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James Kennedy: Reconnect Providence with a real 6/10 Boulevard

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This post was originally written as an Op-Ed submitted to the Providence Journal. It was originally published at Transport Providence and appears here with permission.

James Kennedy is part of the group Moving Together Providence. You can follow him on Twitter at @transportpvd.

RIDOT has dubbed its proposal for a 6/10 Connector Big Dig a “highway-boulevard hybrid”, but the 6/10 Dig is sharply at odds with the Moving Together Providence proposal for a genuine 6/10 Boulevard. Like the “cooler and warmer” scandal that has captured the public’s attention and revulsion, highway-boulevard hybrid is state-government-speak for nonsense. But the mistakes embedded in RIDOT’s 6/10 approach are orders of magnitude more expensive than the $4.5 million Reykjavik excursion, and its failure will stay with us for decades.

It’s pretty obvious why the 6/10 Connector has segregated Silver Lake, Olneyville, and the West End from each other, and not hard to understand how it made Providence’s “second downtown” its poorest neighborhood. Less obvious, but vital, is for suburbanites to understand how RIDOT’s policy fails them, and to join in a statewide movement for a genuine boulevard.

Urban highways funnel traffic and collect it into a few chokepoints, instead of allowing it to disperse naturally. Olneyville has next to no job centers that would draw outsiders, and the neighborhood itself is almost 50% car-free. But 11:30 on a Wednesday in Olneyville Square feels like let-out time for the Newport Jazz Festival. How can a place with so little economic activity and driving be so congested?

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ProJo: $800M Route 6-10 Connector plan gains fans at 1st public hearing

The initial estimate for the “hybrid” design assumed a $500-$550 million price for the highway portion of the project and $300 million for the bus line and stations. However in a March 25 letter to federal officials expressing interest in a $150-million grant for the project, DOT listed the highway portion of the project at $650 million.

DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said the $650-million estimate included the possibility that the project could be expanded to include repair of additional structurally deficient bridges, such as one at Plainfield Street. He could not immediately say whether the total price tag, including the transit component, would then grow to $950 million, or whether the state’s share of the project would still be $400 million.


Do we think we’ll be told the project is going to cost a billion dollars before or after they start construction?

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Public workshops on the 6/10 interchange hosted by RIDOT

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Press Release from RIDOT:


RIDOT Announces Public Workshops for 6-10 Interchange Design Options

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) today announced a series of public workshops for the reconstruction of the 6-10 interchange as part of a process to reimagine this important transportation infrastructure.

The Route 6-10 Interchange Project has road and bridge elements that have been in design for approximately 30 years. Within the project limits there are seven structurally deficient bridges that need to be addressed immediately. The project, which is of regional significance, consists of addressing structurally deficient bridges and reconfiguring the interchange to accommodate local and regional travel for commuters and businesses.

The Department is committed to meet an April 14 deadline for submission to the Federal Highway Administration’s recently announced FASTLANE grant program. The program, announced on February 26, makes $800 million available for projects of national or regional significance. RIDOT is applying for a $150 million grant for this project.

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Citizens plans campus in the middle of nowhere

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Rendering of Citizens planned campus in Johnston

On Wednesday, Citizens Financial Group announced their plans to build a corporate campus on a greenfield site in Johnson outside Route 295, while maintaining their current corporate headquarters in Providence.

As reported by WPRI, the 420,000 square foot campus will house 3,200 employees. Construction will start this year with occupancy in 2018.

Rhode Island Public Radio reports the campus will feature an on-site cafeteria, fitness center, and walking paths.

The Providence Journal reports on some financial help Citizens received for the project, notably:

Citizens and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation have agreed to split the $6-million cost to build new exit and entrance ramps onto Route 295, between current exits 6 and 7, where the highway crosses Greenville Avenue. The DOT will pay $3 million, and construction is expected to start in the spring of 2017, DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said;

Didn’t we just pass a super-controversial bill to toll trucks because RIDOT can’t afford to maintain what it has now? Now RIDOT is building infrastructure for private development?

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ProJo: Work on R.I. routes 6-10 a major undertaking for planners

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According to the bid documents released Friday, the 6-10 “conceptual design” consultant will play a central role in figuring out what the state’s “preferred alternative” for 6-10 reconstruction is before helping secure federal environmental approval and, hopefully, federal grants.

Although a surface boulevard plan for 6-10 is not mentioned specifically in the bid documents, one section requires the consultant to study “the traffic impacts along Route 6-10” based on the addition of transit and “a reduction in capacity,” indicating a possible loss of automobile lanes from the current alignment.

Later it says “pedestrian/bicycle flow will also be calculated at key intersections and corridor segments under the future build scenarios. Both positive and negative impacts on traffic will be identified.” The current highway does not allow pedestrians or bicycles and does not have intersections.


The City is hosting a Community Forum on the 6/10 Connector on March 23rd.

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Community Conversation on the Future of the 6/10 Connector – March 23, 2016

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Mayor Jorge Elorza and the American Planning Association of Rhode Island invite you to a community conversation about the future of the 6-10 Connector, featuring a discussion with three national experts who have experience with similar highway projects. This event is free and open to the public.

