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CommonWealth: Dear Gov. Raimondo: Express trains wrong ask

Providence Station Adam Moss

Ari Ofsevit and James Aloisi write an open letter to Gov. Raimondo in CommonWealth Magazine in response to her call for express commuter rail service between Providence and Boston.

But rather than single express trains serving a few commuters, we respectfully suggest low-cost, common-sense improvements that would benefit everyone.

At our non-profit TransitMatters, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to improve intercity rail in Massachusetts (we will be rolling out a regional rail white paper before the end of the year). We believe that better service is a combination of improved speed and frequency, providing a wider range of benefits in many corridors. The good news is that in the Boston-to-Providence corridor, there are two relatively low-cost steps — high-level platforms and electrification — that the MBTA can take (perhaps with Rhode Island’s help) that would significantly improve service between these two dynamic cities.

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Barry Schiller: It’s time to re-assess that proposed train station bus hub

Do you remember that in 2014 Rhode Islanders approved a vaguely worded $35 million bus hub transit bond? However, at this point, with that much money at stake, I think our state should re-examine the need for the proposed Providence train station area bus hub.

A news report indicated no Boston area developers were interested in leveraging the voter-approved bond money for a public-private partnership in the train station area. I suspect state leaders support for the bus hub project was predicated on drawing that investment, and so maybe now they are less interested. Recall the hub was a Chafee administration initiative that Raimondo, RIDOT Director Alviti, RIPTA Board Chair Kezirian, etc. inherited so they may not be all that committed to implement it. Further, now that it has apparently been deemed too expensive to build over the railroad tracks, the alternative of taking some of the State House lawn has engendered opposition from historic interests and maybe the Capital Center Commission too. In addition there are concerns the roads in the area are already often congested and adding many more buses can make it worse.

However, downtown interests may still want to eliminate or reduce the buses (and the low income people it transports) in Kennedy Plaza and hope a train station bus hub will be an alternative. They seem to have the ear of the Mayor who never much seemed interested in bus transit. Unions and contractors will also tend to favor spending the money on a new bus hub, for the construction jobs.

Though needs of the homeless and downtown business owners are both important, they are secondary to the interests of taxpayers who approved the money for transportation. Bus and rail passengers have nothing to gain from building a new bus hub at the train station. The relatively few transferring to/from trains already have 5 bus lines (50, 55, 56, 57, and R) to connect them to Kennedy Plaza and the bus network, plus a place to wait indoors get information, access to bathrooms, even coffee, at an intermodal facility called the “train station.” We don’t need another building, or to add un-needed buses to the already congested area.

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RIPTA open house on proposed Downtown Providence service changes – September 11, 2017

Kennedy Plaza, Image from RIPTA.

Press Release from RIPTA:


RIPTA to Hold Open House to Discuss Future Changes to Improve Downtown Providence Bus Service

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is considering changes to improve bus service in downtown Providence and is inviting the public to provide input. Future service changes are being planned in order to maximize opportunities that will be created by upcoming capital investments including the Downtown Transit Connector (DTC) and the Providence Intermodal Transportation Center (PITC). RIPTA is hosting an open house on Monday, September 11, 2017, 4:30PM – 6:00PM at the Providence Foundation, 30 Exchange Terrace, Providence. The public is welcome to drop in anytime during this session.

RIPTA is considering service options that will best serve passengers who live and work in greater downtown Providence, including areas such as Capital Center, the Jewelry District and the Hospital District. Some of the improvements the transit authority is considering include:

  • More direct service to more locations, which will reduce the number of transfers needed by passengers.
  • Reduction of travel times in key areas.
  • Less reliance on Kennedy Plaza as a primary location for transit connections.
  • Expanding more routes to the Providence Amtrak Train Station to provide more direct bus-rail connections.
  • Making transit more “user friendly” to downtown residents and workers through the creation of a high frequency transit corridor from the Train Station to Rhode Island Hospital.
  • Maximizing customer convenience at Kennedy Plaza to support the City’s vision to consolidate bus travel on Washington Street, making it a two-way, transit-only road.
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PBN: The state’s 2012 bet on commuter-rail service has yet to pay off. Is it time to privatize?

