The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) will welcome passengers back to the newly-renovated Kennedy Plaza transit hub on Saturday, January 17, officials announced Tuesday.
The plaza has been closed since the summer as RIPTA and the City of Providence worked to enhance the safety and aesthetics of the plaza located in front of Providence City Hall. The enhancements – which include new lighting, improved signage and trees – will make it safer and easier for passengers to make their bus connections while also creating a pedestrian-friendly plaza in downtown Providence.
RIPTA staff will be reaching out to riders and distributing information on the new bus stop locations between now and the January reopening.
While some earlier projections had targeted late fall for the plaza reopening, the work took longer than initially expected and there were also some design modifications made during the process.
“When passengers and pedestrians see the new plaza, we think that they’ll feel it was worth the wait,” said Barbara Polichetti, Director of Public Affairs for RIPTA. “What once was a congested traffic area is now a plaza with trees, easy-to-read signs, and plenty of room for bus passengers and pedestrians alike,” she said. “We really appreciate the patience of our riders, the public and surrounding businesses.”
Initial funding for the project came from approximately $1.7 million in bond money that the City of Providence had for its downtown circulator plan, plus an estimated $700,000 from a federal “Bus Livability” grant obtained by RIPTA.
It has been more than a decade since major changes have been made to Kennedy Plaza, and the impetus for the current project came in part from the City and other downtown partners’ vision for the greater Kennedy Plaza area.
Under Mayor Angel Taveras’ leadership, the city wanted to make the plaza more appealing and also capitalize on its key location in the heart of Providence, adjacent to City Hall and Burnside Park.
“The transformation of Kennedy Plaza into a revitalized public square will benefit all those who visit, live and work in our city,” said Mayor Taveras. “The City of Providence sees this new, public space as essential to creating a more vibrant city, and we look forward to welcoming back RIPTA riders in the new year.”
The plaza improvements involved removing two narrow bus lanes and repaving the area as a contiguous pedestrian space, installing new lighting and new bus shelters and planting Honey Locust and Valley Forge American Elm trees.
New passenger amenities include 13 three-sided shelters which will better shield waiting riders from inclement weather. Large, lighted “lollipop” signs will make it easy for passengers to find their bus stops and they will be augmented by other signs and route maps.
There is upgraded security with the reconfiguration of the network of cameras that RIPTA maintains in the area. The Authority will also improve maintenance of the busy location and has plans to extend the hours of its customer service center there.
Other enhancements for RIPTA riders will include the installation of automated ticket vending machines and the use of technology to track buses in real time so that passengers will be able to see the actual arrival and departure times posted on digital boards at the plaza.
Don Rhodes, volunteer president of the RIPTA Riders Alliance and a passenger for more than 25 years, said that the group was disappointed by the delayed opening, but “ we understand the need to be sure that the project is completed correctly, especially in regard to passenger shelters.”
Polichetti noted that with RIPTA providing more than 20 million passenger trips statewide last year, the plaza had become crowded and the new design gives riders more room and makes using the transit hub an overall better experience.
“We’re very excited for our passengers,” Polichetti said. “It will be easier for them to find their bus stops and they will have more room on a safe pedestrian plaza. “We’re also looking forward to bringing them more improvements in the state’s transit infrastructure in the future, particularly now that voters have approved a $35 million bond which will allow us to work on other locations.”