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WPRI: Providence’s streetcar plan hits snag as feds reject $39M proposal

Jef Nickerson, founder and editor of the urban planning and development blog Greater City Providence, told WPRI.com that it is “disappointing that Rhode Island prioritizes funding for automobile infrastructure but continues to fail in funding for mass transit services in the state’s urban core.”

Nickerson cited the General Assembly’s inability to pass legislation that would provide a reliable source of funding for the R.I. Public Transportation Authority and Chafee’s unwillingness to support the streetcar as examples of how the state “undervalues transit.”

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Transportation Corridors to Livable Communities Project Community Meeting, May 14th

RIPTA

Photo (cc) Trisha Crabb

Community Meeting – Transportation Corridors to Livable Communities Project – North Main Street

The City of Providence and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) invite you to share your thoughts on the future of North Main Street.

Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope Street
Monday, May 14th, 2012 – 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
(Presentation at 6:00 PM followed by open house)

  • How is RIPTA improving bus stop locations, bus shelters, and bus service?
  • What is RIPTA’s new R-Line (Rapid Bus) service?
  • What improvements are coming? (bus shelters, trash cans, bicycle racks, wayfinding signage, public art)
  • Where should community hubs and gateways be located?
  • What services and businesses would you like to see at community hubs?

A 72-hour notice is required for persons with sensory impairment requiring auxiliary aids. To request this service, please contact the RIPTA Customer Service Manager at 401-784-9500 x183.

For more information, please contact Martina Haggerty, Project Coordinator or visit the Transportation Corridors to Livable Communities project website.

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Barry Schiller: On the Draft New 4-Year TIP – Public Hearing April 26

Providence Viaduct

Underneath the Providence Viaduct. Photo © RIDOT

Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.

The draft 2013-2016 RI Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a plan to spend about $1.1 billion, has been released by Statewide Planning. In print, it is at least 120 pages! This is because it includes a description of the process, analysis of financing, environmental justice, air quality, its various program components (such as bridge, Interstate, transit, safety) and a detailed compilation of the various funding sources. Despite some uncertainty about future legislation, it essentially assumes level Federal funding.

My overall assessment is that it basically continues current policies: improving infrastructure through the bridge (about $42 million/year) and pavement management programs ($30 million/yr); finishing major projects; traffic safety (e.g. striping, signalization $31 million/yr;) transit ($46 million/year.) There is little system expansion.

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Core Connector Study public Open Houses in November

Streetcar on Washington Street

Photo simulation of a streetcar on Washington Street.

RIPTA & the City of Providence Will Hold Three Open Houses to Hear Feedback on Proposed Streetcar Route

RIPTA and the City of Providence are nearing completion of the Providence Core Connector Study, a year-long effort to evaluate the costs and benefits of a potential new transit route through Downtown, College Hill, and Upper South Providence.

The project aims to better integrate the downtown core with our statewide and regional public transportation systems, encourage economic development, improve access to key employment centers, and strengthen neighborhoods, while supporting a high quality of life.

In September 2011, RIPTA and the City announced their recommendation for a new streetcar route connecting Upper South Providence with College Hill. This 2.5-mile route would connect over 6,700 households, 50,000 employees, and 25,000 students enrolled at five universities. It would serve Kennedy Plaza, the state’s largest transit hub, and pass within walking distance of the Convention Center, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, three major theaters, and more than 2,100 hotel rooms. It would also serve the Knowledge District and developable land made available through the relocation of I-195.

Three public Open Houses will be held to solicit public opinion on this proposal:

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Streetcars: The train station is out, but that’s OK

Providence Core Connector

Providence Streetcar proposed between College Hill and Prairie Avenue

The latest Core Connector (Streetcar) study document can be found here. [.pdf]

The main question that has been at issue with the Core Connector alignment is how to serve both the train station and College Hill at the northern end while maintain frequent service between those points and the Hospital District at the southern. If northbound trains split with every other one going to the train station or the Hill, then that would degrade the service frequency to each location.

