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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.



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.

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…It says it does, but it really doesn’t

Photo (cc) Eric Kilby

So, I’ve been hearing from all around town that MBTA service to T.F. Green starts on Monday. There is even a schedule [.pdf] posted on the MBTA website. So I posted about it.

Then PBN posted about it. Then I got an email from Ted Nesi. Ted tells me that the Governor’s spokeperson said, “no.” Service is not starting on Monday.

Then I email RIDOT for a statement and got this response from Charles St. Martin:

While the entire schedule (for all stops from Providence to Boston) goes into effect on Nov. 22, the service to and from the Airport is not starting on Monday.

So that sounds weird, but what it basically means, is that the new MBTA schedule is out, they change from time to time just as RIPTA’s do, and while the T.F. Green run is listed on this new schedule, the service will not actually start on Monday.

This is all well and good, and I understand that, but check out the schedule the MBTA has posted. All I see is this:

Notes: This schedule is effective from November 22, 2010 and replaces the schedule of January 11, 2010.

And the schedule lists service running to/from T.F. Green. No disclaimer anywhere about that service not being active yet. No asterisk, no notation, no thought-bubble. So you can see the confusion.

I’ve heard from a number of people who were under the impression that the trains were running Monday. I wonder how many people will be on the platform at 6:13am Monday morning waiting for a train.

I did also ask Mr. St. Martin if there was any update on when service actually will start and it is still set to start, “sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”


The MBTA just updated the Providence line page.


RIDOT announces Clifford Street bridge to open Oct. 13, other traffic changes

RIDOT announced today a number of changes to the street patterns west of the Jewelry District as part of the Iway project:

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) today announced that a number of changes will be taking place this fall in Providence as a result of the Iway project. The changes include the opening of new roads, bridges and on and off ramps and represent some of the final traffic changes related to the project.

The first change motorists will encounter is the opening of a new bridge spanning I-95 in the area of Friendship Street, which is scheduled for Wednesday, October 13, 2010. The new Clifford Street Bridge will carry one-way traffic westbound, and help improve travel through the city with another crossing over the I-95 corridor.

At the same time the new Clifford Street Bridge opens, RIDOT will be changing the traffic pattern on the nearby Point Street overpass from two-way travel to one-way eastbound toward Davol Square. Both bridges connect to service roads that run parallel to I-95.

Presently, the southbound service road is known as Service Road No. 7 and the northbound service road is called Service Road No. 8. These will be renamed and signed as West Franklin Street and East Franklin Street, respectively.

Both service roads and the Clifford Street Bridge and Point Street overpass will function as a circulator for traffic entering and exiting I-95 as well for east-west movements between the West End, South Providence and R.I. hospitals area and the Jewelry District and Downcity areas.

“We have seen improved travel times and reduced congestion on I-95 and I-195 as part of the Iway project,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. “These next steps will help improve traffic flow in the city and make it easier for motorists to get on and off I-95 in Providence.”

In conjunction with the opening of the Clifford Street Bridge on October 13, RIDOT will open a new ramp from Point Street to I-95 North. Last year RIDOT opened a ramp from I-95 North to Point Street and later this year the final ramp in this area, Point Street to I-95 South, is scheduled to open.

Many other changes are planned for the remainder of 2010 associated with the Iway. These include new ramps to the R.I. hospitals area and additional changes to city streets near the I-95 corridor. Additionally, RIDOT expects demolition of the old I-195 highway to begin later this year.

All schedules are weather-dependent and subject to change.

Motorists with questions can contact RIDOT’s Customer Service office at 401-222-2450 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additional information will be available on RIDOT’s website ( and its social media sites on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Blogger.

More at RIDOT


Providence River Pedestrian Bridge Design Competition Press Conference

The City and RIDOT today announced a design competition for the new Providence River Pedestrian Bridge which will replace the old Route 195. The schedule for the competion is quite aggresive, Requests for Qualifications are due by September 17th, finalists who will be invited to submit designs will be notified September 24th, and their designs will be due on October 29th.

When the designs are recieved they will go on display at City Hall for public input and then a jury will select the winning design at the end of November. RIDOT estimates it will take 18 months to transfer the winning design into engineering drawings and prepare for construction. All said, the new bridge should be well underway during 2013, which is the year the Iway project officially wraps up. If all goes according to plan, the bridge should be being built at the same time as the streetgrid is being rebuilt and the parks are being built on either bank of the river.

