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TRANSPORTATION

Critics assail plan to break up Rhode Island’s main bus hub at Kennedy Plaza

State Department of Transportation wants to create smaller hubs near Providence train station and Innovation & Design District

Rochelle Lee, a bus rider and former member of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday criticizing plans for multiple bus hubs in Providence.
Rochelle Lee, a bus rider and former member of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday criticizing plans for multiple bus hubs in Providence.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE — Bus riders and local groups on Tuesday demanded that Rhode Island halt plans to break up the state’s central bus hub in Kennedy Plaza in favor of several smaller hubs in downtown Providence.

Patricia Raub, coordinator of the Rhode Island Transit Riders, said the state Department of Transportation recently presented finalized plans to some organizations but failed to get input from transit riders and other members of the public in shaping the plan.

“This is no way to build a better normal after the pandemic is over,” Raub said during a news conference at the site of a proposed Dyer Street bus hub. “It’s time to stop this plan and open the process to all involved and devise a hub for downtown Providence that works for everyone.”

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On July 23, the Department of Transportation unveiled a “Providence Multi-Hub Bus System” that called for decentralizing the heavy bus activity in Kennedy Plaza by adding smaller hubs near the Providence train station and near the new Innovation & Design District on former Interstate 195 land.

The Department of Transportation document said the goal is to “reunite train and bus as it once was” and strengthen the link between Boston and Providence, while also responding to the growth of the downtown area, enhancing the build-out of the Innovation & Design District, and connecting major employment areas near the State House, downtown, and the hospitals.

“We have been listening attentively to the needs expressed by the transit riders, the city, and stakeholders, including all civic and business organizations,” Department of Transportation spokesman Charles St. Martin III said Tuesday. “Regarding the transit riders alliance, rest assured they have been heard, and we will be addressing their concerns.”

John Flaherty, deputy director of Grow Smart Rhode Island, said this marks the third time in four years that the Department of Transportation has rolled out a plan to reconfigure bus hubs. A previous plan for an underground bus tunnel in Kennedy Plaza ran into opposition, and has been scrapped, he noted.

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Flaherty said none of the proposed smaller hubs would accommodate all route transfers in a single convenient location. And the latest plan would lead to longer commutes, more transfers, and have a disproportionate impact on the elderly, disabled, and minority populations that make up the bulk of transit riders, he said.

Flaherty appealed directly to Governor Gina M. Raimondo, noting that she took a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority bus from Greenville to LaSalle Academy in Providence when she was a teenager.

“Governor, will you join with us transit riders?” Flaherty said. “Stand with us, call on RI DOT to withdraw its flawed plan and commit to an open public process that involves transit riders right from the beginning in the development of the plan.”

Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association, said she has seen “very little evidence” that the proposed changes will make transit better in Rhode Island. She said 47 percent of the buses from Kennedy Plaza would be rerouted to the Dyer Street site, and that would mean 25 to 30 buses circling a brick National Grid building on Dyer Street every hour.

“By locating a transit hub with too small a footprint here, this valuable public asset will be limited to a single use and could limit investment in the governor’s signature economic development plan,” Steele said.

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She noted the site is next to the Providence River and the Innovation and Design District, saying, “Frankly, it’s so close to our most important asset — the park and the river — that if anyone makes a wrong move, the next stop for that bus will be in the river.”

Steele said a “legitimate process” should build public support — not spur widespread opposition. “Any design on how to allocate the $35 million transportation bond approved by taxpayers in 2014 should not be driven by artificial deadlines without the benefit of transparency, data, and public input,” she said.

Rochelle Lee, a former Rhode Island Public Transit Authority board member, said, “As a bus rider, I am very disappointed in the state’s most recent plan. I’m disappointed that the voice of the everyday taxpayer who happens to ride a bus has been ignored.”

In a statement, Representative Christopher R. Blazejewski, a Providence Democrat, said, “I join with my neighbors in urging the administration to hit the pause button and get more public input on this proposal.”

Rhode Island Transit Riders is planning to hold a rally at 1 p.m. Saturday at Burnside Park in Providence to protest against the new bus hub proposal.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.