Wickford Junction Station, image from RIDOT.

“We started a few months ago, doing a deep dive looking into what the MBTA can do, what it can’t do and why,” [RIDOT Director Peter] Alviti said. “Peak periods [are] quite a challenge for them to be able to give us more frequency during rush hours.”

The constriction relates to the design of the MBTA hub at South Station in Boston, according to Devine. It becomes a choke point during rush hours. “Without an expansion in additional capacity and trackage there, it really limits increasing the trains [to Rhode Island], particularly in the peak period,” he said.

Taking over the services themselves, however, would allow RIDOT to contract out the operations to a company that only has to cycle between Wickford Junction and Providence, and which might allow for future expansion.

The article goes on to discuss the need to add housing to the stop at Wickford Junction to provide a built-in client base for the service (true TOD, not a Home Depot and a Walmart) and also the potential for service to Quonset, which is an expanding jobs center.

We’re not going to tear down the $40 million station at Wickford Junction, so how do we make it work?

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R.I. economy needs investment in modern and efficient transportation infrastructure

Train Station at T.F. Green Airport, photo from RIDOT

Last week, Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) announced that, from July through the end of the year, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter rail service will be free for people traveling within the state. The intention of the pilot program is to attract new riders who, in theory, will then realize the convenience of the rail line and continue to utilize it in the future. However, unless you are commuting to and from Boston, commuter rail service in Rhode Island is not very useful. Despite offering three MBTA stations in the state, service proves to be infrequent and unreliable. Lack of coordinated policy in solving transportation problems is a major cause. Large expenditures for highways and extending MBTA service to South County, albeit solving some traffic problems, have failed to eliminate growing traffic congestion throughout the Providence metropolitan area. If some action is not taken, rising immobility may erode the basic economic fiber of the state.

To become more economically independent from Boston and promote more local sustainable development, Rhode Island must develop a stronger public transit system. For example, looking to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor connecting Providence with Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C., it is one of the region’s most important transportation arteries. Yet, most Rhode Islanders associate the route only with long-distance commuting, which is an unfortunate association falling far short of its full potential.

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Intermodal Center on Capital Center Commission Design Review Committee Agenda – July 11, 2017

Design Review Committee of the Capital Center Commission Special Meeting Notice
Tuesday, July 11, 2017 – 8am
Doorley Municipal Building
444 Westminster Street, 1st Floor Conference Room Providence, RI 02903

ccc-roundAgenda

  1. Roll Call
  2. Waterplace Park
    Proposal to erect a storage facility adjacent to the existing pavilion.
  3. Providence Intermodal Transportation Center
    Proposal for a new transportation facility in Capital Center. For discussion only.
  4. Adjournment
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Free in-state train service, July 3rd through the end of the year

Wickford Junction Station. Photo from RIDOT’s Facebook Page

Press Release from RIDOT:


RIDOT Offering Free In-State Commuter Rail Trips Between Wickford Junction, T.F. Green And Providence Stations

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) is encouraging Rhode Islanders to leave their cars at home for the daily trip to work, catching a flight, or a visit to the capital city by making in-state travel free on trains between Wickford Junction, T.F. Green and Providence stations.

RIDOT is making commuter rail service free for a limited time, beginning on July 3 and running through the end of the year. The promotion will raise awareness of this convenient transit service, encouraging more people to use the train instead of the busy Route 4 highway corridor and the subsequent challenges of driving into and parking in Providence.

“Rhode Island ranks on the bottom when it comes to the percentage of travelers who use transit as opposed to cars, yet we have the infrastructure and train service to make it easy for people to get around our state without a car,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. “Making it free for a period of time will make more people aware of this great service and provide them an opportunity try it and use it on a regular basis.”

Parking at Wickford Junction Station is free year-round. The facility – located minutes from Exit 5 on Route 4 in North Kingstown – includes covered garage parking, restrooms, a climate-controlled indoor waiting area, electric car charging stations and vending machines.