Several options were explored, one would have had a shuttle running between the train station and Kennedy Plaza where passengers would be able to connect to the main line streetcars heading to College Hill and the Hospitals. That would be a major investments to carry passengers the 4 blocks between the two and would not address the fact that passengers are forced to make another connection along their trip.

Another option was to send the streetcars to the train station but not College Hill. College Hill would be served by other conventional bus services and passengers would make a connection at Kennedy Plaza to the streetcar. The issue here is that the expected passenger load to and from the train station will be confined to rush hours.

There are trains serving the station throughout the day, but mainly it will be commuters. College Hill will have commuters but will also have Brown and RISD students, staff, and faculty traveling downtown and the Jewelry and Hospital Districts. Economic development in the Jewelry District will likely for the near future be tied to academia, especially Brown. A direct connection to College Hill will serve more people more often.

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Providence Subway!?

Check out this map posted in our Flickr Group by pdxcityscape:

Proposed Providence Subway Map - 1914

Visit the Flickr Page to see a larger version.

That’s a plan for a streetcar system with central subway for Providence from 1914. pdxcityscape writes on Flickr:

Proposed Providence Subway Map – 1914

Imagine Providence now if this was built…

Around the time that the East Side Streetcar (now Bus) Tunnel opened was a plan to expand it into a larger streetcar subway system in Providence running west to Olneyville, east to Red Bridge/Seekonk River, north to the North Burial Ground on North Main and south to Broad and Elmwood. The four subway branch lines would consolidate onto a single main trunk line between Dorrance and Benefit Streets, streetcar lines would run in the subway tunnels in the core then emerge outside downtown to finish their routes on the surface. The proposal went nowhere in 1914, it reemerged in the 1920s but again went nowhere, then because automania had taken over and the focus was on building new wide streets.

From ‘Engineering News’ March 19, 1914 (available on Google Books: search “Providence Subway Olneyville”)

WHY DIDN’T WE DO THAT!!!?

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REBOOT: Providence Train Station

Schematic for a redesigned Providence Train Station area.

Click image to enlarge

REBOOT is an occasional series of posts on GC:PVD where we identify areas of the city that display poor urbanism and propose ways to improve them. Our interventions may be simple and quite easily realized, or they may at times be grand and possibly take years or decades to complete. Either way, we hope they generate interest and discussion.

Oh Providence Station… why are you such a dump?

Of course the short answer to that is that we have not taken care of it. But this post is not about the sad condition of the station, it is about the fact that the station was a mistake to begin with.

Of course we used to have the stunning Union Station which is now the home of the Rhode Island Foundation and other offices. The river and railroad relocation projects resulted in the tracks leaving Union Station behind and a new station being built.

When Providence Station was opened in 1986 we were deep in the heart of the automobile age. Gas supplies were cheap and seemingly inexhaustible, Amtrak was kind of a quaint hobby that we north-easterners insisted on keeping in service, and the MBTA did not reach Providence. This resulted in a station that is too small for our post-$4/gallon gasoline world. A station that is inconveniently located away from the city’s major employment centers (and with the removal of Route 195, the city’s employment centers are poised to move further from the train station).

Were it maintained properly, the station is certainly handsome. The clock tower nicely pierces the skyline, the low slung dome is handsome and adds a modern bent to the collection of domes we have in our fair city, the interior is attractive. However, the interior is not spacious enough for the passengers we have utilizing existing MBTA and Amtrak services, and the station will become more crowded as MBTA services expand southward and if a Blackstone Valley commuter service is ever instituted. And as the price of gas continues its generally upward trend, more and more people will turn to the trains.

Let’s not waste time blaming the planners from the 80’s for their shortsightedness on the station’s design, let’s instead consider what we can do to modify it for a world that is very different from 1986.

