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2017 Resolutions for a Better PVD & RI

Say it with me! 2017 is going to be better than 2016!

Ugh.

It's been a rough year, and we're not just talking about He Who Must Not Be Named. At the time of writing, Betty White is still alive, who who knows what the final hours of this awful year will bring? 

Last year we did ten resolutions for a better Providence and followed up this week with progress on those resolutions. Now let's look at some resolutions for this year. 2017's list has some old favorites, some new additions, and a fairly changed landscape of priorities. You can also tweet @transportpvd and we'll promote some of yours (if they're good. . . ).

10. Reform RIPTA routes. RIPTA needs more frequent service in walkable dense areas, and it needs to jettison some of its more ridiculous curly-queue routes. This item is in many ways a repeat of last year's resolution to get RIPTA to stop diverting routes into parking lots. 


As part of our recap of last year's resolutions, we spoke to Peter Brassard, rail advocate, who said that RIPTA and RIDOT need to coordinate better to make sure that stops are walkable. "Just straightening the routesout isn’t the answer alone. The insertion of auto-centric commercial or retail planning is the problem, not just RIPTA. Many of RIPTA’s passengers are elderly or have physical limitations that make hiking into one of these big box stores (often a ¼-mile in one direction) a challenge at best. Even in urban areas pedestrian amenities are often absent. When sidewalks are in place, there’s often no bus shelter on the street in front of big box. I doubt building owners do much in the way of snow removal from onsite sidewalks."


Bike paths can help to connect these areas, which would really let RIPTA use its labor expenditures more appropriately to straighter, faster, more frequent bus routes.


Yes, it's true, we're not the only ones with bad land use to overcome:



A great way to start in on this goal would be not building new roads, sewers, or other public infrastructure that creates taxpayer-subsidized sprawl, as in the Citizens Bank project that just about all the top brass of Rhode Island showed up to cheer for. Many of RIPTA's more absurd routes serve projects like this, making buses the clean-up on the back end of bad land use.




Another way to address this issue would be to hire someone like Jarrett Walker to look through RIPTA's route system and come up with a plan to rationalize it with the goal of frequent service. 


We hope this is the year that RIPTA gets serious attention.


9. We're keeping the car tax, thank you. A lot of people may disagree, but Rhode Island's car tax is a good thing. Driving is expensive, and that expense doesn't go away just by willing it to. We've spoken on this issue at the city level, and it's also important at the state level: lowering or eliminating car taxes means shifting the cost burden of driving onto property taxes. Some of us drive, but all of us need a place to live. And for those of us who cannot afford a car, making driving less expensive by raising our cost of housing doesn't sound like a great idea. 


The state could look to lower its costs as one way of saving drivers money. Rhode Island has an abnormally high number of urban highways, especially for a northeastern city, and this is something our blog has tried to address through the 6/10 Boulevard fight. By canceling plans to expand roads, and looking closely at when existing infrastructure can be dieted, Rhode Island can start to get control of its ballooning fees.


And by the way, I like to remind people that Rachel and I are now a one-car household, so while we're infrequent drivers, lowering the car tax would seem to be in our immediate selfish interest. We still oppose it, and we call on progressives and fiscal conservatives to stand up on this issue.


8. Grant undocumented immigrants access to drivers' licenses. This is a hard one, because the world is melting around us because of the driving habits of Americans. Transport Providence supports policies that put driving in the backseat of transportation policy where it belongs, but there should be no part of that that includes discrimination. Speaker of the House Nicolas Mattiello, who campaigned on a racist platform of immigrant exclusion and narrowly held his position, should expect a fight on this issue, as well as his plans to increase property tax burdens (See #9) on working families by getting rid of the car tax.

7. Hold the mayor accountable on the Sanctuary City plan. The Providence Journal reported on November 14th that Mayor Jorge Elorza is no longer considering "sanctuary city" status for Providence, a plan that would mirror progressive efforts in other cities to protect immigrant communities. Transport Providence caught up with Elorza at a recent event, and the mayor said that the Projo report was misleading, and that his office will make sure that Providence Police Department does not cooperate with ICE. Immigration policy is not normally a main focus of this blog, but our cities are not good places to walk if walking somewhere might result in deportation. We ask the mayor to keep his promise on this.
6. Reform property taxes. Providence charges too much taxes on renters, but attempts to change that problem have often failed, as homeowners and renters get pitted against each other.

