Kennedy Plaza Redesign & RIPTA Multi-Hub Proposal | Providence

Riverside

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I don't think this has been discussed in the other threads, and it seems "interdisciplinary" enough to merit its own thread. Feel free to move if not.

RIDOT and RIPTA have proposed (once again) a redesign of Kennedy Plaza, this time including developing two new satellite hubs at the train station and in the erstwhile Jewelry District. Though separate from the already-in-progress Downtown Transit Connector, the decentralization plan does rely on having high-frequency cumulative service along the corridor between the three hubs. A previous proposal put the southern hub at the Garrahy Courthouse, but it has now been relocated to a site along the river.

There aren't a lot of public documents that I've been able to find that actually detail the specifics of this proposal, but I have been able to find a presentation from November, and then an earlier one from July.

While public proposal documents are hard to come by, news articles and blog posts about community opposition are not. See for example the Providence Preservation Society, StreetsBlog, EcoRI in July and again in October.

There are definitely a lot of overlapping pieces to this puzzle. For one, the powers that be have been trying to "fix" Kennedy Plaza for years, if not decades. The trouble with that is that a lot of Kennedy Plaza's "problems" aren't transit or architectural -- they're the unsurprising symptoms of our housing, addiction, and employment crises. (Plus, a good ole double dose of racism and classism.) Most if not all of the Kennedy Plaza "improvement" projects have appeared at least partially motivated to shove these social problems "somewhere else" -- out of sight, out of mind -- instead of actually trying to tackle them directly. There's a history here.

There's also the Superman Building. Rhode Island's tallest building, vacant for over 5 years, towering over Kennedy Plaza. There's history here too, but suffice it to say that there are plenty of people in government who are embarrassed about this situation, and it's not hard to imagine that, in the minds of some, the vacancy is not unrelated to the situation on the ground outside the front door.

(And indeed, if you look at the renderings for the proposed changes at KP, the buses are moved away from the Superman to ring Burnside Park, and the current bus berths in front of the Superman are replaced with greenspace.)

I've also heard concerns raised about the site of the Jewelry District hub -- a former National Grid site that I guess was once industrial and maybe not cleaned up well? I really don't know much and haven't been able to find too much on this point.

Another major concern that's been raised is the worry that decentralizing the transfer hub will force riders to add extra legs to their journeys. On this specific point, I think this is actually just a PR/communication problem -- albeit one that would be so easy to rectify, it amazes me that they haven't and makes me wonder whether it's not as straightforward as I think it is. Anyway -- according to RIDOT's presentation (slide 7), 99% of riders would have no change, and only 1% would need to add an extra leg to travel from KP to the train station for their transfer. Now, that 1% is not numerically small -- over 450 riders per day -- and I think it's perfectly legitimate to demand a better solution for those riders.

(I suspect that those 450 riders are transferring to a long-distance RIPTA route, likely to South County or Smithfield or the like -- meaning they have a long journey ahead of them, and probably are transferring to lower frequency service. RIPTA has made a clear effort in the last few years to increase these routes' access to the train station, I think with the hope of encouraging more commutes from South County to Boston, via RIPTA express buses and the commuter rail. But obviously not all those riders are going to Boston -- a fair number likely need to transfer to local RIPTA buses, and I think these are the ones who would need to add an extra transfer.)

But what I think has failed to be communicated is that virtually all routes would still travel through Kennedy Plaza. This isn't spelled out explicitly in the RIDOT proposal for the multi-hub system... but it is a core concept of the Downtown Transit Connector. I think the idea is that north-originating routes would terminate in the Jewelry District or Hospital District, south-originating routes would terminate at the train station, and east- and west-originating routes would do a dog-leg and terminate at one or the other (maybe with some still terminating at KP), meaning the DTC would become very busy. But that is very very much just my speculation and inference. If it's accurate, then that would explain how most journeys wouldn't change -- you'd still transfer at KP, the only difference would be that your new bus won't be starting its journey there (which does have downsides, I agree, but I digress).

That being said, I suppose it's also possible that the multi-hub network could see most routes avoiding KP -- terminating on the outskirts of Downcity, and letting riders transfer to the DTC to go the last mile. This makes zero sense to me, and is at odds with the implications of slide 7 above, but I suppose is possible.

Either way -- the lack of public detail around this proposal is disheartening, all the more so because it seems like at least one of the major concerns may just be a matter of miscommunication, which nonetheless is costing precious goodwill and exacerbating the situation further.
 