RIDOT Director Michael Lewis also announced that Bids for the removal of the old route 195 were being accepted starting this morning. The winning bid should be award this fall with demolition getting underway next year (I assume around March, start of construction season, as always, weather dependent).

Request for Qualifications
As part of the first phase of the design selection process, the City has issued a Request for Qualifications [.pdf] (RFQ). Interested parties are encouraged to submit a letter of interest, firm profile, a relevant and current project portfolio and appropriate references for review by the Pedestrian Bridge Design Competition Selection Committee. The informational package should be limited to 10 pages.

Submission deadline
The qualifications package should be submitted electronically via email to by September 17 at 4pm EST. Email submittals must have “Providence River Pedestrian Bridge Design Competition” in the subject line. Firms may also mail or hand deliver a CD to the Department of Planning and Development at 400 Westminster Street, Providence.

Upon review, the Selection Committee, comprised of local architects, neighborhood residents, representatives from local universities, business owners and RIDOT and City staff, will invite up to 10 finalists to submit bridge designs. The finalists selected to participate in the competition will be evaluated based upon the following criteria:

  • Design philosophy and approach to design
  • Experience of key personnel
  • Prior design experience with pedestrian bridge projects of similar scale and complexity
  • Articulated understanding of the functional and operational needs of the proposed bridge
  • Commitment to developing a proposed bridge design within the timeframes and constraints outlined in the RFQ

Making room for bikes on the new Union Avenue bridge

Image from Google Maps

Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition posted an update on the Union Avenue Bridge.

They asked RIDOT if there was any accomodation for cyclists in the new bridge design and were told:

The new Union Ave bridge will have the same design configuration as the old Union Ave bridge. There will be a 2 foot median, 2- 11 foot travel lanes, a one foot shoulder, and a 6 foot sidewalk, in each direction (Eastbound & Westbound). There is no special accomodation for bicycles on this bridge. Bicyclists will have to follow the standard traffic laws.

When asked if the design could be changed to allow for bike lanes, a RIDOT spokesperson said it was too late and would be too expensive to change the design now.

It would likely be prohibitively expensive, and slow the work schedule, to redesign the bridge at this point to accomodate full bike lanes. The actual structure would need to be made wider. Of course it should have been designed with bikes in mind from the get go, but as described, I would think it is possible to accomodate bikes somehow.

First let me just say this about the design. 46 feet for automobiles and 12 feet for pedestrians, really? RIDOT, get with it, this is a city, people walk here.

OK, I would start with getting rid of the median. Medians separate traffic and often cause cars to move faster, since there is a barrier between them. Having only a double yellow line puts opposing traffic closer together and drivers slow down.

So with that there’s now 2 feet to play with. My understanding is that Rhode Island law allows bikes on sidewalks (or does not expressly prohibit bikes on sidewalks). As a pedestrian, I’m not really on board with that, but if it makes bikers safer at this crossing, I’m willing to go with it. Simply adding that 2 feet from the median makes each sidewalk 7 feet wide now, giving slightly more room for bikes and pedestrians to coexist on them.

But I wouldn’t stop there, at 11′, the travel lanes for the cars are on the wide side, interstate standard is 12′ and Union Avenue is not an interstate. The lanes could be dropped to 10′ or 9.5′. If the lane widths dropped to 10 feet, that would give us 4 more feet to play with, allowing for 10 foot sidewalks.

Alternately, the sidewalks could be kept at the original 6 feet, the center lanes used for left turns, could be 9.5 feet, then the outside lanes could be 13.5 feet wide, with Sharrows painted on them for bike accomodation.

Or, there doesn’t need to be 4 traffic lanes at all, on either end of the bridge, Union Avenue is only 2 lanes wide. Make three 10′ lanes with the center lane divided into left turn lanes for either direction at either end. That leaves us with 30′ for cars, 12′ for sidewalks, and 16′ for bike lanes. Since bike lanes should be 4-5′ wide, we’d have planety of room for the bike lanes to be protected from the traffic lanes.

Yes, at this point, any of these changes would cost RIDOT some money (if only to pay an engineer to draw them up), would likely have some degree of impact on the schedule, and would be subject to review of the contractor’s quote (different configurations use different amounts of material, etc.) but it would not be impossible even at this late date to reconfigure what actually is placed on the 58′ road deck. In fact, aside from removing the median (which should be a cost savings I would imagine) most of these options are simply a matter of paint on the roadway.