The city should come up with new revenue to avoid this pitfall, and Transport Providence is again asking the city to consider a parking lot tax. The parking lot tax got consideration last April, but inside sources tell me that state officials who would have to approve the city's use of a parking tax are not keen on it. The mayor and city council need to start advocating noisily for this as a source of revenue, and a way to incentivize development instead of surface lots. And reminding commuters that the lot owner is typically the one who has to swallow the tax increase wouldn't be a bad way to start changing the conversation.

5. Repeal exclusionary zoning throughout the city.  A top consideration should be removal of the unconstitutional ordinance limiting the number of students sharing large single-family houses. Removing parking minimums throughout the city is another top goal (See #4). And large sections of Providence are zoned for single-family housing only, which should change. If you look at a zoning map of many Providence neighborhoods, you'll notice the array of crazy colors that have to be put in place to codify the actual existence of multiple types of housing that came about due to natural development patterns, but the real onus of the zoning code is to prevent that process from unfolding as it would. If someone wants to add a granny cottage to their driveway or build a triple-decker, they ought to be able to do so without red tape. Affordable housing should be a top goal in the city.

Rhode Island's "Missed Connections" happen in parking lots. Massachusetts has them on transit.
4. Repeal all parking minimums in the city. Providence loosened its parking minimums a few years ago, but still requires parking in much of the city. This is bad! Schlecht! Malo! 

Most recently, the Providence Journal reported that Providence Planning is still spending time making sure that there's enough parking at an apartment project that proposes more parking than apartments. Every required parking spot increases the cost of development, reduces affordable housing, and pushes people to drive when transit could have been their preferred option. Transport Providence would like to see Providence follow Buffalo to become the second city in the U.S. to do away completely with parking minimums in 2017.

And it wouldn't be bad if we raised their King to an Ace and put some parking maximums in along frequent transit lines.

3. Make Sure 6/10 & I-95 Projects are Done Right. That means a car-free bridge on Tobey Street, removal of the Dean Street and Plainfield Avenue ramps without replacement, and no expansion of I-95. All the bridges crossing the highways should get protected bike lanes and widened sidewalks. 

The rail corridor along 6/10 needs to be carefully looked at. Peter Brassard, local rail advocate, spoke to Transport Providence about the rail options along 6/10. "A critical component for this project is to preserve an adequate ROW width for a future fourth railroad track east of the existing northbound track through Olneyville, the West End, and Federal Hill," said Brassard, emphasizing the renewed importance of this route since the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has decided to locate improved high-speed rail along a corridor that includes Providence (Rhode Island had originally been slotted to be excluded from the project).  Brassard said to make sure to consider where an eventual Olneyville MBTA station might go (Olneyville used to have two train stations).


Parkway plans are a let-down, considering that last year's number one resolution was to not rebuild 6/10, but taking care to build a parkway in a way that doesn't exclude these possibilities is really important.

The parkway plan isn't complete until these features are changed.

2. New leadership at RIDOT. We learned recently that Deputy Director Peter Garino will be stepping down from his post at RIDOT. As one of our followers tweeted, "One down. . . ". 
Unfortunately, between "the two Peters" at RIDOT, Garino was by far the more qualified, having served before as top brass at New Jersey Transit. Garino was not perfect, but a lot of misleading and bad ideas from Garino often felt to me like they were reflections of a civil servant who was following orders from above.  

It's "Peter #1"--Peter Alviti-- that needs to go, and we're not stepping down from the demand. As yet Governor Raimondo has ignored our calls to address her fossil-fuel-happy RIDOT director, but we intend to follow up.

