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AriPVD

Public Transit in Providence

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Hi all. I am currently writing my thesis about the history of Kennedy Plaza as well as a conceptual reconfiguration of the space. As part of my research, I am formulating recommendations for new public transit systems in Providence. I wanted to get some input from you guys (Providence residents and admirers alike) on what forms of public transit you think would or would not work well in the city. Suggested routes would also be of interest.

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Considering the financial difficulties RIPTA faces with current service, expansion seems difficult. That said, I think there are lots of opportunities for improved transit in RI.

How 'bout BRT's? As great as light rail is, I think it is pretty far outside the realm of possibility in Providence, but Bus Rapid Transit could work well here with the current system.

I'd say routes utilizing the East Side Tunnel to Thayer St, through Kennedy Plaza (underground? yeah, how bout that!) by the Dunkin Donuts/Convention Center, next to the mall, along the promenade adjacent to the rt. 10/rail right of way and ending at Olneyville Sq.

Another could be a north/south route utilizing North Main St. then somehow cutting over to the west side down to either Eddy St/Allens Avenue to the hospital area, or Broad St./Elmwood Ave/Cranston St.

Then add a circular route connecting the two lines like the proposed Urban Ring in Boston and, a commuter rail line utilizing the Amtrak rail line to the airport, Boston, and South County, and you've got a pretty cool system.

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I was thinking about starting a thread on this very subject. I have many thoughts/ideas, I have a meeting to go to tonight though, so more thoughts from me perhaps later tonight, but certainly tomorrow.

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This is a fantasy transit map a did a while ago for Rhode Island:

Providence%20Transit002%20GIF%20Resized.gif

Remember, it's fantasy, I actually would have some ideas for more realistic service I would like to create a map of.

The red lines are street cars in Greater Providence, the map is not to scale, so it looks like the streetcars are covering half the state, they aren't.

The green and blue are RIRail. Rhode Island would takeover the Attleboro T branch from Boston all the way to Westerly. The dark section run on commuter schedules, limited midday and wekeend service. The light green and blue are rapid service, probably every 15 minutes, and probably a DMU car technology (or an EMU since the line is electrified. Green is service to Worcester, and to Fall River. The Fall River section is a huge fantasy since that track no longer exists. It would probably be underground all the way from Providence Station to Six Corners, and crossing the river in Fall River would be a challenge.

BRT runs frequently across the bay to Newport.

A new SC&N (South Coast & Newport) light rail line would run from New Bedford to Fall River, probably along Route 6 and then south to Newport along existing track.

And the bay would be put to use for commuter ferries.

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Tough question. I doubt light rail is possible in this area, or even that we have sufficiently dense neighborhoods to make it work.

My wish for RIPTA would just be better planning and coordination. If I come from RIH and want to go to areas of the East Side, I sometimes have to wait 45 minutes to an hour for the connecting bus at Kennedy Plaza. Walking to the East Side (or anywhere in Providence, for that matter) would take me 20-25 minutes. The same is true in the mornings. At one time I'd like to take the bus, the connecting line to the Providence VA leaves 4 minutes before my line arrives at Kennedy Plaza and another doesn't depart for like 35 minutes.

I don't understand why the arrival and departure times for the lines are so haphazard. Why can't they figure out ways to stagger arrivals so that no departure is more than 10 minutes from an arrival? Bunch the times around the start of each hour, for example. Instead, buses trickle in and out of Kennedy Plaza continuously all day. NYC (the last place I used mass transit regularly) was much better at this. I would use my car here in Providence 95% less to get to work if only the line coordination was better. At the worst case scenario, taking the bus home from RIH to the East Side would take me about 1 and 1/2 hours!

Also, something like a prepaid, renewable MetroCard would be nice.

- Garris

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Now, back in reality land...

I think MBTA commuter rail should be extended south to the Amtrak Station in Kingston. RIPTA should not get into the commuter rail business for this one line, we can pay Massachusetts to operate it. Rail to Woonsocket and Worcester should be a possiblity, I don't know if ridership would justify the investment though. A BRT line could operate along the right-of-way at least to Woonsocket though.

