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Providence Streetcar to apply for TIGER VI grant funding

streetcar-empire

The Obama administration announced a new round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants (known as TIGER VI) with an extremely short turn-around for submitting applications, they are due April 28th.

The City of Providence applied for a TIGER grant last year, RIDOT also submitted a bid for Apponaug which was supported by the Governor. The Apponaug project was awarded a TIGER grant, and while there isn’t direct competition built into the grant process per-say, it is thought that Providence’s streetcar bid lost out to Kansas City’s streetcar which had more secure funding in place at the time. Providence’s 2013 TIGER grant application included a funding plan, but unlike Kansas City’s successful application, steps had not yet been taken to implement that funding.

Capital costs for the project (costs incurred to build it) are estimated to be $117.8 million (2016 dollars). Funding will come from City TIF Bonds, Federal funds, Rhode Island Capital Plan funds, RIPTA CMAQ funds, and a RIDOT land transfer.

In the next month, Providence plans to work further toward implementation of funding by working with the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee to approve a TIF plan for the streetcar district. This funding represents 50% of the projected cost of the project and will be one of the sources for operations revenue after the project is complete.

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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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Providence streetcar back on track

rendering-streetcar-empire

Rendering of proposed Providence Streetcar at Empire Street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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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: 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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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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CHNA Core Connector Study Meeting (Nov. 15)

Thayer Street Station Rendering
Rendering by Ron Henderson / L+A Landscape Architecture | Click image to enlarge

The College Hill Neighborhood Association is having a meeting on the Core Connector (aka Streetcar) Study, see below:

To all Neighborhood Associations, Community Groups and Providence Residents: We invite you to the next…

CORE CONNECTOR STUDY MEETING

Providence Core Connector Study Meeting
Monday, November 15th
6:30 – 8:00pm
Brown University’s MacMillan Hall, 167 Thayer Street, Room 117 (“Starr Auditorium”)

CHNA has organized a meeting to discuss the Providence Core Connector Study. This meeting has been scheduled on short notice to accommodate a vote in December that relates to the study.

The Providence Core Connector Study is examining the impacts, costs and benefits of improving transit within the central core of Providence. Based on public input received at three community houses held in September, RIPTA and the City have identified specific goals for the project, as well as three potential transit routes that will be evaluated in more detail over the next two months. At our meeting, RIPTA will be on hand to provide an update on the project and to solicit further public comment on the potential benefits and/or concerns related to the three potential routes. A larger public forum will also be held in December to present the results of a detailed comparative evaluation on these routes.

We hope to have you join us to hear more about this project. If you have any questions, please call 401.633.5230. Please forward to all groups of interest.

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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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Streetcar study Public Meetings

RIPTA and the City of Providence will be holding public meetings this month on their “CirculatorProvidence Core Connector Study project, you may know the Providence Core Connector better as the streetcar line proposed in the Metro Transit Study.

These meetings will be looking at options for making mass transit connections between the Brown University area, the Providence Train Station, and the Hospitals in Upper South Providence. The goal will be to come up with what is known as a “Locally Preferred Alternative” which will then be the basis of applying for federal funding.

The Metro Transit Study of course recommended streetcars, the current Mayor wants streetcars, and I think most of our readers want streetcars, but we do have to go through a public process and assess all options. So these meetings will be looking at what mode should be used to make this transit connection, and what route said mode should take.

The public meetings are scheduled for:

  • College Hill Open House
    Tuesday, Sept. 21, from 5-7pm.
    Brown RISD Hillel Center, 80 Brown Street
    Informal drop-in open house, with brief formal presentation at 6pm
  • Upper South Providence Open House
    Wednesday, Sept. 22, from 5-7pm
    Edmund Flynn Elementary School, 220 Blackstone Street
    Informal drop-in open house, with brief formal presentation at 6pm
  • Downtown Open House
    Thursday, Sept. 23, from 12:30-2pm
    The Commerce Center, 30 Exchange Terrace
    Informal drop-in open house, with brief formal presentation at 1pm
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RIPTA gets $700k in federal funds for new bus hubs

sub hubsThe Federal Transportation Administration announced who is receiving $290 million in TIGER funds for “Urban Circulator/Bus and Bus Livability Projects.” Rhode Island is among the recipients with $700,000 going to RIPTA to develop bus hubs outside the Downcity core.

The Sub-hubs, as we’ve been calling them here, are a recommendation of the Metro Transit Study.

With new smaller hubs, taking the bus will take less time. Extending RIPTA bus routes beyond the primary downtown destination of Kennedy Plaza to other hubs just outside of downtown will eliminate the need for many passengers to transfer to reach their final destinations. In this plan, RIPTA will develop new hub locations in the West Side, College Hill, Capitol Hill and the Hospital District areas. These will attract riders because trips will be more convenient, accessible, and highly visible in new key locations. Additionally, dispers- ing waiting buses to these new hubs will help the reinvention of Kennedy Plaza by decreasing its congestion.

The Metro Transit Study estimates that it will cost $5,454,000 to complete all hubs, located on the West Side, College Hill, Providence Station, and near the hospitals. However Phase 1, which includes bare-bones amenities at the West Side and College Hill Sub-hubs and through-routing of buses to these hubs is estimated to cost just $200,000.

RIPTA will begin Phase 1 by continuing to develop the first such hub located on Cahir Street on the West Side of Providence near three Providence High Schools. This hub will include amenities such as new bus shelters, map and schedule information, bike racks, and in the long term real-time arrival information, public art to relate it to its local neighborhood, and new branding of bus service. Phase 1 will also include extending the 49, 52 and 90 routes to the West Side and providing a similar hub on College Hill as part of the extension of routes 55 and 66.

The real-time arrival information is part of RIPTA’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) which will allow RIPTA to feed information about where buses are to bus stops, mobile devices and more. The ITS is currently under development.

Of course all of this will be for naught if the state does not do something to address RIPTA’s funding problems.

Graphic: Kennedy Plaza and the four proposed “Sub-Hubs.”

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