We're also aware that the pattern of RIDOT directors can be to jump from the frying pan to the fire, and we'd like to avoid that. Alviti should be replaced by someone chosen directly by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). The TAC is the group that advises RIDOT on projects, including groups like RIPTA Planning, Bike Newport, and the Rhode Island Bike Coalition. Though in theory the TAC should have a large say in what happens at RIPTA as the supposed arm of community advice, its role is usually marginal in practice. Transport Providence will be periodically highlighting engineers that we think are qualified to head RIDOT, and we hope we'll get an opportunity to bring those nominations into fruition.

1. 20 miles of protected bike lanes, with a plan set for 50 in the next 2 years. Providence got its first (0.3 miles) of protected bike lanes this year, but Providence needs to get serious and create a full network. This one has been upgraded from #8 to #1 because there's just no excuse for the city not to achieve it. Protected bike lanes are cheap, they prevent a whole bunch of other costs the city accrues, and we're starting to look ridiculous for not having a serious network of them.

The most likely source of revenue for protected bike lanes ought to be the next bond. The last one failed at city council and became a ghost bond. Transport Providence had asked city council to kill the bond, because its transportation components didn't even begin to come close to funding none-car projects at parity with the number of non-drivers in the city. It's unclear how much of an impact our call to kill the bond had on its ultimate defeat, but we hope that when new funding proposals come up, the city council will remember that about a quarter of Providence residents don't even own a car.

We encourage people to do what the Dutch did if the city doesn't start to move on this.


