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.
Another option would be to run an enhanced bus line instead of a streetcar and have the northern end like a snake, looping up to the train station then back down to the East Side Tunnel and up to College Hill. This option adds substantial trip time for passengers who are not heading to the train station but instead are looking to get from/to College Hill and the Jewelry/Hospital Districts. As outlined above, a great deal of the traffic will be between those points and most train station service will be at rush hour.
It also adds a lot of linear feet to the routing, which is why it is not a streetcar, adding that much track would simply be too expensive.
This circuitous route would inconvenience the majority of the passengers throughout most of the day while going out of the way to serve a destination with very few passengers (except at the rush).
So, the option we’re looking at is running from College Hill, through Downcity to the Jewelry District, ending up in the Hospital District either on Eddy Street or perhaps swinging west through the Hospital District to Prairie Street. The train station would be served by enhancements to existing buses servicing the train station as well as improvements to the streetscape allowing people to more easily walk from the station to Kennedy Plaza. Technologies such as next bus signage would allow people to know when a Kennedy Plaza bound bus was on the way allowing them to decide if they wait for it, or make the quick walk to the Plaza.
When I laid out my ideas for a frequent service network, some of the connection to the train station issues were addressed. Though I proposed connecting the streetcar direct to the train station, I agree, that for now, that is not going to work.
Instead, as part of the funds we’ve received to repair the train station, we should open up Exchange Street along the Station Park side of the station as a transitway. This will help us create a transit hub at the station and provide very frequent service to the station with a number of buses serving it. We also talked about this some in the Providence Station REBOOT post.
Currently, 4 bus routes directly serve the train station on the Gaspee Street side. Opening the transitway allows those buses to serve the station directly then throughroute direct to Kennedy Plaza without going to Francis, then Memorial, then Exchange. To those buses, we could add the current Gold Line trolley which now terminates at Kennedy Plaza, extend that line north to end at the train station. Also, the 11/99 Rapid Bus line could be diverted via Randall Street to Charles then Smith then Gaspee, then the transitway. The 11/99 is designed to provide frequent service.
Among those 6 lines, we’d have service between the train station and Kennedy Plaza likely at least every 5 minutes (I haven’t done the math, but the 11/99 should have headways around 10-12 minutes, then you add in the other 5 lines…).
Ideally, the train station will someday be directly connected to a streetcar line. A northern extension through the train station transitway is a no-brainer. For now, the best way to serve the most people and generate the most economic activity from the project, and keep the costs manageable, is to leave out the station and allow the connections to be made on foot and with other modes.
The costs we’re looking at here is $120 million one time cost for infrastructure, rails, wires, stations, trains… Then, $3.6 million per year to operate and maintain the line and service the costs of the debt created for the original infrastructure.
Funding will come from a combination of federal matches, state bonds, further federal programs such as TIGER and TIGGER (assuming they get funded by the current or future Congresses), and a tax assessment in the areas served by the Core Connector.
As reported by the ProJo:
Fares would be $1. For much of its operating money, however, the system would depend on a new tax district along the route, with assessments levied on benefiting property owners, 95 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation within one-eighth of a mile of the route, and 55 cents per $1,000 within a quarter of a mile.
Service is proposed to be running every 10 minutes from 7am to 8pm Monday through Saturday. Service with 15 minute headways would run earlier and later and on Sundays. There would be service extended from 10pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
The study document [.pdf] has more information about ridership projections, sample travel times, and development impact.
If all goes to plan, the time frame for construction to begin is 2014-2015.