Bret wrote a post a couple years ago in which he cited me as referring to the station as a hundred-year mistake. He went on to highlight some of the short comings of Capital Center area as a neighborhood, and suggest some solutions. We were to write a Part II to that post and never got around to it, this is that Part II I suppose.

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I want it all


Photo (cc) CCCPxokkeu

The Woonsocket Patch has news this week about State Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt’s desire to see commuter rail service re-established to Woonsocket. Woonsocket has a rich rail history which formerly connected the city to Providence, Worcester, Hartford, and Boston. Sadly, the last passenger trains departed Woonsocket in the 1960s.

Badeli Hunt would like to see rail service return to Woonsocket and has asked Senator Reed to secure federal transportion funds, which were rejected by Florida’s Governor, and bring those funds to Rhode Island for Woonsocket commuter rail service.

“In addition to putting existing resources to better use, taking cars off a congested route, and better enabling northern Rhode Islanders to access employment and other opportunities in Providence, a commuter rail would undoubtedly have a positive impact on Main Street, Woonsocket, bringing commuters who will be looking for the convenience of nearby shopping, dining and other services,” said Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) in the letter, a copy of which, her offices report, was also sent to the governor.

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Providence Core Connector Study Survey

The Providence Core Connector Study is seeking input from those who live, work, visit, or go to school in downtown Providence, College Hill, and Upper South Providence. A brief survey is available through May 13th.

If you have a moment, please take a few minutes to complete this survey about your travel patterns and current and potential transit usage. The results of the survey will help the study team make key decisions regarding the potential operations plan for enhanced transit service in the downtown area.

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Core Connector Study Meeting, April 25

We have made significant progress since the December public forum. After studying a range of potential routes through the downtown core, a route has been selected for further analysis. We are now considering different transit technology options (streetcar or bus), street design requirements, environmental impacts, traffic and parking considerations, and related issues. Additionally, we are looking at potential development impacts and financing options to determine how a major transit investment could impact development patterns in the downtown core.

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Proposed route for the Core Connector identified

The city and RIPTA have identified the West Route as the preferred Core Connector (aka Streetcar) route after public meetings and consultations with neighborhood groups and area businesses and institutions.


Larger image [.pdf (688 KB)]

A potential new transit route through Providence’s downtown core has been identified, connecting the Hospital District in Upper South Providence with Downtown and College Hill. Both streetcar and enhanced bus transit are now being studied as future modes of service along this route.

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What Cheer/What Jeer 2010

What Cheer/What Jeer was originally supposed to be a monthly, or a quarterly thing, but you know what, it is a lot of work putting a list like this together, so it has become an annual thing. So join us as we take a look back at 2010, What Cheering the good and What Jeering the bad.

whatcheerProvidence River Pedestrian Bridge

Whether you love it or hate it, Providence will soon be getting a new pedestrian bridge over the Providence River. Design firms large and small from around the world entered the competition that led to the winning design. And the competition got people around the city interested in transportation and design.

providence-river-pedestrian-bridge

whatcheerRIPTA

Last year we declared that 2010 would be “The Year of RIPTA” and not to be too smug about it but, we were kinda right.

In December 2009 RIPTA and the City of Providence released the Metro Transit Study, which drew a lot of attention to its proposal to run a streetcar line through Providence. This year, RIPTA embarked on their Core Connector Study, the first step toward bringing streetcars back to Providence. In June, U.S. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood visited Providence and was very excited about our future plans. RIPTA also took delivery of a new fleet of hybrid buses and trolleys in October. This year also saw RIPTA unveil a 5-year plan for the future of transit in Rhode Island. Finally, RIPTA hired a new CEO, Charles Odimgbe. It is early days yet in Mr. Odimgbe’s tenure, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be What Cheered or What Jeered next year.

