PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new RIPTA bus line will start running about every five minutes from the Providence train station to Rhode Island Hospital and back — a route similar to, but cheaper than, a proposed streetcar project.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Gov. Gina Raimondo, the RIPTA board chairman Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, and other local leaders announced the “Downtown Enhanced Transit Corridor” Monday morning at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
In January, Providence’s Planning Director, Bonnie Nickerson, told the Providence Journal the streetcar was abandoned in favor of the “enhanced bus” line — similar to Boston’s “Silver Line.” Instead of simple stops — a small sign on a steel pole — waypoints will be more like stations, with shelters, wifi and bikesharing kiosks. The $13 million of federal TIGER grants and about $4 million from the state acquired for the streetcar will now go for the bus project.
The route will be 1.4 miles end-to-end, and will take about 12 minutes to traverse in total, going from the “Capital Center” neighborhood of office buildings and condos, down Exchange Street to Dorrance Street and then on Eddy Street to the hospital.
Buses will run in a loop every five minutes, with the intent of allowing commuters to not worry about bus timetables — another one will be along in a bit.
Reliable downtown public transportation is important, Mayor Elorza said. “Whenever I meet with developers or investors, they talk about the cost of investing in downtown Providence, and in particular the cost of parking. And so as a long term strategy, as a city and a state, we need to figure out how to move more people in and out of downtown through public transit.”
Congressman David Cicilline was also present at the meeting – and he said he’s been working on creating this travel corridor since he was mayor of Providence.
“Making a place where people can live and get around easily is a very important asset, particularly for young millennials that we’re trying to attract and keep in our capital city,” he said.
The city said Monday it will save $100 million in capital funds it would have spent on streetcar infrastructure.Streetcar idea has been ‘laying over’ for years
An Amtrak commercial dating back to the 1980’s said, “There’s something about a train,” and that romanticism has been blamed by critics for interest in taking city transit to rails.
Cicilline’s sentiments Monday echoed what Providence blogger Jef Nickerson wrote in a guest column for WPRI.com back in 2011 — that a streetcar would be a better choice, and not for romantic notions. “The talent [businesses] are looking to attract are looking for well-built cities that are easy to navigate,” he said, and cited projects like a streetcar in Portland, Ore., which augmented a pre-existing regional light rail system.
It was Cicilline’s successor, Angel Taveras, who first asked the federal government for a TIGER grant for a streetcar back in June 2013.
Then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s office shook its head and said the streetcar wasn’t ready to go. Successor Raimondo was also not totally sold, calling the streetcar a “nice to have, not a need to have” project.
The streetcar route had bits shaven away — no going up to College Hill — and a $1.7 million study was done to “refine cost estimates.” City residents still criticized the cost.
By previous estimates, the streetcar line was expected to carry almost 2,900 people a day. Fares were estimated at $2, which at the time matched rides on regular RIPTA buses before a fare increase and reconfiguration earlier this month.