DBM

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Great encapsulation I don't see any more to add here (other than if someone like F-Line wanted to add a systems ops gloss to the "keep as is" vs. reconfigure Burnside Plaza positions). I'm down in that area a lot; Providence does so much well, urbanism-wise, and is blessed with an astonishingly complete Downtown core given its relatively puny standing. Yet this strikes me as a major step backward, all most likely because (as noted above) some elites are getting increasingly exasperated with "undesirables" loitering in the plaza area. Which again (as noted above) has nothing to do with Burnside's merits/attractions as a gem of a downtown transit hub and urbanist site.

Want to know the real scandal with Burnside? That the corporate sponsor for the skating rink were the people who brought you this. Come on, how can it not be Big Blue Bug Solutions, aka the House That Nibbles Woodaway built?!?
 

HenryAlan

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Now, that 1% is not numerically small -- over 450 riders per day -- and I think it's perfectly legitimate to demand a better solution for those riders.
I am not well versed on this, aside from having a few times had to hoof it from the train station to the Plaza, but aren't these 450 riders already having to transfer or walk a portion of their route? Or am I not clear on the overall service patterns for downtown terminating buses?
 

Riverside

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I am not well versed on this, aside from having a few times had to hoof it from the train station to the Plaza, but aren't these 450 riders already having to transfer or walk a portion of their route? Or am I not clear on the overall service patterns for downtown terminating buses?
According to slide 7 from the November deck, there are currently no riders who have to travel from KP to the station to make their transfer. There are a lot of ways to interpret that, though, so to respond to your question, I'm not sure either.

As for current service patterns -- as far as I'm aware, every bus that terminates at the train station also serves Kennedy Plaza and/or a loop of downtown stops. In fact, historically, they only served KP -- it was only a couple of years that they extended them up to the train station. (It's that "momentum" of change that makes me wonder whether they want to remove those buses from downtown altogether, but I have no idea.)
 

Arlington

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There's so many missed opportunities here it is hard to say who missed what. Moving Amtrak from its old Exchange Place location (across from KP and the Superman Building) was clearly a desire to create a monumental intercity travel experience but it broke the connecting hub when it took rail from downtown and put it in a hillside meadow.
 

Riverside

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To be fair, I think there's more to it than just that. That was a major chunk of downtown that was just an elevated railyard, as I understand it. Opening up the river definitely has made for a lovely little stretch of cityscape.

On the other hand, you're not wrong -- it is just a little further than convenient, especially because Kennedy Plaza (just south of the old Union Station) itself it still at the edge of Downcity in a lot of ways, all the more so as the Jewelry District has opened up, and the Hospital District just continues to be a massive center of gravity for employment.

For what it's worth, I'm not convinced that it's per se a bad idea to create new layover sites at the station and the Jewelry District. I think there is benefit -- precisely because of Downcity's "it's just a liiiiiitle further to walk than ideal" size -- to have bus routes go the extra half mile in either direction. I think the DTC is a fundamentally sound concept, and layover sites at its edges would make it easier to enhance.

But if the state is unable or unwilling to respond with resounding clarity to the very reasonable and very straightforward complaints about lack of transfers under the new model, then... like... what are we even doing here?
 

DBM

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Well, this is significant:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/11/01/metro/finally-sensible-idea-public-transit-providence/

For the record, the new, concentrated bus depot (as opposed to the one that sprawls throughout Kennedy Plaza) is being proposed for this vacant lot right here.

It strikes me as a pretty ideal location in that it almost perfectly straddles the "old downtown"--the CBD centered on Kennedy Plaza, Providence Place, Amtrak/CR station, and all of the great cultural/nightlife venues there (Trinity Rep, etc.) plus the lodging/convention center cluster--and the dynamic, emerging scene on the land reclaimed from the old I-195 alignment.

P.S. note the sixth comment, someone grousing that the new depot can't go here, right across from Providence Place. Um, maybe the giant vent grates that allow the MBTA diesel locomotives to spew their exhaust freely up into the atmosphere there, instead of trapping it underground in the Amtrak/CR station, have something to do with it?!

[along with a host of other technical challenges, I presume]
 

Riverside

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Finally got a chance to read the actual proposal, and I like what I see. The location is pretty good -- not itself super central to any one destination, but reasonably placed to serve a range, as well as integrating effectively into the current DTC. It's a nice vision for rehabbing what otherwise is just a pair of parking lots.

My only concern is that the proposal calls for the bus berths to be covered, basically on the first floor of a parking garage (which I suppose means that we may well see in fact an increase in parking, despite the loss of two surface lots). While it is nice to imagine better protection from the elements, my concern is air quality -- you'll have a lot of buses idling in there, so I'd want to make sure there were proper provisions in place for that.
 

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