Governing is all about balancing goals and making compromises, but when it comes to breaking up the Kennedy Plaza bus hub, economic development should not override the accessibility and efficiency of Providence’s public transit.
Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation plans to spend $35 million to replace the bus hub at Kennedy Plaza with two new hubs, located on Dyer Street and at the Providence Train Station.
While not finalized, the move would free space in Kennedy Plaza for recreational uses and promote economic growth in the business district, per the DOT.
But the plan faces significant opposition from activists and local organizations, who say the move would hurt low-income individuals and communities of color in Providence. By moving the Kennedy Plaza bus hub, advocates say riders will now be required to make additional transfers and take more time than before to make the same trip.
The state is right to try to promote economic growth. Especially as Providence emerges from the pandemic, it’s important to create business opportunities and continually seek to improve the economic viability of the city.
It’s also important to create green space in cities, which the DOT seeks to do by moving the bus hub out of Kennedy Plaza.
But the state must also realize that public transit is meant to serve low-income communities. Nationally, 13 percent of all households have an income of less than $15,000, but among transit-using households, that group increases to 21 percent. Sixty percent of all riders are people of color.
It’s clear that people who can’t afford to buy a car or take an Uber are the most frequent users of public transit. Knowing this, the state should prioritize the needs of these communities instead of only focusing on economic growth, not the other way around.
For example, take Tammi Wheeler, a 45-year-old interviewed by the Providence Journal in November. “I don’t own a car. I’m on disability,” she told the Journal. “I’m on the R line every day.”
By eliminating the Kennedy Plaza bus hub, Wheeler could be forced to make an extra transfer, costing time and money.
The plan holds clear economic benefits and the DOT is right to seek opportunities to expand economic growth in Providence. But it should find a way to do so without lowering the quality of life of the people who rely on public transportation to live.
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