A Community Conversation About the Future of the 6-10 Connector
Wednesday, March 23, 2016 – 6-8pm
Doorley Municipal Building
444 Westminster Street, Providence
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ProJo: 6-10 rapid transit plan would draw nearly 4,000 riders, report says

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Olneyville before the construction of the 6/10 Connector

In the report released Jan. 22, VHB estimated that between 7,000 and 9,000 people use mass transit to reach downtown Providence from an area south and west of the city and could utilize a 6-10 transit line. The higher end of the estimate, 9,193, came from adding the passengers of 13 current Rhode Island Public Transit Authority lines and the 7,014 figure came from extrapolated census figures.

[…]

The additional 3,500 to 4,000 riders VHB estimates would use a new transit line on Routes 6 and 10 was determined by taking these numbers and adding “several percentage points” of higher transit usage to the population within the catchment area.


That all sounds rather, take a guess from this column and take a guess from that column, but OK. It seems like RIPTA needs some input on this. Do existing lines from the south and west get re-routed? Does that allow for better time into the City? Does that attract more ridership? Is there a demand for riders from the south to reach Olneyville without making a transfer in Kennedy Plaza and vice-versa..?


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RI General Assembly: Bill taps DOT to clear snow from sidewalks on overpasses, pedestrian bridges

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Press Release from the General Assembly:


STATE HOUSE – After last winter’s barrage of snow made traversing streets a challenge for pedestrians, Providence legislators Sen. Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski have reintroduced legislation putting the Department of Transportation in charge of clearing snow from sidewalks on state-controlled highway overpasses and overhead pedestrian walkways with significant pedestrian traffic.

The pair said it became apparent last year by the many pedestrians forced to dodge traffic in the street that sidewalks in those two areas seem to be among the most neglected after snowstorms.

“Most cities and towns require property owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their land, and you’ll see lots of business owners and residents out there when it snows fulfilling their duty. But when pedestrians get to an overpass, which isn’t in front of anybody’s property, they have to either walk out in the street or climb over a snow bank and trudge through the snow. It’s dangerous, and we need to designate someone to be in charge of snow removal in these areas, at least where there are a lot of pedestrians,” said Senator Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), who is the Senate majority whip.

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Very 21st Century

The Proposed 6/10 Interchange Reconstruction will address the deterioration of existing bridges and aims to reduce congestion and improve travel flow from north to west on the roads spanning from Route 6 to Route 10. The proposed project will include work to Route 6 from the Hartford Avenue interchange to north of the Tobey Street overpass, in addition to Route 10 from the Cranston Viaduct to Route 6. The proposed reconstruction will assess nine of 11 deteriorating bridges that are over 50 years old.


And the BRT gets value engineered out in 3… 2…

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ProJo: Plans for downtown bus hubs proceeding slowly

Video release last year by RIDOT on future plans for transit in the state.

More than a year after Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly approved a $35-million bond for two new downtown bus hubs, state officials are only now beginning to fill in details of the projects.

The future of the transit hubs was a popular topic at a recent public transportation forum, particularly among Providence business leaders who pushed for them and questioned why so little information about them had been made available.

Bonding for a bus hub at the train station in Providence was approved by voters. The possible sub-hub at the proposed Garrahy Courthouse parking garage is being developed by the Convention Center Authority which has the power to raise its own bonds without voter approval.

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Both RIPTA and MBTA will serve Wickford Junction Station starting December 7, 2015

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Wickford Junction Station. Photo from RIDOT

Press release from RIDOT:


RIDOT and RIPTA Providing More Transit Choices from Wickford Junction Transit Center

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) today announced the expansion of bus service to the Wickford Junction Transit Center in North Kingstown. Effective Monday, December 7, 2015, this move will provide one-stop consolidated transit services, including rail, bus, and carpooling for commuting and easy access to shopping, sports, and other entertainment activities in Providence and Boston.

“Improving service and reducing operating costs at Wickford Junction has been a major focus of attention at RIDOT, and we are pleased to provide these changes with the assistance of our partners at RIPTA to make the station a full-featured transit hub for South County,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. “With trains and buses under one roof, commuters have more options for transit and can avoid the hassle of rush hour and costly parking in Providence and Boston.”

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Local News & Notes

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Proposed South Street Landing parking garage. Rendering by Spagnolo Gisness & Associates, Inc.

I’ve been quite busy offline the last few weeks. Here’s a selection of local stories I’ve been trying to catch myself up on:


masslive.com New MBTA ‘bullet trains’ will get riders from Worcester to Boston in less than an hour

Riding the rails from Worcester to Boston should take less time come May. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Wednesday announced the addition of a non-stop bullet train and two additional express trains on the Worcester/Framingham line.

“This is a game changer,” Polito said, referring to it as a quality of life issue. “For the first time ever, a non-stop train leaves Worcester and arrives in Boston in less than an hour.

Can the Providence line haz ‘bullet trains’ too pleaz?