Certainly all was not good for RIPTA this year, 2010 saw the continuation of an annual tradition wherein RIPTA’s budget falls short resulting in the agency looking to cut routes and/or increase fares. This year they went with increasing fares yet again. Here’s hoping the incoming Governor and General Assembly can work to address the issues surrounding RIPTA’s budget.

whatcheerElection 2010

What an exciting year that was. New Mayor, new Governor, new Congressman from Providence (even if he is a freshman and in the minority party, that’s good for us!), many new City Councilors, Shoveitgate, The Uncaucas, Chris Young… Let’s do that again real soon (well, not too soon).

whatcheerThe Interlink & MBTA to Warwick

October saw the opening of the long awaited Interlink. The skybridge connects T.F. Green Airport to a parking garage, rental car facilities, and a train station via a skybridge with moving sidewalks over Post Road. The Interlink opening was followed in December by the extension of MBTA Commuter Rail service from Providence to the station at the Interlink facility. Next year that service will be expanded and will go further south to a new station currently under construction at Wickford Junction.

Interlink

whatcheerThe Box Office

The Box Office was completed this year. The building, made out of shipping containers brought national attention to Providence within the construction and design communities for its innovative design. Developers from near and far want to replicate the building in their communities.

whatcheerThe Arts

We What Cheered the arts last year, and we’re What Cheering them again this year. Woonsocket’s Riverzedge and Providence’s Community Music Works each took home one of fifteen 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards (after Providence’s New Urban Arts won the same award last year (go Rhody!)). AS220 celebrated their 25th Anniversary this year, commissioned RISD alum Shepard Fairy to create a mural on Aborn Street, and is wrapping up renovation on its third Downcity Building, The Mercantile Block. And basically, art in Providence just continued to be pretty damn awesome. Buy Art!

Last year, we weren’t really in the mood to What Jeer, we had jeered enough I guess. But this year, oh, here go hell come, are you ready? Let’s do it.

whatjeerRIDOT

RIDOT, seriously, you’re killing us here. While we’ve said it time and again, we really like what Director Michael Lewis has to say about not being able to build more highways to end congestion and needing to be multi-modal and what not… the Director’s words have not been matching the agency’s actions.

From the craptacular original design of the Wickenden Street intersection related to the 195 Relocation, to the ridiculous placement of signs on the sidewalk on the Friendship Street bridge, to the utter disregard for any mode other than automobiles in the planning of the new Union Avenue Bridge, and more, RIDOT has proven that they have a long way to go in understanding how to build infrastructure in an urban environment and serve a multi-modal population.

Governor-elect Chafee has decided to keep Director Lewis on at RIDOT, a decision we agree with. Let’s hope that the Director can make the agency’s actions match his own and the Governor’s visions for how our transportation system should look. We’re hoping next year we might be able to What Cheer RIDOT.

whatjeerThe Arcade/35 Weybosset

Though these are separate properties, they are linked in the public consciousness and the destiny of each may best be served by thinking of them together. The What Jeer here is pretty obvious, the Arcade still sits empty and the facade at 35 Weybosset Street remains neglected.

The neglect of the 35 Weybosset facade is the clearest example available of a developer attempting a demolition by neglect, and he is beginning to get a lot of support for that option, though we clearly think there is a better way.

As for the Arcade, we might have to agree with one of our commenters that the best course of action is eminent domain.

whatjeerGrove Street School

Seeing as the Grove Street School’s current owner, Michael Tarro won election to the General Assembly, the school’s future seems more tenuous than ever.

Grove Street School

The good news is, the new City Councilor for Ward 13, Bryan Principe is an ardent supporter of the building. Let’s hope Bryan and the new Mayor can work on an arrangement with Mr. Tarro on the building’s future.

whatjeerCVS

While in the end, CVS agreed to some minor concessions on their initial proposal for a CVS in Edgewood, they’re still basically dropping a box from the sky into the middle of a parking lot. We still don’t know why CVS hates Rhode Island.

whatjeerUnion Wadding Mill Fire

Did they ever catch the bastard who did this? There’s a $10,000 reward you know.