Happy New Year, everyone! Get ready to fight like our lives depend on it.


~~~~









Recap of 2016 Resolutions

Coming soon we'll be posting 2017 Resolutions for Providence, and for Rhode Island communities as a whole. But first let's review our resolutions from 2016, and see which ones elected officials have actually adopted and followed through on.

As with many resolutions traditions, the results are mixed.

10. Follow Through on Snow Removal:

GCPVD reported on January 8th, 2016 that the Statehouse was considering bills through the State Assembly and Senate to hold RIDOT responsible for clearing snow off of state properties within twenty-four hours of a storm. 

As of May, the House Bill (7008) was "recommended for further study" and has not been passed.  The Senate Bill (2005) faced the same fate in June, according to the Statehouse webpage.

Unlike RIDOT, City of Providence officials do seem to put some concern into making sure public properties are cleared of snow. However, at the city level, I am not aware of any improvements to snow enforcement on sidewalks. Private properties not clearing snow is a real problem. 

One suggestion that keeps coming up winter after winter is that the city create a budget for temporary workers to go out to clear sidewalks that haven't been cleared after a certain interval of time, adding a charge to the tax bill for the property for the hourly rate of the work. I think this would be a great idea. Perhaps city council can consider this.

I spoke with Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission member Michelle Walker, who had another perennial suggestion: make sure that RIPTA stops are clear! This turns out to be the responsibility of the advertisers who own the bus stops. You can contact them here if you encounter an uncleared stop.

9. Modify RIPTA Routes So That They Don't Go Into Parking Lots:

An ongoing weakness of many RIPTA routes is that they go into parking lots, or otherwise divert from linear routes. A lot of time these route choices seem to be at the behest of suburban strip mall developments. 

The reason this is a problem is that transit operates best when it's "on the way", meaning that it serves the people in the middle stops as well as being good for people going the whole way end-to-end. 

Anecdotally, I am aware of RIPTA making some small changes to some routes I ride that have improved the quickness of the routes, but there hasn't been any systematic effort to change routes in order to make them more efficient. 

The 54 is not unusual among RIPTA routes for its odd detours.
In some cases, the stops that RIPTA chooses for removal still symbolize the thinking of the agency. Riding the 54 bus out of Woonsocket a few weeks ago, I found that the usually starting point of the route at Woonsocket train station had been dropped as a stop, even though new train service is expected at that station by 2018. The stop also makes sense because the trestle creates a natural barrier from rain. 

While RIPTA has sometimes thinned out its walkable stops, it continues to keep those that truly take routes off-course. The 54 is one of many routes like this. 

I spoke with Peter Brassard, local rail activist, who said that the quandary RIPTA finds itself in is difficult. "Just straightening the routesout isn’t the answer alone. The insertion of auto-centric commercial
or retail planning is the problem, not just RIPTA. Many of RIPTA’s
passengers are elderly or have physical limitations that make hiking
into one of these big box stores (often a ¼-mile in one direction) a
challenge at best. Even in urban areas pedestrian amenities are often absent. When sidewalks are in place, there’s often no bus shelter on the street in front of big box. I doubt building owners do much in the way of snow removal from onsite sidewalks."


Brassard said that under past RIDOT administrations, he's suggested that the agency put effort into targeted pedestrian improvements along corridors, in order to help make goals like straightening RIPTA routes achievable (Brassard had no comment on the current RIDOT administration). Did he ever have success? "Obviously [RIDOT] did nothing" said Brassard.

I don't think RIPTA can simply straighten routes alone either. Last year, I suggested last year that the state should take a serious look at bike path spurs or protected bike lanes as ways to connect people to last mile diversion from bus routes, to allow the buses to do what they do best, and other modes to pick up the slack. 

RIPTA and RIDOT should put concerted effort into this on all statewide routes. Focusing on these types of route changes can help grow ridership on a small budget, as even fairly car-centric places like Houston have shown.

8. Put in 20 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes: Providence has its first protected bike lane, but it's kind of lame and incomplete.

The Fountain Street protected bike lane only goes in one direction, and doesn't even complete the connection between Empire and Dorrance (the last section drops cyclists back into turning lanes for cars). Cyclists have reported via Twitter that drivers frequently park in the bike lane instead of adjacent to it, as they're supposed to. My observation has been that this is a rare occurrence, but as with private properties not clearing snow, it takes just one person on a street to mess up the entire protected bike lane (the city can fix this problem by putting in bollards).

Fountain Street a good start, but follow-up needed to create a

network that's more than just a photo op.
Mayor Jorge Elorza and his Planning Dept. deserve some thanks and credit for what's been done on Fountain Street, but 2017 needs to be the year when the city puts some elbow grease into making a complete network of protected bike lanes for the whole city. These projects aren't really useful unless they make full connections from place to place. We don't have time to unveil a few blocks at a time, if we're going to get ahead of climate change. 

And in any case, protected bike lanes are one of the best ways the city can ultimately save money. One of the mayor's laudable achievements has been using RIPTA passes to connect more high school students who were previously excluded from the school bus radius of 3 miles. But in the Netherlands, bike facilities are quality enough that even in rural areas, the vast majority students bike to school; school buses are a rarity mainly used for students with physical disabilities that require transport. In the case of the RIPTA pass program, there's at least the benefit that Providence is giving to the general transit system, and thus helping to sustain a service that supports the entire community's mobility. But the school district should especially be looking to lower its output on yellow school buses. The best way to do this would be making biking an option. The school budget currently allocates $15 million to transportation (see page 31). An estimate of the RIPTA bus pass program from 2015 suggests that only a very small part of that budget is high school students using RIPTA passes. 

Because we're a culture that is highly automotive, many adults respond to my focus on this budgeting issue as if I'm suggesting austerity for Providence students. But on the contrary, the school district could be clever about using cash-out options to share its savings directly with students. Busing and bus passes could remain a free service for students within the prescribed boundaries, but students who bike or walk to school could receive a portion of the district's savings back to them as an incentive. This is the same thing that universal healthcare services do in other countries when they pay patients to exercise or quit smoking-- the school district would be making a universal benefit more cost-effective by incentivizing better use within the program. And any additional money the school district saves should be put directly back into improved programs and facilities for students. There's a reason why the top biking countries also happen to be the most social democratic and best for children.

7. Finish Bike-Share, and Make Sure It Includes the South Side: No bike-share yet. :-/

