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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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Providence Downtown Design Review Committee Meeting – November 6, 2017

Providence Downtown Design Review Committee Notice of Regular Meeting
Monday, November 6, 2017 – 4:45 PM
Doorley Municipal Building – 444 Westminster Street, 1st Floor Conference Room Providence, RI 02903

drc-roundOpening Session

  • Call to Order
  • Roll Call
  • Meeting Minutes of June 12th, July 10th, August 7th, September 11th and October 2, 2017

Old Business

1. DRC Application No. 17.40: Washington Place (Providence Washington Insurance Company Building) – Proposal by the Rhode Island School of Design to construct a new one-story addition on the Steeple Street (north) elevation, and to conduct exterior alterations on the south and east elevations.

Pre-Application Review

2. Downtown Transit Connector (DTC) – Shelter Design – Proposal by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to install ten (10) new bus shelters as part of the DTC project.

Adjournment

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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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Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission Meeting – October 18, 2017

Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission
October 18, 2017, 4:45 PM
Doorley Municipal Building, 444 Westminster Street, First Floor, Providence, RI 02903

bpac-roundAgenda

  1. Roll Call
  2. Approval of September 2017 Meeting Minutes (For Action)
  3. Canal Street Improvements – College Hill, Downtown – Ward 12 (For Action) — The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has presented plans to the City for improvements to Canal Street between Smith Street and Washington Street. These plans resulted from the Canal Street Road Safety Assessment previously reviewed by the BPAC at its February 2017 meeting. The City seeks comments from the BPAC regarding these changes. This is the second time this project comes before the BPAC, and if approved, the improvements would be implemented in 2018.
  4. Downtown Transit Connector Public Hearing – Downtown, Upper South Providence – Wards 1, 11, and 12 (For Action) — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority will present 30% designs for the Downtown Transit Connector project along Exchange Street, Washington Street, Dorrance Street, Dyer Street, and Eddy Street. Improvements include the conversion of some on-street parking to bus-only lanes. In addition to normal BPAC discussion, this will serve as a public hearing regarding the potential removal of parking from portions of the street. This is the second time this project comes before the BPAC, and if approved, the improvements would be implemented in 2018.
  5. Announcements and Staff Updates (For Discussion)
  6. Adjournment
Full Disclosure: I am a member of this Commission.
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CNNtech: How Seattle morphed from bikeshare failure to industry leader in five months

Cyclists riding on a cycletrack in Downtown Seattle. Photo Seattle Department of Transportation

Fewer than five months ago, Seattle shut down its struggling municipal bikeshare system that had been propped up with taxpayer dollars. But in the last month, three innovative bikeshare companies have launched in the city, quickly eclipsing the past failure.

There are more bikes available, and more rides being taken. The price of a single ride — $1 — isn’t only cheaper — it’s the lowest price of any bikeshare system in a major U.S. city. The city government will be receiving substantially more data on these bike trips, to better plan local transportation. By year’s end, Seattle is on pace to have the U.S.’s largest bikeshare network. And all of this happened without a penny of taxpayer funding.

“The city has turned what was an abysmal failure into a huge success story just within a matter of months,” Tom Fucoloro, editor of the Seattle Bike Blog, told CNN. “Seattle is the gateway to the U.S. on bikeshare. A lot of other cities are looking at Seattle and watching.”

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WPRI: Bike-share service coming to Providence

Image from Social Bicycles’ blog

City Councilman Bryan Principe, who represents Ward 13, will introduce a resolution at Tuesday’s council meeting that would authorize the Elorza administration to enter into a five-year $400,000 contract with Social Bicycles, a well-known company that will oversee the “implementation, management, and operation” of the bike-share service.

[…]

The bikes will be located at 40 stations near the Downtown Transit Connector, which will run from Capital Center through downtown to the Rhode Island Hospital area. Other stations will be placed in Fox Point, College Hill and portions of the West End and Federal Hill, according to the RFP.

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Providence Downtown Design Review Committee Meeting – October 2, 2017

Providence Downtown Design Review Committee – Notice of Regular Meeting
Monday, October 2, 2017 – 4:45pm
Doorley Municipal Building
444 Westminster Street, 1st Floor Conference Room Providence, RI 02903

drc-roundOpening Session

  • Call to Order
  • Roll Call
  • Meeting Minutes of June 12, 2017, July 10, 2017, August 7, 2017 and September 11, 2017

New Business

1. DRC Application No. 17.38: 259 Weybosset Street (Commercial Structure) – Proposal by Weybosset, LLC to modify the existing storefronts and to create new window openings on the Snow Street (west) elevation.

2. DRC Application No. 17.40: Washington Place (Providence Washington Insurance Company Building) – Proposal by the Rhode Island School of Design to construct a new one-story addition on the Steeple Street (north) elevation, and to conduct exterior alterations on the south and east elevations.

Pre-Application Review

3. Downtown Transit Connector (DTC) ? Shelter Design – Proposal by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to install ten (10) new bus shelters as part of the DTC project. This item is to discuss the new shelter design only. No action will be taken by the DRC at this meeting.