Photo from Pawtucket Foundation Facebook Page

whatjeerParkinglotification

Last year we What Cheered the Smith-Mathewson Building proposed for where the Downcity Diner used to be. This year it is a parking lot. Sigh.

whatjeerAtwells Avenue

As if enduring 14 months of construction at the intersection with Dean Street wasn’t bad enough, at the other end of the Avenue we had a girl who works at a Salon and a City Councilor run down by errant drivers within weeks of each other. We all know which one got the most attention from the media, including us.

After years of people getting hit on Atwells, to the point where those of us who live up there see it as part of life, the hit and run of Councilman Hassett did serve to jolt us all out of our malaise on the topic. After years of inaction we now have some repainted crosswalks, more signs, and a speed bump at the western end of the Avenue (where most of the pedestrians have been struck). Much more needs to be done to improve the safety situation not just on Atwells, but on roads throughout the city.

Let us not fall back into our malaise where we accept people being struck by cars as an inevitable part of city life, it is not. Let us make sure that we follow through on the outrage that followed the Councilman’s injuries and act to do all we can to ensure that it does not happen again.


We could probably go on, but let’s wrap up the What Cheering and What Jeering there. Feel free to add you own in the comments.

Thank you to everyone who reads and contributes to Greater City: Providence. It was a great year discussing the city we all love.

Happy New Year!

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City Plan Commission Meeting, Dec. 14

City Plan Commission

Notice of Regular Meeting
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 – 4:45pm
Department of Planning and Development
4th Floor Auditorium
400 Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903

OPENING SESSION

  • Call to Order
  • Roll Call
  • Approval of meeting minutes from November 16th, 2010 – for action
  • Approval of the CPC meeting schedule for the 2011 calendar year – for action

PROVIDENCE TOMORROW

1. Downtown Plan
Presentation of the final version of the Downtown Plan by DPD staff. – for action (Downtown)

CITY COUNCIL REFERRAL

2. Referral 3334 – Abandonment of a portion of Frank Street
Petition to abandon approximately 243 feet of the easterly portion of Frank Street that runs between Plain Street and Beacon Avenue. – for action (Upper South Providence)

MINOR SUBDIVISION

3. Case No. 10-040 MI – 104 Barrows Street (Preliminary Plan Approval)
Subdivision of existing nonconforming lot with two dwelling units measuring 5,918 SF into two lots measuring 2,959 SF each. The applicant intends to create two lots with a single structure on each lot. – for action (AP 108 Lot 123, Silver Lake)

PUBLIC FORUM ON PROVIDENCE CORE CONNECTOR STUDY

4. Presentation of Providence Core Connector Study
Presentation of an overview of the Providence Core Connector Study project, detailing potential modes of transport (streetcar, bus) alignments and potential routes. Public comment will be taken. – for discussion

ADJOURNMENT

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Downcity Design Review Committee Meeting – December 13, 2010

Notice of Regular Meeting • Monday, December 13, 2010 – 4:45pm
Department of Planning and Development, 4th Floor Conference Room
400 Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903

Opening Session

  • Call to Order
  • Roll Call
  • Approval of Meeting Minutes of September 13, 2010 and October 18, 2010
  • Acceptance of the DRC 2011 Monthly Meeting Schedule

New Business

1. DRC Application No. 10.19, Kennedy Plaza Proposal by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) to install new two new information kiosks on Washington Street adjacent to the east and west entrances into Burnside Park.

2. Providence Core Connector Study Presentation of the Providence Core Connector Study by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) – for discussion.

Other Business

Image from Google StreetView

3. Pre-Application Review: 55 Canal Street (Arnold Hoffman Building) Proposal to construct an addition to the east elevation of Rhode Island School of Design’s Illustration Studies Building. This is a conceptual presentation for discussion only.

Adjournment


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A proposal for the Core Connector and a Frequent Service network

The City and RIPTA are having a public meeting about the Core Connector Study on Thursday. Before that, I thought I’d lay out some of my thoughts on the issue.