6. Pass a Parking Tax, and Lower Property Taxes with It: 

During budget talks in April, a parking lot tax was proposed as one source of revenue the city could consider. No action was taken. The city did not raise property tax rates, but did effectively raise property taxes (due to higher assessments of value on city properties). It also gave out a regressive changes to the car tax.

Creating a parking lot tax has some hurdles, as the report said at the time. The Statehouse would likely have to give permission to the city to collect a parking lot tax. It's time for the city to ask for such permission.

A parking lot tax is a kind of "land value tax" that only affects the lowest-use (parking lots) differently than other properties. 




A parking lot tax would be progressive because it would tend to charge property speculators like Paolino Properties for land that's being held as commuter parking, while using that revenue to lower taxes on businesses and residents that contribute far more to the city. Local reporting has tended to pit suburban residents against city ones (The Projo created this inaccurate title for my letter on the issue, for instance). More careful reporting has studied the fact that commuter pay parking tends to be an inelastic, uncompetitive market that is already priced as high as it can go, meaning that it would be land speculators, not commuters who would likely be forced to swallow the costs.


The firm Urban 3 has some great visuals about how per-acre value in cities, and points out in numerous lectures on the subject that low income residents tend to subsidize big box stores because of the structure of local property taxes around the country. A parking lot tax could be used to reduce Providence's higher rate of taxation on apartments without raising taxes on "owner occupant" properties, which is a win-win in my book.

5. Elongate Car-Free Festivals on Thayer Street. 


I reached out to @ThayerStreetPVD, the organization that manages the pedestrianized festivals that occasionally happen on Thayer Street. As of printing, I have not heard back, but I will update this report if I do.


It hasn't been a great year for Thayer Street.


This year, Brown University tore down seven multifamily houses to create a new surface parking lot on Brook Street. The lot was hyped as being a great new achievement for business, but rarely gets more than a few cars parked in it. 

Thayer Street business Avon Theater ceased its incessant complaining about parking meters supposedly chasing customers away after Transport Providence rallied the public on Twitter and to Avon's facebook page. The Providence Journal reported that one meter on Thayer Street remains the city's busiest, bringing in in excess of $37,000, casting doubt on the notion that people are not parking because of the meters. Meanwhile, the "frequent" 1 bus that runs through Thayer Street only comes every 18 minutes, and Thayer Street has no bike infrastructure to or from it. Transport Providence supports the city choosing to honor its promise to share meter revenue with local businesses-- something Mayor Elorza promised but did not follow through on--but would like to see Thayer and other shopping districts focus on alternatives to driving instead of tearing down pieces of the neighborhood for more parking lots.


4. The Pedestrian Bridge-- Where Is It? RIDOT does appear poised to complete the pedestrian bridge. 



Although the choice to keep the piers in place after I-195 was removed made the pedestrian bridge cost-neutral to complete, RIDOT had to be dragged kicking and screaming to complete this project. As part of the negotiations, community members near Gano Street agreed to changes to pedestrian improvements they wanted in order to cut costs. I didn't actually favor some of the plans for Gano St. to begin with: the proposed straightening of the "Gano curve" sounds to me like something that would worsen, rather than improve safety; the added parking lots were a bad idea; and even the Blackstone Bikeway Path section 1A was ten times as expensive per mile as it would be if it had been completed as a network of protected bike lanes. But I find the idea that RIDOT playing hardball with the local improvements budget kind of distasteful considering that the agency has chosen to push the rebuild of the 6/1o Connector and a widening of I-95 (see below). 


I am hoping as part of the budget changes that the parking lots will be part of what is dropped. 

3. Pass Rhodeworks. 
Done! Having trucks pay more towards highway upkeep-- which on a vehicle-to-vehicle basis, contribute 10,000 times as much damage as cars--makes a lot of sense, and Rhode Island should be happy that Rhodeworks passed.


As with #4, I have to reiterate that I have deep concerns about RIDOT's spending priorities, however. The agency's budgeting would be a lot easier to justify if it weren't rebuilding the 6/10 Connector, and planning an expansion of I-95.



2. Pee Alley: The pee alley (technically called "Arcade Street", according to Google Maps, though I also like to call it by the name suggested by its sign: "Not a Public Way") along the side of the Superman Building remains fenced in, which means it's no longer covered in pee, but is still failing to be the great walkable space it should become. Hopefully someone will do something about the many cool underused alley spaces in the city soon. It's really a shame not to be able to use this alley to cross from Westminster to Kennedy Plaza, when it could be like this:





As Ian Donnis noted last year when the Resolution post made his "Things to Know" list, the lack of publicly available, clean bathrooms is a real downside of downtown Providence. RIPTA facilities remain questionable, and aren't open during the evening. Perhaps City Hall's restrooms could get extended hours?
1. 6/10 Connector: While nothing is built yet, the 6/10 Connector is imminently to be rebuilt as a parkway, an iteration that isn't as bad as it could be. This is nonetheless disappointing news that earned Providence a nomination to Streetsblog's national contest for "Worst of the Year, 2016" (This happened organically, too-- I didn't ask Streetsblog to do it).


There are a bunch of projects that community members can continue to be active on related to the 6/10 Connector:

The Tobey Street ramp is being removed and the new plan has a proposed connection for local traffic there between the West Side and Olneyville. Transport Providence has called for this new bridge to be car-free, and for the city to consider abandonment of parts of Ridge Street to allow additional pedestrian space and mixed-income housing development (Two members of Providence's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission have confirmed that this proposal is being considered by the BPAC, per requests from Councilman Bryan Principe and DPW).

Transport Providence also proposes that the Dean Street ramp above DePasquale Square be removed entirely, and not replaced (the current proposal is to remove it, but replace it with a smaller-footprint ramp). The ramps on 6/10 are unnecessarily close together, and actually undermine the effectiveness of the route (this article also called for RIDOT to drop plans to widen I-95, a proposal that would worsen safety and traffic despite RIDOT's insistence to the contrary).

The crossings that are being rebuilt across the 6/10 Connector need stronger bike and pedestrian facilities. Pictures floated by Providence Planning during its public sessions were not impressive, and need work. 

Transport Providence has been covering the (lack of) response the Raimondo administration has directed to surfaced tweets by RIDOT Director Peter Alviti expressing a number of politically upsetting and/or rude thoughts about fossil fuels and presidential erections. The 6/10 Connector was when Alviti put his authoritarian management style on display for the whole state, and has not left our blog impressed with his work. We continue to call on the governor to address the controversy and look for stronger leadership for RIDOT that shows commitment to the community planning process and climate change mitigation.

Soon we will compile a list of new resolutions for 2017. Please stay tuned!

