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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This is a serious proposal. This is not one of those times where I have fun drawing a map and imagining what could be if we had a magic wizard for Governor³ and a pot o’ gold somewhere. The routes I’m outlining here are a system that I think RIPTA could very well have in place within 5 years.
Core Connector aka The Streetcar
The streetcar is represented on the map in blue, Line A. Did you read up top where I said $80 million was a worthy investment? Well, if there is anything I don’t like about the Core Connector proposal, it is that I think it is not big enough. City’s around the country have done their 1-2 mile “starter lines.” Screw the starter line, let’s build. My proposal pushes the streetcar east to Wayland Square. With a spur to the train station, it comes to approximately 3.8 miles. At approximately $30 million per mile, the price tag would be in the neighborhood of $114 million¹.
The route starts at Dudley and Prairie in good proximity to a large residential population in Upper South Providence and is (depending how you count) 3 or 4 blocks from CCRI. The streetcars run down Dudley, through the hospitals complex to Eddy then Richmond, then slide over to Chestnut Street.
Some of the current proposals call for the streetcar to run in a couplet on Richmond and Chestnut, this allows for one way trolleys with street parking. I say put it two-way on Chestnut, and eliminate street parking on Chestnut (radical, I know!). Chestnut will feed the cars directly onto Empire, which will by then be two-way. To LaSalle Square then up a two-way Sabin Street for Dunk and Convention Center service. Exchange, divert to the train station. Then make its way to the bus tunnel and up to Thayer. From Thayer it would be in a couplet on Waterman and Angell to Wayland Square.
Why extend to Wayland Square. Well, a lot of doctors, nurses, med students, Brown students, and Brown professors live on the East Side. An extension to Wayland Square puts many of them solidly on the streetcar route. People on the East Side who commute to Boston will also now have a ride to the trains station, and many people who live in the area work in other parts of Downcity and the Jewelry District.
An extension to Wayland Square also brings the Wayland Square retail district into the Core Connector service area. Wayland, Thayer, and Downcity retail districts are now all connected. Imagine a rail program for the retailers. ‘Ride the streetcar to savings!’ And then the retailers provide discounts to shoppers with a streetcar ticket. The city can advertise park at the mall and hop the streetcar to our local retailers, and so on.
Wayland Square also creates a good connection for transit coming from points in East Providence and the East Bay. Buses could come over the Henderson and people who are going to the Hospitals or the train station can switch in Wayland Square while the buses continue elsewhere. We could even have GATRA service from Taunton meet the streetcar in Wayland Square.
Additionally, there are some areas, especially south of Wayland Square, that could benefit from transit oriented development, which a streetcar line could spur.
This proposal pushes up the current proposed cost. The climate in Washington may put the kibosh on the entire Core Connector project if we can’t get anymore funds out of the feds. But if we can get money out of the feds, I think it is worth making our delegation hustle to get the best streetcar system we can as soon as possible, and not wait for some mythical future extensions.
Rapid Bus [.pdf] is in the works now. RIPTA will introduce Rapid Bus service on the Routes 11/99 corridor. On my map it is red, Line B.
The rapid bus route is planned to use special branded BRT style hybrid buses, which RIPTA just began taking delivery of. RIPTA has General Assembly approval for the Rapid Buses to have signal prioritization technology, which means, green lights will stay green when the bus approaches. Stops will be spaced further apart to keep the buses moving and stops will be specially designed for the Rapid Bus route. Buses will also have transponders allowing for real time tracking of buses by signage at the stops as well as online and via mobile devices. RIPTA has the transponders and the staffing to initiate the tracking systems in place. RIPTA will also look at the possibility, where space permits, to create special lanes where buses can jump the traffic queue and perhaps where applicable, bus only lanes on segments of streets.
This is not true BRT. There will not be a continuous separate lane for buses and there will not be off-board fare payment, which are hallmarks of Bus Rapid Transit and would make for the speediest of service. There is simply limited space available in most of Providence for RIPTA to do that. The proposed plans should make for a more rapid trip on the lines that get the Rapid Bus treatment however.
The Line B I propose above would push the Rapid Bus south into Cranston, Line B would be the Pawtucket-Pawtuxet Line (which could create no end of confusion for out of towners I know!). A southern extension south to Pawtuxet adds more ridership possibilities for riders in the relatively densely populated Edgewood section of Cranston and also allows for convenient access to the Pawtuxet retail district.
My proposal above shows a second Rapid Bus line, reddish brown on the map, Line C. This is the current 28/50 RIPTA route. This brings the frequent service network to the western and northwestern areas of the city. Frequent rapid service on Broadway to Olneyville Square and points west. And the same service along Douglas Avenue.
The current green line service to Federal Hill should be improved to make service similar to what the Rapid Buses will provide, only instead of a bus, the line will be served by the new trolleys.
The Federal Hill line is represented on the map in light green, Line D.
With the streetcar now serving the Tunnel and the East Side, we can move the far end of the Federal Hill line someplace else. RIPTA currently has plans to run Trolleys to the Zoo. I am not sure how that line would be routed, but I am proposing putting it on Elmwood Avenue. The line would make connections to the streetcar and Rapid Buses downtown then head back out along Elmwood to the Zoo. This Elmwood Avenue service, like the Rapid Buses would be frequent, with widely spaced stops, signal prioritization, special stops, and real time tracking. Provide a high level of service to the South Side along with the Line B rapid bus on Broad Street.
The current gold line trolley is made redundant by the streetcar, but we just bought all these new trolleys, so let’s make a new line. The Hope Street Merchants are currently petitioning for a trolley line so I’m proposing that.
The dark green on the map, Line E, would be the Olneyville-Mt. Hope/Oak Hill trolley. Same as the rest, frequent service, traffic priority, the whole lot. Line E would serve the Valley area bringing transit service to the businesses moving to places like Rising Sun, ALCO, and the Foundry as well as providing service for residents nearby. It would run behind the mall past the State House down Francis to Kennedy Plaza where connections could be made to the Rapid Buses and the streetcar.
Then down Dorrance to Eddy to Davol Square. Over the Point Street bridge to Wickenden, then all the way up Hope Street through Brown and Hope Village to the Oak Hill Plaza.
This is three different modes, but I’ve given them one A-E naming convention. I think it would be ideal that these services, though provided by different vehicles, be branded as one Frequent/Rapid system. They would have the same kinds of lines on RIPTA maps, they’d have one brand name that they all lived under. The fares would be the same on all of them.
This would be a way to ease people into the transit experience. Someone who rides Line A, the streetcar, and likes it, may then consider riding B, the Rapid Bus. It has the same name, and looks the same on the map, the streetcar was painless, check it out.
This is a 5 line rapid service system that is within RIPTA’s means to realize within the next 5 years (if we get federal funds for the streetcar and find a way to end the cycle of not having enough operating money at the end of each year, i.e. our gas tax conundrum). This system provides good coverage to many areas of the city (the shaded areas on the map being the 5-7 walk radius from the service). If we put a third Rapid Bus in there, we’d cover even more of the city. This proposal provides service for Providence’s residents, people who work in Providence, and visitors to the city.
¹ Remember that the Iway cost approximately $446 million and the Pawtucket River Bridge will cost in the neighborhood of $100 million.
² I may have said this once or twice.
³ It would help if Linc turned out to be a magic wizard though.