensive upfront costs with operating expenses roughly 30% less than that of streetcars. [Comparison] Streetcars as with other rail modes (light-rail or commuter rail) will bring new jobs and new real estate development, which conventional buses will not.

portland streetcar

Portland, OR streetcar, Photo (cc) Adams Carroll from Flickr

RIPTA and the City of Providence will be holding public hearings, during the week of September 19, to get community input on the Providence Core Connector Study. The circulator project is intended to improve traffic movement throughout Downtown to better integrate the Jewelry District, the 195 surplus land, and Downcity. It would also facilitate the implementation of the “starter streetcar” system that will connect College Hill, the train station, and the South Providence Hospital District.

Due to the ongoing physical expansion of Downtown and the continued development of the medical biotech industry in the city, a new internal Downtown transit system is becoming increasingly necessary. When commuter rail service is re-established from points south, parts of Downtown will be too distant from the train station. It’s unreasonable to expect commuters to walk to jobs in the Hospital or Jewelry Districts from the train station. Along with a connection to College Hill, the proposed starter streetcar system will begin to address Downtown’s current transit deficiencies.

One of Mayor Cicilline’s original reasons for proposing streetcars is that they would demonstrate a serious commitment to transit and the city’s development. His assertion can be backed up by decades of data that confirms when U.S. cities have installed rail transit it acts as a catalyst to increase jobs, real estate development and values, and tax income, as well as, attracting new businesses and increasing population near stations. [Transit 2020 Economic Development (.pdf)] Conventional bus systems don’t have that impact. Capital Center where the majority of Downtown development has occurred over the last 10 years was due in large part because of its adjacency to Providence Station with commuter and intercity trains, is a local example of this positive rail-economic effect.

Is RIPTA’s and the city’s choice of streetcars simply following a national trend? Just about every city in the country right now is enamored with and attempting to build streetcars or light-rail systems. Many of these cities are the same ones that so enthusiastically dismantled their preceding streetcar systems in the 1940s and 50s, another trend. What other transit methods might be available to provide affordable high-quality service beyond traditional buses that will have a positive economic effect? Over the last several years this website and writer have advocated for the re-introduction of streetcars in the City of Providence. With the upcoming hearings it might be worth examining the proposed streetcar choice by comparing it with other transit modes along with potential costs.

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