~~~~



RIDOT Director Makes Twitter Account Private Following Tweet Scandal

Following a story posted on Transport Providence, Director Alviti first deleted some of the tweets, then moved to make his account private. 

While Alviti is entitled to private social media if he chooses, up until the Transport Providence article ran, his Twitter account was an active location for posts about RIDOT affairs. The choice to make the account private removes the DOT's past statements from public scrutiny, with no comment.

Many of Alviti's tweets should cause alarm to Rhode Islanders, but it's important to be clear why. Alviti's tweet-rant about President Obama that included several tweets that asserted the lack of sexual prowess of Obama and Obama surrogates in various degrees of visual specificity were embarrassing and should be apologized for. The tweets also included several retweets of "alt-right" figure Ann Coulter.

Even more concerning, however, were a series of tweets outlining Alviti's view that the United States should ignore scientific consensus and drill more oil from the ground, while not pursuing renewable energy. As Gov. Raimondo has positioned herself to take credit for the private development of off-shore wind projects (projects whose permitting began before she was governor), her larger impact in the realm of energy and transportation has been to push fossil fuel expansion. Alviti's tweets showed up as new evidence on a growing pile of other infractions of an administrative bias against taking strong (rather than symbolic) action on climate change.


The move to make the Twitter account private, while not commenting on these issues, breaks the public trust. Alviti should have clarified these statements: Does he still support them? What impact do they have on his views about road construction? Instead, he sought to limit public availability of the tweets, which he had left in place until that time, lest they be used to hold the DOT and Raimondo Administration accountable.

And so Transport Providence will publish the entirety of the account.










