City center owners block public toilets, then officials point fingers – ecoRI News
By FRANK CARINI
The contempt that the powerful landlords of downtown Providence have for the homeless, the underprivileged, the disabled and the working class could not be more evident. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority restrooms at Kennedy Plaza remain closed because private interests believe this public space is theirs. They have spent the last few years forcing elected officials and state agencies they control to sweep what they perceive to be human trash from the plaza into the dark recesses of downtown.
Shuttered bathrooms are homeowners’ latest power play. He has the usual suspects telling why public facilities remain closed.
The coronavirus initially provided excellent cover for the power movement, but that veil was lifted when the RIPTA toilets in Newport and Pawtucket and the Amtrak station facilities less than a mile away reopened.
A letter sent to RIPTA last summer by public health officials urging the agency to reopen the bathrooms at Kennedy Plaza did not influence puppeteers downtown.
Now their strings have officials shrugging their shoulders and pointing fingers in all directions, including the police.
This week, RIPTA, along with the chairman of the Amalgamated Transit Union, issued a press release to respond to the growing number of calls for the reopening of public washrooms in the Kennedy Plaza transit building. They first “noted that the Authority is responsible for the application of a current federal mandate requiring face coverings on its vehicles and properties”.
Wait, why do buses and buildings have to wear masks?
The finger pointing begins in the second paragraph. RIPTA would like you to know that it would like to create “outdoor public access to the existing washrooms and add an employee-only washroom inside the building”, but the city is not playing ball.
“[T]The city said it had other plans for Kennedy Plaza and hired a consultant to look at other uses of the building and surrounding property that RIPTA is leasing to the city, ”according to the June 8 press release.
RIPTA said it was unable to execute its plan to reopen the bathrooms due to “uncertainty over RIPTA’s future presence at Kennedy Plaza”.
RIPTA maintains exclusive use of the terminal and space in exchange for $ 1 per year under a 30-year lease that runs until 2032, according to a recent history of the Providence Journal.
Its CEO is waiting for downtown overlords to approve the unlocking of public toilets. In the meantime, RIPTA said it remains committed to continuing to work on a solution with the city and all interested partners.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office told the Providence Journal that the city “recognizes this is a serious community health issue and has done everything possible to have RIPTA reopen the washrooms at Kennedy Plaza to the public.” .
He also said the city was “committed to working with all parties concerned to ensure that transit users and others passing through downtown Providence have access to safe and sanitary facilities.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Dan McKee said the governor was actively working to reach a resolution. Translation: He too is waiting to be told what to do by those behind the scenes.
McKee also introduced another culprit in the Saga of Some Locked Doors: financial constraints.
“It’s all about the budget,” McKee said WPRI. “I was told it would cost around $ 1 million to do it.”
There was money available, however, to install portable toilets at Kennedy Plaza. And that’s where you point the finger at the people the downtown brokers want out of their sight.
The vandalism and needles necessitated the removal of transportable toilets, according to RIPTA and public officials. The CEO of RIPTA and the president of the union called for “a better police presence in the square to help prevent any dangerous activity that could take place inside and outside the building”. They also noted that “an increase in policing would also help RIPTA enforce the current federal mandate which, according to CDC guidelines, requires face coverings when using the nation’s transportation network.”
The Kennedy Plaza sweep began in earnest five years ago, when one of the downtown owners backed a city ordinance that would ban beggars from asking people in cars for money. There was talk of moving the Kennedy Plaza bus stops to Allens Avenue, a busy truck route covered in industrial pollution. This relentless effort to essentially privatize public space has accelerated since then.
Three plans to redesign the Kennedy Plaza have been proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and RIPTA. They all involved reducing or removing bus stops on Kennedy Plaza and moving them to the outskirts of downtown.
The plans are still hailed as improving public transit, but even a cursory examination of the proposals shows that this is a lie. Relocating bus stops to remote locations with little shelter and no toilets is not an improvement. Requiring additional transfers is impractical. Ignoring the needs of people with disabilities is no progress.
Last November, the CEO of RIPTA, the director of RIDOT, the mayor of Providence and the former governor now in Washington, DC, put on a show for their masters.
During an 18-minute online pep talk, where no questions were allowed and legitimate concerns about the multi-hub bus system were ignored, the puppets waved pom poms.
“In my mind, this project, and the fact that we are all holding hands to announce that we are moving forward to make it a reality, means that together we are taking a big step towards a more resilient, connected and connected Rhode Island. sustainable. said Gina Raimondo.
It’s such a wonderful plan that Grow Smart Rhode Island and the South Providence Neighborhood Association have filed a federal lawsuit against the state for the project, alleging it is discriminatory.
This is why people who actually use public transport said that the dispersal of the bus facility from the city center to remote hubs would impact riders who are disproportionately people of color and low income. That’s why they called the idea a flawed plan and claimed the process largely ignored those who would be most affected.
Why should we believe that a bunch of elected officials and bureaucrats have created a more resilient, connected, and sustainable transit plan when they can’t even find the key to opening the washroom?
Frank Carini is the editor-in-chief of ecoRI News.