And seeing as it is simply a matter of paint on the roadways, this is something that is possible on other bridges in the area. Atwells Avenue comes to mind (both the Route 95 and Route 10 bridges).

I’ve said it before, I think RIDOT is starting to move in a good direction as far as livable streets are concenred under the direction of Micheal Lewis, but it is taking too long to make the change in internal culture they need to make, they need to step it up! We can’t keep building bad bridges and thinking, “well, the next one we’ll build right.”


News & Notes

Wind farm challenged in R.I. Supreme Court

Three entities have asked the Rhode Island Supreme Court to overturn the approval of the Block Island wind farm contract.

Attorney General Patrick Lynch, the Conservation Law Foundation and large industrial concerns Toray Plastics and Polytop Corp. argue that the state Public Utilities Commission approval of the Power Purchase Agreement reached between Deepwater Wind and National Grid was legally flawed on several levels.

[The Block Island Times]

America’s Ten Dead Cities: From Detroit To New Orleans

What this list does not take into account is the suburbanization of America and the fact that many of the sunbelt cities that have taken top spots in population are largely suburban in nature. Never-the-less it is interesting to look at where cities were, what contributed to their downfall, and consider how they should re-invent themselves for the 21st century.

[24/7 Wall Street]

Relocating Route 195: Cost more than double

“The people here hadn’t done these big projects before,” said Robert A Shawver, the DOT’s assistant director for financial planning. “We learned a lot and we’re improving. I think you can see from our managing our other projects that we’re doing well.”

Emphasis added. I mean… really.

[The Providence Journal]

How the Stimulus Is Changing America

The State of the Interstate

Now, officials are contemplating taking I-10 down, as part of a national trend in which dismantling freeways is favored as a cheaper option than rehabilitation. But resistance to change runs deep in New Orleans. A proud sense of tradition, racial polarity, corruption and a history of inequitable large-scale redevelopment projects such as the construction of I-10 make many residents distrustful of any big changes | including, paradoxically, the dismantling of I-10.

According to the city’s master plan, dismantling the interstate would add only eight minutes to commute times. The existing I-610 acts as a bypass and Claiborne Avenue, still operational beneath I-10, is four lanes wide. Dense street grids, experts say, handle heavy traffic better than highways by providing routes off of main roadways at more frequent intervals | at blocks rather than at half-mile exits.

Think of the traffic queuing to get on Route 10 at Cranston Street, then think if there were a more permeable grid for that traffic to flow through.

[Next American City]

Portland streetcar success has fueled interest elsewhere
[USA Today]


RIDOT announces preliminary Warwick rail schedule

Photo © RIDOT

With train service to the InterLink (aka the Intermodal Station) at T.F. Green Airport in October, RIDOT is busy planning the routes for the service. Good news, the schedule will include reverse commuting options.

Reverse commuting means trains running in the opposite direction of the typical peak direction, in the morning for example, the peak direction would be northbound toward Providence and Boston. The concern had been by some that people would not be able to commute to Warwick and the airport from Providence in the morning, stifling future development around the station, and preventing people from being able to access morning flights via the train.

The schedule tentatively includes 3 trains leaving Warwick in the morning heading north to Providence and onto Boston with 2 trains running from Providence to Warwick. In the evening, 3 trains from Boston will pass through Providence and continue to T.F. Green, and 2 or 3 trains will run from Warwick and terminate in Providence.

A full schedule with specific times is still being worked on.

RIDOT also continues negotiations with Amtrak to bring have their trains stop at the new station.

In other Rhode Island Commuter Rail news, a groundbreaking for the proposed station at Wickford Junction is scheduled for this Wednesday. The station at Wickford Junction is scheduled to open in 2011.

Of course with the addition of Wickford Junction service, RIDOT and the MBTA will have to revisit commuter rail schedules, hopefully further expanding service to T.F. Green at that point.

Airport’s station to get new routes [ProJo]


The T in DOT?

Ready for a rant?

Atwells & Dean

Work has resumed in earnest on the reconstruction of Dean Street. This is a good thing, Dean is in dire need of a rebuild. But you know I can’t just be happy it is being rebuit, I have to find something to rant about.

Atwells & Dean

So this has been the condition of the intersection of Dean and Atwells all week. Sidewalks are closed on both sides of the road, some lanes are closed at various times, there are holes in the ground, metal grates down, all things that need to be done when one is rebuilding a street, this is all fine. It is the sidewalk closures that get me. When they close travel lanes, detours are set up, lanes are shifted, police officers and flaggers are posted. The sidewalks? Well they are just closed. I’ve had to wander out into the street and hope that I don’t get hit by some construction equipment, or a car, or that I don’t fall into a hole, hoping that an officer or flagger will notice me and give me some indication of what the safest path is or maybe even stop traffic for me to cross.