The East Side Tunnel needs to be reopened, I wouldn't worry about making it a subway all the way to Kennedy Plaza, but I would send buses through Capital Centre, behind Citizens to Exchange Street, a stop there could serve as the stop for the Amtrak station, then down Exchange to Kennedy. I would put a subway stop at Thayer and maybe at Wayland Square. I don't know where the tunnel is under Wayland though, a stop at the east portal along Gano Street would probably suffice, and be much cheaper. Then after crossing the river into EP, a route needs to be found to get the line to 195 as a true BRT line, seperated from local traffic. It needs to serve the EP waterfront, downtown EP, and then it should go into the median of 195 out to Fall River. There can be park and ride stations in the median along the way.

I would really like to see streetcars come back to Providence in some fashion. We won't ever see the statewide web we had historically, but there is room for some lines, a mini version of Portland, OR system. It would be expensive, but I think lines feeding into Kennedy Plaza need to be put underground, you'd still have to accomodate the buses at Kennedy Plaza as well, and trolleys, buses, pedestrians, and traffic all intersecting would be chaos. And every streetcar route should be through-routed, i.e. they wouldn't stop at Kennedy Plaza, but the Broadway line would become the Eddy Street line (as an example).

Streetcars are a far off fantasy at this point however. We really just need more frequent bus service. There are some many areas just outside Providence where it can be an hour or more between buses. If I go shopping somewhere and want to come back, a twenty minute car ride can become a 2-3 hour bus saga.

Kennedy Plaza is a mess! RIPTA cannot attract more riders until they clean up Kennedy Plaza, it's not a homeless shelter, it's not a drug treatment facitlity, and it's not a day care centre for kids from Hope High. It's a transportation centre. There's always a police presense there, but all the cops just hang out together at the trolley shelter and drink coffee and gossip with each other. They need to be patrolling the whole plaza, all the platforms.

The high school students are a problem on many levels. On the Federal Hill trolley, if you get on past Depasquale between 7am and 815am, you're S.O.L. because it's filled to capacity with high school students. I've been denied boarding the trolley because it's full. This is not fair to workers, I can't go to work early if I want to. If you do manage to squeeze onto a bus or trolley during school time, expect to be greeted by a barrage of F-bombs, girls fighting with each other because one slept with the other's 'man' (you know 14-year-old girls). Random drug deals... you name it, these kids are doing it, or talking about it, extremely loudly, people are scared of these kids. And no one's going to pay a buck fifty to deal with that crap when they could be peacefully coming in to the city in their private automobile.

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Also, something like a prepaid, renewable MetroCard would be nice.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That is supposedly on it's way.

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I am currently writing my thesis about the history of Kennedy Plaza as well as a conceptual reconfiguration of the space.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

PS, I hope we get to read this... :thumbsup:

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Come on guys! We all have to be more optimistic (and more ambitious). Despite the goals of the current administration in Washington, there is extensive transportation funding out there, its all a matter of getting our Congressman to pork-barrel it. I'm sure most of you know that at one time Providence had one of the most extensive electrified streetrailway systems in the country. I believe that rather than bogging down Kennedy Plaza (which could be an important and beautiful space) with ill-devised public transit uses, the train station in Capital Center should be expanded as a true intermodal facility. I really like your map, Cotuit, although some of it may be a pipedream. I do think, however, that 2 commuter rail lines (as proposed) to run West Bay (to the airport) and East Bay (perhaps to Newport) as well as adding a Pawtucket Stop on the Attleboro-Stoughton T-Line would be fantastic. These lines would obviously unite at the Providence Station, where an attached facility could be constructed for the buses (a la the Port Authority on 34th street in NY). I also believe that Providence has sufficient density for either a light-rail, electrified streetcar or even subway with 2 major lines running from Kennedy Plaza to the East (through the tunnel and stopping on North Main St, Thayer St, Wayland Square and East Providence) and to the West (stopping at the west side of Downtown, Federal Hill, Eagle Square and Olneyville). Kennedy Plaza could remain the downtown hub of the "inner-city lines" as long as it was sufficiently and easily connected to the new Providence Intermodal Station. Providence could BOOM with a truly integrated intermodal system like the one I envision. Yes, it will be expensive, but if we can move rivers, we can petition our legislators to start taking some action. It is clear that RIPTA cannot continue to "serve" as the city's public transit system when each year it fails to meet the needs of most city residents. And yes, the thesis will be made available for all. <_<

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In theory, I'm all for making the train station a hub, but most workers are in the general vicinity of Kennedy Plaza. It's actually quite a schlep from the train station to say, Westminster or Washington Streets, especially in bad weather. And in the future we'll probably see more developement south of Kennedy Plaza towards the Jewelry District. There's jobs and housing on all sides of Kennedy Plaza the train station pretty much just has Capital Centre to the south of it, and not a whole lot to the north.