Alviti's tenure at RIDOT has seen the agency grab for greater and greater power to make unilateral decisions about the state's future. It's time for RIDOT's top official to be accountable to the public, and answer what his views are on climate science and RIDOT's role in fighting climate change.

~~~~

The Car Tax vs. the RIPTA Tax


The attitude of public officials towards transportation spending could not be worse.

Recently, Speaker of the Rhode Island House Nicolas Mattiello, who narrowly won reelection in his western Cranston district, promised as a top priority to repeal the Rhode Island car tax.

Support for repealing the car tax has had a mixed political appeal: some progressives have argued that the tax is regressive. I have argued on many occasions that it is not, and pointed out the regressive nature of some attempts to modify car taxes at the state or local level. Essentially, driving (and the necessary infrastructure that goes with it) is expensive, and political promises to pretend that that is not the case are about subsidizing drivers. But the costs don't go away, so they just are then passed on to other taxpayers. While lower-middle class people (and some low-income people) may feel the squeeze from the car tax, the proportion of very poor, disabled, elderly, and very young people who do not drive is greater than those who do. Cutting the car tax turns out to be a great way of making taxes more regressive.

Robert Amman, a Rhode Island resident who wrote to the Projo, summarized the bait-and-switch nature of the tax change. Amman seems to be more inclined to support lowering the car tax than I would be, but he's right-on about what will happen if the tax is lowered:
The money lost by eliminating the tax will have to come from somewhere, as state government has come to rely on the income stream. And the state has done little to nothing to cut expenses. What will happen is that the cities and towns which rely heavily on income from the car tax will be left with no choice but to raise local property taxes to replace it.
The attitude of public officials towards charging drivers a user cost for their vehicles' impact on roads is very different than the indifference shown to RIPTA users, who recently received what one advocate called a "stay of execution" for fare increases. The cuts were first proposed as part of Governor Gina Raimondo's budget earlier this year. It's unclear if fare increases will be prevented by a change in the budget going forward.

In full disclosure, I've written on the fare issue a few times, and in each case have emphasized that I think RIPTA is between a rock and a hard  place on the fare issue. While the design of many routes forces RIPTA to waste valuable worker time and vehicle wear going to far-flung suburban stripmalls, core service is not as frequent or reliable as it should be. Asking the agency to give free rides to some time-rich but money-poor individuals ignores the bigger problem of agency failures for time-poor but money-poor riders. If the fares are kept free, it should be the state that pays. RIPTA should not re-orient its internal spending in a way that could cut service.

from RI Future

But when you put the two issues side by side, it really shows the way that state officials think. While RIPTA use reduces traffic congestion, road wear, and pollution, driving (and the expanded roads that go with our addiction to it) cost taxpayers more money. Yet who pays? And who does not?

Meanwhile, Rhode Island Department of Transportation proposes adding complication and expense the I-95 "Viaduct", a section of road that ought probably eventually be removed entirely from Providence's downtown. The new expansion proposal stands alongside a deal made between state and Providence officials to rebuild the 6/10 Connector highway as a "parkway" which maintains much of the expense that might have been spared on the project if it had been built as the boulevard outside engineering experts proposed. Drivers hurting from car taxes should ask why state DOTs are so inclined to increase the number of financial liabilities they have while they complain that they do not have money to take care of what's already on their plates.

However we slice it, Rhode Island politicians are playing a dangerous game: the state continues to increase its costs on projects that out outdated, but undercuts the social safety net for the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, state officials are offering "free lunch" to drivers in the hopes that they'll look the other way on the ponzi scheme this financing plan really is.

~~~~


Providence's Race to Be Cleveland



Sounds like plans by Governor Raimondo and parking-lot pimp Joe Paolino to move Kennedy Plaza to Allen's Avenue. From Streetsblog:


There’s a big debate happening in Cleveland right now about where buses fit in the city’s newly redesigned Public Square. Mayor Frank Jackson and his local media mouthpiece, the Plain Dealer editorial board, have come down firmly on the side of booting buses off the square, even though it’s the hub for the regional bus system, with about 20,000 transfers daily. 
The redesign has disrupted bus route patterns, slowing down transit trips and making connections much less convenient for bus riders. The bus reroutes also cost the regional transit agency millions of dollars a year, which threatens service throughout the transit system. 
Transit advocates have charged that the mayor’s decision is all about pleasing affluent visitors who don’t want to rub elbows with transit riders when they come to the new park. The mayor’s office has countered by saying that pedestrian safety is the paramount concern — and also, somehow, that allowing buses on the square elevates the threat of terrorism.
Providence, the Cleveland of New England? Is that what we're going for?