I’ve already ranted about how the walk lights on Atwells don’t work. So since there are no walk lights, one needs to pay attention to the traffic lights and try to figure out when to cross based on them. Well, the flaggers and officers are now pushing traffic through red lights willy nilly with no regard to the actual color of the light, so this adds to the chaos of trying to navigate this area on foot. If they are not going to regard the lights when they direct traffic, then they should shut the lights off. All week I’ve been walking into the road when the lights indicate I can only to have someone start waving traffic into my path, and into me!

Lest we forget, the “T” in DOT stands for Transportation. It is not the Department of Moving-Cars-From-Place-to-Place-as-Fast-as-We-Can-Disregarding-All-Others. Transportation includes cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, horses, scooters, wheelchairs, skateboards, mule trains… but every construction project in the state and city is set up as if there were only one mode of transportation on Maudes green Earth, automobiles.

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Bad bridges costing RIPTA

ProJo reports on how deficient bridges are hurting RIPTA’s bottom line.

The agency recently adopted a plan to reduce service and raise fares to close an expected budget gap. The service cuts will save a projected $650,000 and the fare increase will generate a projected $975,000.

Meanwhile the authority has spend approximately $1,000,000 due to bridges that they cannot cross. Costs come from using extra diesel on detouors, paying drivers for longer shifts, and in one case, purchasing a smaller bus.


Here we go again

Photo by Jef Nickerson

ProJo reports that RIPTA is once again, in a now annual tradition, looking at fare hikes and service cuts to balance their budget deficit.

John Rupp, the board chairman, said it will try to design a fare increase that won’t deny people transportation, and it will try to keep any service adjustments from doing more than inconvenience riders.

“We’re trying to target a fare increase that won’t push people off the bus,” he said.

Good luck with that, you raise fares and you reduce service, you’re pushing people off the bus. If I can’t get there from here, then I won’t.

The fare increase sought is $0.25, which would raise fares to $2.00. The chairman claims that will keep RIPTA’s fares inline with other agencies. Actually, if you look just up the road to Boston, you’ll find bus fares between $1.25 and $1.50 depending on which fare product you use. In Austin, Texas (a city with a similar metro size to us) bus fares are $1.00.

Where Austin and Boston both differ from Rhode Island is that they both have express bus services with higher fares than local service. Boston has express bus service costing $2.80 to $5.00 depending how far you go and which fare product you use. Austin’s express bus service costs $2.50. Here in Rhode Island you can travel a route such as the 40, which doesn’t leave the city of Providence, or the 60 which runs all the way from Providence to Newport, or the 54 Express which runs from Providence to the Lincoln Mall non-stop, all for $1.75 ($2.00 if the increase goes through). These are different kinds of service, but they are all treated the same when it comes to the fare charged.

In Boston, express buses have local and express zones. Take the 553 which I used to ride when I lived in Waltham. The 553 starts at Brandeis University, goes through Waltham Center, West Newton, Newtonville, and Newton Corner where it gets on the Mass Pike and runs Express into Boston. If one were to ride the bus between any two points between Brandeis and Newton Corner, one would pay the local fare, if one stays on the bus into Boston, then they must pay the express fare. So the bus provides local service at it’s far end, but a premium is paid if you want to utilize it all the way into the city. A zone structure like this could be instituted on a bus such as the 60 to Newport. One would pay a local fare if they didn’t leave Aquidneck Island for example, or perhaps a local fare zone all the way to Barrington. But if you wanted to ride all the way into Providence, a higher fare would be instituted. Or there could be another version of the 60, a 60 Limited, which would not stop at every stop, thereby speeding the trip and justifying a premium fare.

RIPTA provides various kinds of services but treats them all the same. There is local urban bus service which people use as their primary means of transportation in Providence and Pawtucket and to a lesser extent in the close suburbs and out in Newport. Then there are commuter services, whereby people are parking their cars and getting on the bus to get to jobs in Providence. And there is some reverse commuting where people are taking buses out of Providence to jobs at office parks in the suburbs. And the service that RIPTA is probably least good at, due to it’s hub-and-spoke arrangement, where people are taking the bus from suburb to suburb.