I would like to see the inter-city buses relocated to the Train Station, and a downtown circulator route that hit the train station, Kennedy Plaza, and key spots throughout Downcity would be really good. There are actually a good number of people commuting into Providence on the T and a shuttle system would be a good way to engcourage more.

I think something we really need is more regionalism between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A large chunk of Providence's metro is outside of Rhode Island where RIPTA doesn't travel. Residents in Seekonk and Attleboro should have bus service comparable to residents in Warwick and Cranston. The little GATRA shuttle that comes into Providence is pathetic.

Better transit benefits both states. Making it easier for Mass. residents to commute into Providence betters our economy, encouraging businesses to locate here. As it is now, it's probably better to locate in Lincoln or Cumberland, because it's easier for Mass. residents to get to work by car and park in those communities. Making it easier for Mass. residents to work and play in Providence is going to benefit Rhode Island. On the Massachusetts side, having these bedroom communities next to a growing city is going to be good for their tax base. Taking pressure of their roads will help (Massachusetts doesn't want to have to add a lane to 195 to accomodate people commuting to Rhode Island). Rhode Islanders will also be better able to work and play in Massachusetts. I would be happy to take a bus to Battleship Cove, or if Fall River improves further, spend the day shopping and dining there (especially as the sales tax is lower). But the transit connections are poor so I spend all my free time in Providence and Newport. The state line should not serve as a barrier to the growth and health of our metropolitan area. The health of the Providence economy benefits both states.

New England as a whole needs to work together on transit as well, not only running inter-city rail services, but also with funding. None of the 6 states can afford to do something like jack up the gas tax to pay for transit, but if we all joined together and got NY, NJ, and PA on board we could as a block raise gas taxes to fund transit. The various transit agencies should work together on things like ordering new equipment as well. If Worcester and Providence and Portland are all ready to get new buses, they should go in on the order together to get a large number of buses and drive down costs. They should also work together on new technologies. We could all pay into making Hartford say the testing ground for some alternative fuel bus or something. Alone Providence or Worcester or Manchester might not be able to afford a pilot program, but if they all chipped in, big things can happen.

New England also has to work together as a block in Washington. We are one of the most urban areas in the country, between the 6 states we have a lot of power in DC, we should flex our muscles down there collectively. At this point the fight is not to fund individual projects, but simply to fund transit period. Our congresspeople could be a strong voice in DC about the folly of building road upon road. We've been building roads longer than anyone else in the country, and we have the oldest subway system in the country in New England. We are the authorities on these issues and we should make our voices heard.

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For some reason I'm always surprised when ProJo has a good, pro-transit editorial, but they actually have them quite often.

DART lessons

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Believe it or not, lofts above street-level stores are now a hot real-estate item in Plano, the well-to-do suburb north of Dallas.

Isn't Texas supposed to be the land of the super-sized house on the big lot? Yes, it still is, but more and more home buyers are willing to exchange the mansion keys for liberation from gruesome traffic. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit system -- DART, for short -- makes the new development of lofts possible. They are an easy walk from a train that whooshes commuters into downtown Dallas.

When it comes to public transportation, the Northeast may think it has nothing to learn from the sprawling West, but it does. The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is a lot like Rhode Island in size and congestion. And boy, could Rhode Island use a system like this.

Civic leaders in this Texan urban area decided several years ago that they would not let their growing region -- locally called the Metroplex -- wither in the clutches of traffic gridlock. That's why they backed the expansion of DART. They did so under attack from highway-building interests and small-government anti-transit forces -- and raised sales taxes to help pay for it. Their reward is a gleaming light-rail system of quiet street-level trains with growing passenger counts.