The Providence Journal Fed-ordered drainage work will cost RIDOT $112 million

Faced with a consent decree requiring it to comply with federal clean water rules, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has budgeted $112 million over the next decade to clean and repair its ailing network of drainage systems around the state.

DOT director Peter Alviti said the state agency plans to annually spend between $6.6 million and $16.8 million on drainage improvements as part of its 10-year strategic plan in a bid to correct years of inaction and reduce the amount of polluted stormwater that flows into Narragansett Bay and other local water bodies from state roads.

Look back to 2013 when Save The Bay highlighted the issue that surface run-off, not sewer overflow was what was most contributing to beach closures that year. RIDOT didn’t even know where it’s run-off was coming from, while we, the Narragansett Bay Commission rate-payers, are paying crazy sewer bills for a giant pipe to hold our poo.


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ecoRI News: R.I.’s Bike Infrastructure a Disjointed Maze

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Bike Lane on Allens Avenue

In June 2012 complete-streets legislation was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee. The law requires federal- and state-funded road-construction projects to consider bicyclists, public-transit users and pedestrians during the design process. The goal is to increase road safety for non-automobile users and, thereby, encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation, which promote public and environmental health while reducing traffic congestion.

While Rhode Island’s complete-streets legislation has resulted in safer road design in some places, many bicycle advocates are generally disappointed by the results. The legislation requires the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider incorporating complete-streets features, but allows exceptions on projects if the agency determines space is limited or costs are deemed disproportionate to the use those features would likely garner.

When I imagine RIDOT considering complete street infrastructure on construction projects, I imagine it a lot like my non-religious family says grace at Thanksgiving; “Someone should say grace,” “Grace,” eat. “Someone should consider complete streets,” “considered,” make street geometry so cars can move as fast as possible.

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Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission Meeting – October 20, 2015

Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission Meeting
October 20, 2015, 2015 – 4:45pm
30 Exchange Terrace, 1st Floor Conference Room
Note: This meeting is at a different location than regularly scheduled meetings

bpac-roundAgenda

  1. Roll call
  2. Approval of meeting minutes from September Commission meeting
  3. Introduction of Peter Garino, RIDOT Deputy Director (Martina Haggerty)
  4. Discussion with Peter Garino, RIDOT Deputy Director, regarding ways to improve coordination between RIDOT and BPAC and status updates on several RIDOT projects within the City of Providence
  5. Update on bike share program (Leah Bamberger)
  6. Adjournment
Full disclosure: I am a member of this Commission.
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ProJo: Raimondo pushes out managers, dismisses employees at ‘dysfunctional’ DOT

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Image from RIDOT

Having diagnosed Rhode Island’s transportation bureaucracy as “dysfunctional,” Governor Raimondo Wednesday outlined the steps she’s taking to fix it — with or without revenue from proposed truck tolls.

In an overhaul of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation that started earlier this year, Raimondo said she has pushed out several managers, adopted private-sector planning processes and begun hiring workers to reduce the agency’s reliance on outside contractors.

RIDOT has also either dismissed or accepted the resignation of “four or five” unidentified employees for “dishonesty,” including false record keeping and not being where they said they were, according to Director Peter Alviti.


I don’t have anything nice to say about RIDOT so I won’t say anything at all.

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RIBike: Meetings with RIDOT

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We had two meetings last week with Deputy Director of RIDOT, Pete Garino. One was a roundtable with a number of other advocates for biking & transit, one was one-on-one. There are changes afoot at RIDOT, and we wanted to let you know what’s going on.

First of all, the basic idea the new RIDOT leadership is pushing in its 10-year RhodeWorks proposal is to raise extra money through truck tolls to aggressively repair the state’s structurally-deficient bridges and get us out of the “death spiral” of nothing but emergency repairs. With public infrastructure, it’s often the case that doing proactive maintenance & repairs saves boatloads of money in the longer run, and RIDOT wants to do that.

But what about bikes? In the administration’s proposed breakdown of funding in the RhodeWorks proposal, there is $128 million for bike/ped infrastructure over the next 10 years, which is about 3x more than we’re getting currently. In addition to keeping that funding in there, we’ve been clear with DOT that when they’re resurfacing roads and bridges, they should stripe bike lanes wherever appropriate. To focus that process, we are eager to work with Statewide Planning, DOT, DEM, and local governments to ensure that good bike plans are in place so that DOT knows where to put bike lanes.


Visit the link to read RIBike’s extensive notes on various transportation projects.

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ProJo: DOT seeks permission to move RIPTA commuter lot in North Kingstown

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Image from Google Streetview

RIDOT is still discussing merging the RIPTA park and ride at Routes 2 and 102 with the parking facility at Wickford Junction MBTA station, a mile away.

“The property’s highest and best use is not as a parking lot,” said Paul Carcieri, the DOT’s real estate specialist. “It’s a very valuable property.”

Approximately $1.9 million dollars valuable.

Committee members are concerned about whether moving the Park-n-Ride roughly a mile to Wickford Junction would make it less convenient to RIPTA users, whether bus riders who park at the MBTA garage would be guaranteed free parking as they get now and whether the garage operator would keep the facility open as needed by RIPTA users — on weekends, for instance.

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