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Park & Ride and Highway Culture


I tend to be of a less pragmatic mindset than some, thinking that we should go for the gold on everything transportation related in the Biggest Little rather than trying to move deck chairs on the Titanic.  But park & rides, though essentially an exurban symptom of sprawl, have always seemed a fine place to meet people in the middle, to my eyes.

Then RIPTA got me rethinking that.  I opened my email account and saw this message from RIPTA a few days ago:

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) announced today the launch of the “Beat Traffic, Try Transit” campaign. The campaign is designed to ease traffic congestion on the Interstate through Providence during peak travel times. Effective July 1, 2013, commuters can take advantage of discounted bus fares from select Park n' Ride lots across the state as well as free parking at select commuter rail stations. The campaign runs throughDecember 31, 2013.
Commuters will have the option of using RIPTA’s fixed-route service at 50 percent off the regular rate at participating Park n' Ride lots, along Routes 95 and 146, which provide service to Providence. They also can park for free at either the Wickford Junction or T.F. Green Train Stations and take the MBTA commuter rail (train fare is not included).

Sounds good, right? 

But then it continues at the bottom like this:

The goal of “Beat Traffic, Try Transit” is to reduce traffic congestion at a time when RIDOT begins construction on the Providence Viaduct Bridge Replacement Project. The Viaduct is a central artery in our state – and in our region – and carries more than 220,000 vehicles per day. It is one of the most heavily trafficked stretches of interstate on the East Coast. For more information on this project, visitwww.dot.ri.gov/Viaduct.
I had read a piece in Streetsblog opening a debate about park & rides, and whether they mostly build a highway sprawl culture, or whether they're a good investment in public transportation.  I obviously agree that park & rides are not the best option we have for getting people out of their cars, but I felt mostly paralyzed by the debate on the subject.  For once, I actually felt swayed more towards a pragmatic stance.  Just how much can you quarrel with any attempt to get people to reduce their car use?

This key paragraph in the RIPTA email really gets me thinking though.  It sounds a lot like RIDOT is only concerned about getting people to use RIPTA temporarily, and that it's just a means to an end for getting a highway project finished without a hitch.  And perhaps if RIDOT considered RIPTA use a serious longterm concern, it would put less money into the highway project in the first place, and more into genuine transit-oriented planning.  

Perhaps the Streetsblog submission has more of a point than I thought?

I'd like to open in up to discussion or debate, so please comment.  I'm not sure what my feelings are on this yet.


  1. RIDOTS Viaduct Bridge Replacement project could turn out to be blessing in disguise, its knight in shining armor. RIPTA has hyper-extended themselves to the commuter:50% reduced rate, free parking with less stress, good for the environment and a fine place to "meet people in the middle". Good thing they did not do this promotion in the winter, then they would have real tough time getting people out of their cars!

  2. Sorry I've been slow to respond to this comment, Jennifer. I wanted to see if anyone else would chime in first. :-) What do you think about the overall strategic value of park & rides versus other types of public transit infrastructure? I feel like I'm fine with them where they exist, but would like to see more emphasis on developing spaces that are walkable. The park & rides on the 66 bus used to amaze me, because I could never figure out how some of the people who left bicycles chained up would get to the parking lots. I also thought it was sad to see that even having stores right next to the park & ride didn't assure anyone of being able to use the bus to shop, because they were developed as big-box stores with huge parking lots that weren't walkable.