And rather than stop there, the region has added to the network. Three years ago, a new line connecting Dallas and Fort Worth went into service. The Trinity Rail Express shuttles people on the 34-mile trip in 70 minutes. Under ideal circumstances, a car can do the trip faster, but anyone who has traveled the region's spaghetti of highways (called the Mixmaster, in radio traffic reports) knows something about less-than-ideal circumstances.

There's now talk of expanding the commuter-rail service to serve five counties -- to be subsidized with a half-cent hike in the sales tax for areas not now members of DART.

A light-rail system protects the region's economy from the stultifying effects of congestion. And, as in the case of Plano's lofts, it directs development to places served by public transportation. The model is Philadelphia's Main Line suburban area, which grew along commuter-rail lines in the last century.

So now people in Dallas can take a train to the Fort Worth honky-tonks, have a couple of beers, and safely go home. If only Providence residents wanting a night in Newport could do the same! And vice versa.

From The Providence Jounal

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That's what I'm talking about. If you look at our current situation with sprawl extending south of Coventry along 95 and all along route 1 and 4, introducing a system like this throughout the state with strategically placed stops could slow down or stop our sprawling ways. We have to face the fact that we're a small state with a delicate balance of rural and urban areas, we don't have much room for error before we lose or ruin what we have. I don't want the next generation to have to spend their tax dollars buying out unused shopping centers so they can turn them back into much-needed natural land. By bringing this sort of transit along we would see denser residential areas develop around the stops. I like the idea of the "New Urban" mixed-use villages and all but they're pointless unless they're based around real community centers. We should invest on a statewide light-rail system now and let the development follow before we're stuck trying to connect the dots. I think if a big push is made for this after 195 construction is done then it could become the state's next transportation priority. Until then, all you'll hear is how the state doesn't have money for it.

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I was just thinking about this the other day...

(most of my specifics regard the East Side because that's where I'm most familiar with)

First off, how to improve the existing system:

I agree with Garris that coordination is piss-poor. I live near Wayland Sq. Until the recent schedule change, onlt two busses served my area - 40 and 35. They both arrived within 2 minutes of each other, each about 40 minutes apart. Now, with the 78, there is some slotting so that during commuting times, one only has to wait 20-30 minutes, but come on! I also have the same problem with transferring downtown.

- coordinate schedules/transfer times

- create a useable system map (the Trip Planner on the website is garbage)

Minor upgrades:

I'd like to see the addition of a shuttle route that serves (at least) Kennedy Plaza, Amtrak station, and the Ferry landing.

I'd like to see more routes in Providence that are not radial spokes coming out of KP. Routes along N Main and Hope/Thayer that extend all the way to/from Wickendon would be a vast improvement and I'd like to see a bus that actually crosses the Point St Bridge!

Better transfer policy, more tranfer locations

Major upgrades:

I'd love to see electric trolleys come back, either/both on dedicated, car-free lines or sharing the street like the Green line Heath St Branch does in Boston.

I suspect that most of Providence is too low and close to water to really accomodate an underground metro.

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I'd like to see a bus that actually crosses the Point St Bridge!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I'd like to see a Fox Point - Wickenden - Point Street - Westminster Crossing - Broadway - Olneyville route. Another Link Trolley route. North Main-Hope to Wickenden is also much needed.

I suspect that most of Providence is too low and close to water to really accomodate an underground metro.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

That's not a problem, Boston, New York, London... all deal with this.

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I have a whole lot of thoughts on the matter, but rather that spill it all out in a 2 page post, I'll just bullet point my main thoughts. Some of them might seem negative, but I'm certainly not trying to be dismissive. I guess the thesis of my opinion is that RI needs to expand commuter rail NOW, but that light rail might be ineffective until you kill the NIMBYs and build more highrise residential.

Problems with Prov. mass transit ...

- High cost for light rail. Socialism has consequences, and RI is learning that the hard way. Providence and the State are broke. Granted, the Feds will give funding for transit, but they won't pay for 100%. How will they pay for their share? With taxes from the businesses they've scared off, or the dense residential they won't let developers build?

