RIPTA riders say Kennedy Plaza remains best option for downtown bus hub

SOME RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC TRANSIT AUTHORITY riders plan to keep pushing to keep the central bus hub at Kennedy Plaza at upcoming public hearings, despite the state saying it is focusing on an alternative transit center on Dorrance Street. /PBN FILE PHOTO/ ELIZABETH GRAHAM

PROVIDENCE – An indoor transit center on Dorrance Street has been widely viewed as the most popular plan to replace the aging, and at times unsafe, bus depot at Kennedy Plaza.

But some riders think keeping the downtown bus hub where it is now remains the best option. They plan to make their case during a series of upcoming public hearings, the first of which will be held virtually on Thursday at 6 p.m.

Whether public pressure will be enough to sway state agencies to reconsider Kennedy Plaza as the home for downtown buses is unclear. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which is hosting the hearings, previously said that the state is focusing on the Dorrance Street plan.

RIPTA has also confirmed that a multihub plan put forth by RIDOT in 2020, splitting the bus hub at Kennedy Plaza across three main locations, is off the table after continued public backlash.

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In its statement announcing the hearings, RIPTA also suggested indirectly that Kennedy Plaza was not a viable option because of a separate, $140 million redesign and improvement project the city has planned for that area.

That came as a shock to Patricia Raub, president of the Rhode Island Transit Riders. Raub pointed out that just a few months prior, RIDOT said both Kennedy Plaza and its own multihub proposal were also going to be vetted during public hearings.

While Raub said the rider group was “reserving judgment” on the Dorrance Street proposal until after the hearing, many riders – herself included – still think Kennedy Plaza is a more convenient – and logical – option.

“Our preference all along has been Kennedy Plaza,” Raub said. “Many bus riders don’t want to move, and don’t see Dorrance Street as having any real advantage.”

While most agree that the Kennedy Plaza bus depot is outdated and also poses some safety risks, upgrades could be done to address those problems with a much lower price tag than the $77 million estimate for Dorrance Street, said Ray Gagne, a rider and director of the Rhode Island Organizing Project.

“I don’t think RIPTA or RIDOT has made the case yet for why Dorrance Street is preferable,” Gagne said. “Kennedy Plaza is centrally located, it’s a good transit hub. It would not take a lot of resources to fix it up.”

Gagne felt robbed of the opportunity to make that known since the state seems to have already decided on Dorrance Street, before taking any public comment. 

“To me, like any business, a government that doesn’t listen to their citizens or customers is courting disaster,” Gagne said.

That wasn’t stopping some riders from pushing Kennedy Plaza anyway. Of the 20 written comments submitted to RIPTA and shared with PBN as of Wednesday, seven stated a clear preference for Kennedy Plaza. Several others asked questions about the Dorrance Street bus hub, which at this point consists of artistic renderings and preliminary details.

As proposed, the Dorrance Street proposal calls for a five-story building that would also include ground-floor retail, an indoor parking garage and a top floor of workforce housing apartments, complementing the commercial and housing development planned for the adjacent I-195 Redevelopment District. Though still in its early stages, it has attracted support from community and business groups, developers and some riders.

Among them is John Flaherty, deputy director for Grow Smart Rhode Island and a RIPTA rider, though he only takes the bus from his Woonsocket home to his downtown office about once a week on average. Flaherty touted the indoor setting for the Dorrance transit hub, shielding riders from inclement weather, as well as its proximity to the growing set of destinations in the I-195 District.

“If I had a choice between the existing conditions and Dorrance, I would be selecting Dorrance,” Flaherty said.

To those who say the new location is inconvenient, Flaherty also pointed out that it’s a mere quarter-mile from Kennedy Plaza. And as the city forges ahead with its own improvement plans for Kennedy Plaza, it doesn’t seem realistic to count on that space also housing a bus depot, Flaherty said.

However, Timothy Rondeau, a spokesperson for the city planning department, said the city’s redesign plan – while not focusing on transit at all – is flexible enough to accommodate whatever bus hub design the state decides upon.

That could include buses around the circumference of Kennedy Plaza, Rondeau confirmed in an email Tuesday.

The first public hearing on the Dorrance Street bus hub is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday. There will also be two public hearings held virtually on March 8. More information, including a form for written comment,  is available at ripta.com/transitcenter.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. If you want Kennedy Plaza to flourish as an arts/entertainment-centric area of the city you HAVE to move the buses, they bring too much crime and problems being so spread out.
    Better to have the bus-exchange concentrated in one area (the new building on Dorrance) and watch how many people begin to visit downtown Providence again!