First, let me share my thoughts on having streetcars in Providence. The short story is I support them. Let’s say, for the sake of having a number, that the Core Connector built out as streetcars will cost $80 million¹. Certainly, a lot could be done for $80 million. But the Core Connector is not simply the school bus for Brown that people² are so flippant to say.

I view the Core Connector in large part as a marketing scheme for RIPTA and the City of Providence. Many people who’ve never ridden a bus will ride the streetcars. If RIPTA builds it and runs it properly, with reasonable fares, frequent service, well trained operators, ease of use, etc., it will be a great introduction to mass transit for these new users. Then when RIPTA makes the case for funding, as they will always need to do, the chorus of haters will be tempered. It is also a strong stake in the ground wherein RIPTA and the state leadership are saying they believe in public transit in Rhode Island and are willing to lay out a pile of money and steel rails in the ground to back that up.

For the city, having a streetcar line is a marketing dream. The shiny photos of happy people riding the rails are a brochure makers dream. They’ll be plastered all over the city’s and the convention center’s websites (and this website). It is a strong message for economic developers to send to companies looking to relocate here. ‘Look at us, we have a strong commuter rail line tied to a streetcar line and excellent bus service. Come here, your employees will love it!’

And plus that, we get a streetcar line connecting the two largest employment areas in the state with the train station and Downcity. In addition to serving existing riders and institutions, our proposed routing will help spur development in the Route 195 land, one of the best areas of development opportunity on the East Coast.

Could we save some money and put some rubber wheels on the road and call it a Core Connector? Sure, but we would not get anywhere near the bang for the buck that streetcars will provide. I think it is a worthy investment for our city and our state.

Now, onto where I think said streetcar should go and what service I think could supplement it.

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Core Connector Study Meeting, Dec. 9

Providence Core Connector Study
December Public Forum

Three potential route options are now being reviewed to identify relative strengths, weaknesses, costs and benefits. The results will be presented at an upcoming public forum:

Thursday, December 9th
Providence Central Library
150 Empire Street, 3rd floor
Providence, RI
5pm to 7pm

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Peter Brassard: The Core Connector system should connect more than just Downtown

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.

Providence’s Core Connector transit system should be based on its ability to interconnect the city’s Occupation Districts and cultural venues, not just to Downtown and parts of the East Side and South Providence. If the goal is to reduce automotive dependency and produce the greatest number of jobs, attract real estate and economic development, all of the city’s Occupation Districts must be interconnected with a high-frequency transit system. Occupation Districts are employment centers where most educational, institutional, industrial, or business activities are situated. Besides serving employment centers, the Core Connector should provide access to major cultural and public event venues and recreation destinations to accommodate the public and to reinforce tourism.

Service schedules should be high frequency and ideally operate 24 hours, 7 days per week as students, hospital staff, and service workers often travel beyond midnight. The Core Connector should be operational well after the closing hours of bars and other entertainment venues to help reduce alcohol related car accidents. Schedule headway times should be at short intervals for reliable convenient service and to facilitate fast transfers between routes.

If the priority is interconnecting the city’s economic centers, residential neighborhood connections should be considered secondary. If a line passes through a residential area, the neighborhood can be directly served. People can plan in advance to leave or return home with transit that may have longer headway times. They can use existing bus lines to access the Core Connector to get to jobs or schools. Alternately, a series of new “feeder” bus routes or Rapid Bus could be developed to bring residential passengers to the Core Connector.

Occupation Districts
Click image to enlarge

The Occupation Districts diagram analyzes locations and potential maximum densities for Occupation Districts, as well as, showing an overlay of possible citywide routes. Providence regulates land use mostly with height limits, lot coverage, or dwelling unit maximums. Real estate development is generally calculated by potential developable floor area.

A scale of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is assumed based on permitted number of floors combined with permitted lot coverage maximums to create the diagram. Occupation Districts are differentiated by a color that corresponds to a maximum FAR range or use type.

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