- Low density. As others mentioned, Providence might not be dense enough for light rail. This seems silly at first, because the city's overall density is much much higher than other places with light rail. But that's really due to they city's small size and near total build-out. Any individual light rail corridor would be fairly low density because the NIMBY's have killed off most of the high-rise residential. A sea of tri-plexes is super-dense in the general scheme of American cities, but perhaps not enough for a transit corridor.

- Traffic and parking. It's actually not that bad!!! I can't speak for the suckers stuck in the suburbs, but in my four years on College Hill, I never heard anyone complain in a really huge way. Perhaps because the city is so compact, one can drive anywhere through the Eastside, East Prov, Downcity, and Fed Hill with minimal effort. Parking can be tricky, but once you figure out the "system" it's very doable. Daytime eastside parking is actually plentiful if one is willing to walk two blocks. Especially if you are willing to shell out for mall parking, downcity is easy too. So, will people support the rail when the traffic isn't as bad? (Again, can't speak for the suburbs.)

What I think should be done (even immediately) ...

- First and foremost, get MBTA to extend the commuter rail to Warwick. maybe add a stop or two in between. Also run it 7 days a week to Boston for god sakes. (This would be by far the most important thing Prov. could do right away). Personally, I would have used it at least twice every weekend if they had done this when I was in school, nevermind the needed airport trips. There are several thousand other studens who would too.

- As a related point, just build that damn Warwick train station already. Talk about the perfect example of corrupt/incompetent RI bureaucracy. The budget, as is, should have been big enough to start years ago.

- Re-open the old train tunnel, for all the reasons others have mentioned above. It wouldn't be that expensive, and it sounds like Brown might even be willing to pay for it if the city shuts up the east side/fox point NIMBYs and lets them build their housing/garages. Though Eastside traffic still isn't much, the tunnel could shave a couple minutes of the trip from East Prov to Downcity, making the buses quite attractive.

All this being said, I would certainly LIKE light rail over buses ... I just don't know if I can see it happening.

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- create a useable system map (the Trip Planner on the website is garbage)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I have a system map from 2000 that I cherish! You're so right about the Trip Planner. I've looked for routes by town before, and it leaves routes out that I know serve the town I'm looking up.

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- Traffic and parking. It's actually not that bad!!! 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I have to disagree. It's not as terrible as in some places like Cambridge or Somerville, where everything is resident permit only, even in retail areas. However, I think a step out from immediate traffic/parking concerns of the individual parker/driver is the real problem. Driving on the East Side is like running a slalom at 30 mph - very few roads can actually accomodate two-way traffic plus the parked cars.

Also, the car-centric attitude of RI-ers is part of the reason (sheer stupidity being the other) that we're right up at the top of the list for alcohol-related auto fatalities.

But I totally agree that common-sense extension of the commuter rail would make a world of difference!

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The number of wrong-way drivers I see barrelling down Waterman Street the on any given day is mind-boggling, 3 yesterday alone. HELLO! It's a one way street!

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I'm switching gears from the sports thread since the topic turned to light rail.

Someone more knowledgeable than me on the subject recently echoed to me Garris' thought that Providence isn't dense enough for light rail. My only comment on this is that in Portland, OR they found that light rail leads to increased density, particularly when accompanied by some well-thought zoning.

This is probably a ridiculously silly idea, but what about replacing the in-city RIPTA buses with the RIPTA trolleys? Smaller footprints mean higher expenses in the number needed and labor involved, but you could cut some expenses by better tailoring available seats to those necessary at any time of day (maybe it isn't true, but it seems like I see a *lot* of 40-seat buses with 5 people on board).

Plus it would look great, which I realize is not an economic argument, but there it is. People need beloved quirky institutions and I think the trolleys could serve that roll.

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This is a fantasy transit map a did a while ago for Rhode Island:

Providence%20Transit002%20GIF%20Resized.gif

Remember, it's fantasy, I actually would have some ideas for more realistic service I would like to create a map of.

The red lines are street cars in Greater Providence, the map is not to scale, so it looks like the streetcars are covering half the state, they aren't.