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Kennedy Plaza/Downtown Transit Connector Public Meeting – May 9, 2017

Kennedy Plaza – Image from RIPTA

From the Providence Department of Planning & Development:


Please join the City of Providence and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority for an update on the Downtown Transit Connector (DTC) – a planned, high-frequency transit corridor in downtown Providence – and an opportunity to provide further input on the redesign of Kennedy Plaza. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, from 5:30 to 7:00 PM at the Joseph Doorley Municipal Building (first floor), 444 Westminster Street, Providence.

Both RIPTA and the City of Providence are seeking public input on the planned high-frequency DTC service and Kennedy Plaza, which will be a key stop. The City is in the process of looking at options for a long-term vision for Kennedy Plaza to make it a more active, vibrant, safe, and attractive city center while also accommodating public transit. In February, the City hosted a community meeting to gather public input on the redesign of the Plaza. During the upcoming May 9th meeting, the City will again engage community members in a discussion about the remaining options for the Plaza and surrounding area.

At the same time that the City is exploring options for the Plaza, RIPTA is working to advance design and engineering of the DTC. The DTC will create six “station-like” stops on a high?frequency route between Providence Station and the Hospital District, and includes service through Kennedy Plaza. These stops will be designed to be unique and highly visible. Features will include shelters, real time bus arrival signage, bike infrastructure, and other passenger amenities to create attractive public spaces. Part of the design effort will include branding to create a specific identity for the new transit corridor.

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Next Stop: Making Transit Work for RI with Jarrett Walker

Last month, Grow Smart Rhode Island invited transportation expert Jarrett Walker to Providence for a transportation forum.

Jarrett Walker shares his observations about Rhode Island’s transit system, how it compares with other metros its size and offer some preliminary recommendations for shaping a system that gets more Rhode Islanders – and visitors – where they need to go when they need to get there, conveniently, quickly and affordably. We’ll hear how RIPTA and other public transit agencies are adapting to and leveraging new technologies and how some are partnering with the private sector to extend their reach or to create new transit-oriented development that helps to pay for transit improvements and operations.

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RIPTA Downtown Transit Corridor Public Meeting – December 6, 2016

ripta-kp

From RIPTA:


RIPTA and the City of Providence to Hold Community Meeting on Downtown Transit Connector (DTC)

Meeting Scheduled for Tuesday, December 6th at 5:00 pm at the Joseph Doorley Municipal Building in Providence

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and the City of Providence are hosting a community meeting to provide an initial overview of plans for a high-frequency transit corridor in downtown Providence. The meeting is also intended to solicit ideas and public input on the project. The transit corridor will connect the Providence Amtrak/MBTA Station and the Hospital District with high-frequency bus service.

The meeting will be held from 5:00pm to 6:30pm on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, at the Joseph Doorley Municipal Building (1st Floor), located at 444 Westminster Street in Providence.

The corridor, which has the working name of the Downtown Transit Connector (DTC), will create six “station-like” stops between Providence Station and the Hospital District. These stops will be designed with a unique and highly-visible identity and will include bus shelters, real time information bus arrival signage, bike share stations and other passenger amenities. The project will strive to create attractive public spaces around each stop.

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WPRI: Construction underway to new commuter rail station

pawtucket-station

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation kicked off construction Monday morning for the Pawtucket Central Falls Commuter Rail Station.

[…]

It’s slated to open in 2020, and will serve as a stop on the MBTA commuter rail between Rhode Island and Boston,

State officials say it will also function as a busing hub.


I obviously have not been paying enough attention. I knew this was closer to reality than it has been in decades, but I still thought we were going to be talking it to death for another year or two at least. Wow, great news!

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ProJo: State to fast-track Route 6-10 connector project, abandon surface boulevard

ridot-6-10-original-design

RIDOT’s Original Design for the 6/10 interchange

Governor Raimondo has ordered a fast-track reconstruction of the Route 6 and 10 interchange and the abandonment of plans to rebuild the highway under an earthen cap, state officials said Wednesday.

The decision to rebuild the highways in their current footprint — and scrap a design favored by Department of Transportation leaders just this spring — was prompted by safety concerns and the deteriorating condition of the overpasses, said DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr.