As RIPTA looks towards the future and starts to plan for things such as Streetcars, rapid bus service, more park n’ ride facilities, integrating service with southward expansion of commuter rail, and more, they need to start considering what are the different services they are providing, how they will be operated and prioritized, and what fares are reasonable for each.

Of course the reason for RITPA’s current budget problem is the same as it always is, the gas tax:

The situation is another in a series of fiscal crunches for the authority. It reflects a continuing paradox: as expenses rise, the revenue from a key revenue source, the state fuel tax, is fading. Also, the more successful the authority is at persuading drivers to take the bus, the less fuel they buy and the less money the transit agency gets. The same is true whenever gas consumption declines. The fuel tax is linked to the number of gallons sold rather than to the price.

There are some working to free RIPTA from the gas tax Catch-22 it is trapped in now. The Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC) is supporting a legislative package that will help RIPTA free itself from dependance on the gas tax and help RIDOT from depending so much on issuing bonds to make the money they need to match federal dollars.

The CTC supports an increase in the biannual auto registration fee to $40, a Petroleum Products Gross Receipts Tax, and a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax. The VMT would be studied this year before moving to implement it, the registration fee and Petroleum Products Gross Receipts Tax could go in to effect now and raise $67 million annually for RIDOT, RIPTA, and local cities and towns to repair roads.

Year after year after year after year we end up here. RIPTA saying they don’t have enough money and have to cut service and raise fares. And Year after year after year after year the Assembly does nothing to change the fact that it is the gas tax trap that is causing this.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Let’s stop being insane.


Elmwood Ave Repaving Meeting (04/07)

Update: Meeting has been postponed due to an electrical problem at the library.

Via Bike Providence

When: Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 6:00-7:30pm
Where: Knight Memorial Library Auditorium (downstairs), 275 Elmwood Avenue

As many of you know, Community Works Rhode Island, our elected officials and other community partners have been working with RIDOT to make sure that the changes coming to Elmwood Avenue reflect the needs expressed by neighborhood residents and others. Through meeting with neighbors, we know that those needs are:

  • Pedestrian, bike and car safety
  • An improved environment for all using the street
  • Better access to Roger Williams Park
  • Returning Elmwood Ave to a beautiful neighborhood avenue rather than a car-dominated “combat zone”

We have been working with L+A Landscape Architects to produce designs reflecting what the community wants Elmwood Avenue to become. These designs will be presented to RIDOT in the next few weeks. We have presented the designs to a number of you already, but want to get more community input before creating final recommendations to deliver to RIDOT. Please come give your comments on the proposed changes and add your perspective on what needs to happen to make Elmwood Avenue the street it could be!


Wickenden Street overpass demolition to begin this weekend

Photo by Jef Nickerson

RIDOT announced today that the old Route 195 bridge over Wickenden Street will begin being dismantled Sunday (01/10) evening.

RIDOT expects this work will take approximately one week to complete, with lane restrictions in place Sunday through Thursday nights from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Additional work may be needed the following week, however, RIDOT expects that will take place during the daytime and not require any lane closures.

As always, RIDOT points out this work will be weather dependent.

The contracts to demolish the rest of old Route 195 and to rebuild the Wickenden Street intersection have yet to be awarded.

This demolition work is not part of the more extensive demolition contract that RIDOT will advertise and award this spring that will raze the majority of the old I-195 highway. RIDOT also will make further improvements to the intersections of Wickenden Street and Benefit Street and Wickenden Street and South Main Street under a separate contract.


Better Renderings of proposed New Pawtucket River Bridge

Earlier in the month I posted about the release of designs for the proposed New Pawtucket River Bridge on Route 95. At the time I was only able to track down the teeny tiny little image posted with the PBN article on it. Well, while looking on the RIDOT site for something else, I came across a page with better renderings.

Pawtucket River Bridge Rendering Day Shot

Renderings from RIDOT

Pawtucket River Bridge Rendering Long Views

Pawtucket River Bridge Rendering New Designs

Pawtucket River Bridge Rendering Night Lighting

There are a few more renderings and some information about the new bridge here.

Looking at the first rendering, it appears that there are three roadways on the bridge. Are they planning a reverse-able rush hour configuration like the Expressway in Boston? Wouldn’t that require a lot of work to make the rest of Route 95 reverse-able? Would that even work here, don’t we have a more or less two-way rush hour with traffic coming in and out of the city but also traffic coming through Providence from points north and south?