The green and blue are RIRail. Rhode Island would takeover the Attleboro T branch from Boston all the way to Westerly. The dark section run on commuter schedules, limited midday and wekeend service. The light green and blue are rapid service, probably every 15 minutes, and probably a DMU car technology (or an EMU since the line is electrified. Green is service to Worcester, and to Fall River. The Fall River section is a huge fantasy since that track no longer exists. It would probably be underground all the way from Providence Station to Six Corners, and crossing the river in Fall River would be a challenge.

BRT runs frequently across the bay to Newport.

A new SC&N (South Coast & Newport) light rail line would run from New Bedford to Fall River, probably along Route 6 and then south to Newport along existing track.

And the bay would be put to use for commuter ferries.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This is awesome. Great job Cotuit! - I've wanted to do something like this... and I might submit my own map eventually. But the only real difference I have with you on the map you made is that I would have rapid service going all the way upto Woonsocket. I think that having that line active would provide a convenient route for people to commute and shop in Providence and to access the Airport and Newport ferries via the Transit system. It would reduce traffic, and pollution and bring more people to Providence.

Great ideas being talked about here - hopefully someone with some influence comes here and runs with some of these ideas.

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I'm switching gears from the sports thread since the topic turned to light rail.

Someone more knowledgeable than me on the subject recently echoed to me Garris' thought that Providence isn't dense enough for light rail.  My only comment on this is that in Portland, OR they found that light rail leads to increased density, particularly when accompanied by some well-thought zoning.

This is probably a ridiculously silly idea, but what about replacing the in-city RIPTA buses with the RIPTA trolleys?  Smaller footprints mean higher expenses in the number needed and labor involved, but you could cut some expenses by better tailoring available seats to those necessary at any time of day (maybe it isn't true, but it seems like I see a *lot* of 40-seat buses with 5 people on board).

Plus it would look great, which I realize is not an economic argument, but there it is.  People need beloved quirky institutions and I think the trolleys could serve that roll.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Awesome idea Soren! New Orleans has a trolley system that runs around the clock... I think eliminating some of the buses and going with more trolleys would be more attractive and solve some of the problems you're talking about. But I think if existing rail lines were utilized for commuter flow and you had all of those other transport options working in concert with each other - Providence would be a much more desirable place to visit. Improving the transit system can only help the city grow. Good post Soren.

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But I think if existing rail lines were utilized for commuter flow and you had all of those other transport options working in concert with each other - Providence would be a much more desirable place to visit. Improving the transit system can only help the city grow. Good post Soren.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree. Particularly extending the MBTA commuter rail to T.F. Green. I have to think that would cut down on a significant level of I-95 traffic as Boston Metro users of T.F. Green decide to leave their cars at home or at Route 128 station.

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For those interested in the Rail Component of new commuter transit in RI... you might want to check out the following link...

http://fermi.jhuapl.edu/states/1895/ri_1895.jpg

It's a rather large detailed map of RI from 1895 that shows villages, town boundaries, topographical features, and rail lines. Since this was prolly near the height of the railroad boom - I thought it would be useful for those that want to visualize where commuter rail lines could go... and which communities could be connected to Providence via such a system.

Obviously the map does not have any major roads or highways... or airports... so you have to imagine. But I think it's detailed enough for you to get a good idea. I've been looking around for various detailed maps - and this one seemed like the best for rail.

Just thought i'd share.

--vallon

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i really like the idea of of commuter rail in rhode island. its really fun to imagine how different things would be with a system in place. i think if we're going to suggest transit routes throughout the state, we need to look at current transit corridors, former transit corridors, road widths, heavily traveled routes, and really look at the hubs/destinations/connections. maps might be a decent source for this information, but in my opinion there are too many variables. you guys have probably seen this site before, http://terraserver.homeadvisor.msn.com/ , and i'm sure there are many others like it, but its last update was 2002 and thats pretty recent as far as those satellite image sites go, so it gives you a decent shot at knowing what is where and what can and cant be demolished to make way for such things. this is where it gets fun for me. i like the connections to mbta, amtrak, bringing back the trolleys, people movers, ferries, etc... so i can actually see what would work and what has no shot at all...

where exactly would you guys want the main hub, secondary hubs, and all other stops? what attractions/destinations/connection points do you feel are most important to the systems ability to help the state? a layered transportation system that is all connected under one plan and one pay system would terrific.

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