I.E. the public hates how we’re spending thier money, so let’s spend it faster.

Along with abandoning the capped highway plan, Raimondo’s move all but dismisses the possibility of replacing the highway with a surface boulevard, a design that drew overwhelming support from attendees of a public forum on the 6-10 held last week by the city of Providence.

[…]

Alviti said the disruption to commuters that a boulevard would create was unacceptable.

Translation, people in the suburbs are more important than people who live in the city next to the suburban infrastructure.

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PBN: Long-sought Pawtucket-Central Falls commuter rail station gets $13.1M boost

pawtucket-central-falls-station

Location of proposed Pawtucket-Central Falls train station. Image from Bing Maps

A long-discussed plan to expand passenger rail service to Pawtucket and Central Falls got a boost on Wednesday from a $13.1 million federal TIGER grant which will help build a new commuter rail station here, something the mayor of Pawtucket called a “game changer.”

The station, expected to cost $40 million, will be located between Dexter and Conant streets. It is within and adjacent to the Amtrak-owned railroad right-of-way between the Conant Street bridge and Dexter Street bridge, in the northwest corner of the city of Pawtucket, near its border with Central Falls.


The Pawtucket Foundation is hosting a public forum about the proposed station, Wednesday, August 3rd at 8:30am at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center. Details on Facebook.

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Rhode Island Assembly, Speeds Approval for Parking Garage, No Money for Commuter Rail Station

garrahy-garage-bing

Location of proposed Garrahy Parking Garage

In wee-hours of Saturday morning, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill to speed the construction of a parking garage in Providence, but failed to provide funding for a proposed commuter rail station in Pawtucket / Central Falls.


The Providence Journal: R.I. House passes bill to speed garage project by Providence courthouse

A bill speeding construction of a $45 million parking garage next to the Garrahy Judicial Complex downtown passed the House Friday night and is one step from clearing the General Assembly.

Requested by the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission to advance a planned life sciences development, the bill would eliminate a requirement that the commission reach agreements to sell three parcels of the property it controls on the former interstate highway land before the garage would be built.

[…]

Instead of requiring three purchase-and-sales agreements on the I-195 land before the garage could be built, the bill would require Wexford/CV to lease at least 400 parking spaces.

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RIPTA Bus Stop Design Guide Public Meetings – June 9, 15, & 20, 2016

ripta-bus-stop-meeting-notice

From RIPTA:


The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) is currently developing bus stop design guidelines for use by RIPTA, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, municipalities and others, when roads with RIPTA bus routes are reconstructed or otherwise improved. Your input is valuable in helping shape a “complete streets” approach that enhances transit ridership through guidelines for urban, suburban and rural bus stops.

Three (3) open houses are scheduled in June to provide opportunity for input. Meetings are open to everyone from the general public, transit riders, municipal planning, engineering and public works departments, advocacy groups, A&E consultants, business groups, and developers. Meetings will include information on potential bus stop typologies.

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ProJo: Pawtucket, Central Falls seeking rail station

pawtucket-central-falls-station

Rhode Island is making its strongest push yet for a Pawtucket commuter rail station long-sought by the city and neighboring Central Falls.

The Department of Transportation late last month applied for a $14.5-million federal grant for the project, which would be built between Dexter and Conant Streets and cost an estimated $40 million.

According to the application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “TIGER” grant program, the state would contribute $3.6 million to the project and the two cities would combine to chip in another $3 million. The remaining $18.9 million would come from Rhode Island’s annual appropriation of federal transportation dollars.


The station could be completed as soon as late summer 2019, more likely early 2020.

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PBN: RIDOT moves up Providence River pedestrian bridge schedule

providence-river-pedestrian-bridge-001

Rendering of the planned Providence River Pedestrian Bridge

The process for building a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the Providence River in the I-195 redevelopment district, will move forward this month, the R.I. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

[…]

The construction schedule, described in a recent reporting by the DOT, would have preliminary work beginning in the fall. Construction of the $13.2 million bridge project is expected to span two seasons, with completion anticipated in early 2018.


Yay!

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