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RIDOT to Reduce Public Feedback on Projects?





The libertarian-aligned Coalition Radio deserves credit for breaking this story to the public. From Coalition's summary of the proposal, RIDOT's proposal would:
A. Reduce the length of notice required to a public hearing to 10 days. 
B. Eliminate requirement for Municipalities [sic] to hold public hearings on projects intended for TIP. 
C. Reducing the required public review and comment period to 30 days.
While RIDOT has promised public feedback processes in the past, it has often reneged. The proposal to reduce public input on projects puts RIDOT's leadership even more squarely in place to behave like the all-powerful transportation czars of the past, like Robert Moses.

You can check out more details on this at Coalition Radio's site.

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Gov. Raimondo Must Address Alviti's Public Statements

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti again embarrasses his agency and the state, and Transport Providence is asking Governor Raimondo to take firm and unequivocal action to address the issue.

Attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole, Governor Gina Raimondo's administration has been attempting post-2016 election to present its policies as more friendly to progressives. The governor, who won office with just 40% of the vote in 2014, faces significant disillusionment for her role in pushing natural gas expansion and an expensive an environmentally-unsound highway-rebuild along the 6/10 Connector corridor when a boulevard option had shown broad community and expert support.

The governor is going to have to work a bit harder, and perhaps consider some personnel changes.

Amidst growing concern over the tone of political discourse this election season, tweets by RIDOT Director Peter Alviti commenting on the sexual function of the President of the United States and First Lady have surfaced. The comments made during the 2012 debates question the erectile function of President Barack Obama.


Progressive leaders like Rep. Aaron Regunberg show the power
of anti-Trump organizing in Rhode Island, a state whose
Democratic primary voters went for Bernie Sanders, and whose
general electorate went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.

Gov. Raimondo is going to have to demonstrate faith to the base
that wants stronger action on issues like climate change.
These tweets about the President and First Lady’s sex life, which appear on the same account Alviti uses to announce RIDOT accomplishments, are a window into the RIDOT director's mind. They are blatantly inappropriate and break all the normal rules not just for public comments of a political appointee, but also those expected of someone who oversees many male and female employees at RIDOT. If what was said in these tweets was said at a meeting, the state would face a serious sexual harassment suit. As it stands, any employee at RIDOT could easily point to these tweets as evidence of a hostile working environment, one which the governor has apparently taken little interest in preventing during her hiring process.

Adding insult to injury in this case is the vocal role that Governor Raimondo took in publicly shaming her chief-of-staff, Brett Smiley for much milder comments about Donald Trump. While many Rhode Islanders fear the overtly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic tone that the president-elect has taken, the governor has shown more interest in reining in officials who challenge that conduct than those officials whose behavior seems closer to it.

Not all of Alviti's tweets are so overtly inappropriate, but others in the account should cause consternation for Rhode Islanders, who broadly support strong action on climate change.


Unlike the Viagra tweets, I think that Alviti was well within accepted norms to state his opinion on environmental issues. But for many community members who already feel slighted by Alviti’s handling of the 6/10 Connector project, these tweets offer evidence of an anti-environmental trend at RIDOT that the governor has coddled.

Perhaps the most ironic tweet of this series, to me, was the one highlighting ‘private job creation’ as the central way to grow the economy. Alviti has made his career by overseeing one of the most invasive arms of big government. In October, when Alviti and Raimondo jointly shut down the bipartisan 6/10 Connector boulevard proposal, the governor highlighted her "jobs, jobs, jobs" focus as her "mantra" and a major part of why she favored moving forward quickly on the work. Alviti's agency rejected the advise of many national experts in the field of engineering who proposed that the boulevard was better for commuters and the city. And he did so at greater expense to taxpayers than the boulevard would have cost.

These misogynistic and anti-environment tweets are just the most recent volley in a series of missteps that have shown Alviti is the wrong person to head the DOT. Transport Providence calls on the governor to address this issue immediately. Removing the tweets is not enough (we have them backed up anyway). These tweets reveal a pattern of thought at RIDOT which is dangerous to the future of Rhode Island, and which must be addressed more thoroughly by the governor.

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