Adjournment

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Mayor Elorza vetos City Council Resolution regarding bike lanes

Mayor Elorza speaking at ribbon-cutting of Fountain Street bike lane in November 2016

Last week the Providence City Council passed a Resolution calling for, “full traffic impact and economic impact studies prior to deciding whether to construct new bicycle lanes.”

Bicycle and transportation advocates, along with the Mayor and at least 5 members of the Council hold that these studies would out unnecessary expense in the way of expanding bicycle infrastructure within the city. The Mayor vetoed the Resolution.

From the Mayor:

I vetoed the Providence City Council’s resolution regarding bike lane planning because it sends the wrong message about bicycle and pedestrian safety here in Providence. We support Complete Streets here in our city, meaning that our infrastructure is designed and operated for safe access for all users, of all abilities. We will continue to engage the community in these decisions and we remain committed to working with the Councilmembers to address any concerns they have heard from constituents.

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What the Amazon Headquarters Beauty Contest can teach us about Economic Development

This article has been cross-posted from Strong RI with permission.

The economic development world is all abuzz with last week’s news that Amazon is courting cities for a second headquarters that will match their current, in Seattle, with 50,000 employees and over 8 million square feet of office space. To no one’s surprise, the State of Rhode Island has declared its intention to submit a proposal to lure Amazon’s new offices and tens of thousands of highly paid workers.

Let’s first acknowledge that Rhode Island and Providence aren’t going to win this competition. A quick read-through of the Amazon RFP and a bit of reflection on the recent move of GE to Boston and Amazon’s current headquarters in urban Seattle and it’s clear that the Providence metro area doesn’t have the scale, employment base, public transportation system or any number of other requirements of the proposal. The State and City will no doubt offer a generous package of incentives. But so will dozens of other cities—cities that are larger, with faster growing populations of young college graduates, rapidly improving transit systems, superior bike infrastructure, and urban placemaking projects galore.

But this post isn’t about being negative. I get that the state has to respond to something like this, so I’m not going to dwell on whether that’s a good use of resources. I’m more interested in what this Amazon mega-RFP can teach us about what we need to be doing as a city and state if we want to grow our economy in the 21st century.

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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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Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission Meeting – May 17, 2017

Providence Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission Meeting
May 17, 2017, 4:45 PM
Doorley Municipal Building, 444 Westminster Street, First Floor, Providence, RI 02903

bpac-roundAgenda

  1. Roll Call
  2. Staff announcement regarding new BPAC member appointments (For Discussion)
  3. Approval of March 2017 Meeting Minutes (For Action)
  4. Approval of April 2017 Meeting Minutes (For Action)
  5. “Downtown Transit Connector” – Downtown, Upper South Providence – Wards 1, 11, and 12 (For Action) — The City seeks comments from the BPAC regarding the conceptual level plans developed by RIPTA and the City for the Downtown Transit Connector—a planned high-frequency bus service that will operate between the Providence Amtrak/MBTA Station and the Hospital District in Upper South Providence. The plans include six proposed station locations, bus only lanes, pedestrian-realm improvements, and bike lanes along portions of the route. This will be a concept level review of the project scope. When advanced in the future, this project will come back to the BPAC for preliminary plan review.
  6. “Broad Street Road Safety Assessment (RSA)” – Upper South Providence, Elmwood, Lower South Providence, Washington Park – Wards 9, 10, and 11 (For Action) – The City of Providence seeks comments from the BPAC regarding the draft Broad Street Road Safety Assessment completed by VHB. The RSA includes an analysis of crashes that have occurred on Broad Street from 2009-2015 as well as proposed solutions to improve safety along the corridor. When advanced in the future, this project will come back to the BPAC for preliminary plan review.
  7. Announcements and Staff Updates (For Discussion)
  8. Adjournment
Full disclosure, I am a member of this Commission.
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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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Jane’s Walk – May 5-7, 2017

Thirteen Citizen-Led Neighborhood Tours Planned in Providence During the Jane’s Walk Global Weekend Festival: May 5-7

Get to know some of Providence’s hidden treasures during Jane’s Walk, a global festival on the first weekend in May! Inspired by urban activist Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walk promotes urban literacy by encouraging people to get out and explore their neighborhoods. Unlike typical guided tours, these free walks are led by volunteer citizen guides who share knowledge of their own communities while inspiring participants to think, talk, and connect. Providence is now one of 209 participating cities in 41 countries across 6 continents, and we expect that number to grow!

Since 2014, hundreds of people have participated in 26 walks that have been organized in Providence. The following walks are currently scheduled for the 2017 festival weekend, with meeting locations and other details listed at: JanesWalk.org. Several more may be added over the next few weeks. Participants should wear comfortable shoes, find their leaders at their designated meeting spots, and be ready for lively discussions while on the move. Advance registration is not required except for the Friday afternoon walk focused on Rhode Island and the International Slave Trade.

Friday, May 5th:

  • Rhode Island and the International Slave Trade (led by Elon Cook): intersection of Brown and Power streets, 2:30 PM.
  • Providence at Night (led by Barbara Barnes and Jennifer Wilson): Brick Market Square at the Providence River, 7:30 PM.

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