Greater City Providence

Barry Schiller: Providence Planning Hosts Meeting on Kennedy Plaza, Downtown Circulation


[alert type=”warning”]Barry Schiller, a retired Rhode Island College math professor, is a long-time member of the State Planning Council’s Transportation Advisory Committee. He also was on the RIPTA Board of Directors 1995-1999.[/alert]

Overall: good ideas on the parts of the project about 2-way streets and pedestrian and bike improvements around downtown, but on Kennedy Plaza, a net loss for bus riders, but not as much as once feared.

The project: extend 2-way on Empire, 2-way on Dorrance in front of the Biltmore, and on Exchange Terrace on north side of Burnside Park; narrow Fountain Street by widening sidewalk, maybe include a bike lane and add “public space” at the squares on both ends (La Salle Square, Emmet Square) to slow traffic and be much more pedestrian friendly;

Kennedy Plaza: no change in RIPTA waiting room but the adjacent plaza will have much more public space by eliminating the inner berths and bus lanes. Thus we’d go from 8 bus-only lanes to 4; possible amenities added such as more seating, plantings, public art, and maybe more shelters if funding permits. The 16 current bus berths there now (4 sets of 4 each) would be reduced to 10 – 4 eastbound on the north side, 5 (one more than now) westbound on the south side, and one new one on Exchange Street across from the court house. The loss of berths would be partly made up by another bus berth up the hill on the little street where the trolleys now stop, and another new berth behind the Q stop on Exchange St where the Newport buses stop. Thus there is a net loss of 4 berths. If more berths are ever needed, likely to be on north side of Burnside Park on Exchange Terrace, or up Exchange Street near Memorial Blvd by the undeveloped triangle of land there.

Unresolved issues: what to do with intercity Peter Pan/Greyhound buses; whether there will be a fence separating the bus lane from Washington Street traffic which could help direct pedestrian crossings; funding for more shelters; who is in charge of snow removal.

Public response: Mostly about Kennedy Plaza, only praise for the rest of the project; questions included concerns about the scheduling of the project, security, bathrooms, snow removal, shelters, longer transfers, funding, public art, the impact of homelessness, and Washington Street traffic.

Attending: big turnout including staff from Providence Planning, RIPTA, RIDOT, the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, Providence Foundation, Senator Miller, members of RIPTA Riders Alliance, and the Coalition for Transportation Choices. As far as I know, there was no RIPTA union presence.

Kennedy Plaza Positives: the bad conditions on the narrow fenced-in outer islands will go away; there will be 4 less bus-only lanes for passengers and pedestrians going from the financial district to Burnside Park to cross; there might be more amenities and programs to benefit passengers and others directly, and indirectly if the whole Plaza can help downtown redevelopment; despite earlier concerns, the waiting room and bus-only lanes will remain, berths are not as dispersed as once suggested, and all bus routes will still go to the Plaza.

Negatives: fewer berths reduces flexibility and makes scheduling more challenging; bus stops are a little more dispersed (note new stops above) creating possible hardship for some, especially if disabled; any future expansion would have to use even more dispersed stops; security or perception of security might be an issue at more remote stops; bad conditions for passengers can be expected during 3-4 months of construction (another reason not to break the 4 pairs of thru-routes as the COA suggests which will require more transfers;) RIPTA’s operating costs are likely to increase during construction even as they face a deficit; some amenities are not yet funded and may never be, yet there is the disruption of construction; RIPTA might also lose revenue from renting space to the intercity buses if they move away, in which case there will also be harder to tranfer between RIPTA and the intercity buses.

Auto traffic: despite the stated goal of a pedestrian oriented plaza, with the 2-way on Exchange Terrace, there will be THREE eastbound routes for auto traffic thru the Plaza, on Fulton St, Exchange, and on Washigton St right thru the center. I see no need for 3 such routes, and suggested closing Washington to auto traffic. This would allow more space for transit and maybe the intercity buses, and maybe give an opportunity to close the street where the trolleys stop, connecting Burnside Park and the skating rink area into one large public space. This is what most of the great squares in Europe might have, with traffic, if any, relegated just to the 4 boundaries of the square, and never a route through the center for through traffic. But apparently the city is resisting, saying a Washington thru-route gives motorists direct access from the west all the way to the East Side. I think if serious about the great square goal, it is ludicrous to insist on 3 eastbound routes thru the Plaza including one right thru the center. Apparently, though they are willing to ask bus passengers to give up some convenience, they are unwilling to ask motorists to circle either way around the Plaza. This reflects the car-centric society we have.

Next steps: I think transit supporters should advocate: funding for more shelters with useful real time information and for needed security; for keeping intercity buses adjacent to the waiting room; for closing Washington St in the Plaza to auto traffic; and for ensuring funding is sufficient to complete the project before any disruption from construction begins.

The future of our transit system will be greatly affected by what happens at KP. We need to get it right.

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  • I have been an advocate for the closing of Washington Street. Large public squares are just that squares. The closing of Washington Street opens up the transportation options and gives the area back to the pedestrian.

  • Opening up Exchange Street to Eastbound traffic makes it very palatable to close Washington Street. Seems like a major goal of “fixing” circulation Downcity should be easily accessing the periphery of KP so driving right through it is not required. This would allow dedicated ROW for future street car and substantially decrease the difficulty of getting to the Burnside Park.