On Friday, nearly 200 people, including Governor Raimondo and RIPTA Board Chair Wayne Kezirian joined Grow Smart RI at the RI Convention Center for “Next Stop: Making Transit Work for RI” — a forum to discuss ways to most effectively leverage the state’s transit system to benefit more Rhode Islanders, as well as the state’s economy and environment.

Among those in attendance included Newport City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson, Jr., as well as representatives from Bike Newport and the Newport Energy and Environment Commission.

One of the forum’s strong messages was that Rhode Island has the transit planning talent and dense development patterns to establish to a transit system that helps more residents reach as many destinations as possible, as quickly as possible, so that they have as many real choices and opportunities as possible.

“Our Forum’s goals were to increase awareness about the value of public transportation, see how we compare to other metros, identify the trade-offs required to design an improved system, and have a preliminary discussion towards a path forward,” said Scott Wolf, Executive Director of Grow Smart RI.

“I am committed to continuing to focus on infrastructure as a core piece,” stated Governor Gina Raimondo in her introductory remarks to a crowd of business, civic and elected leaders, transit riders, real estate developers, and community advocates. “It puts people to work and sets the table for economic growth. Talent goes to places with top infrastructure.”

In a keynote presentation, international public transit consultant Jarrett Walker shared observations about Rhode Island’s transit system, and made comparisons to metros comparable in size. He also offered preliminary recommendations for shaping a system that gets more Rhode Islanders — and visitors — where they need to go, when they need to get there.  He emphasized that: “Transit is a win-win. The more people use it, the better it gets.”

He indicated that Rhode Island could strengthen its transit system more easily by focusing on the usefulness of the system versus its appearance. “It’s all about making transit incrementally better, so more people actually use it,” stated Walker, who added that a sound transit system could generate enhanced  real estate value for Rhode Island.

An overly specialized and segregated transit system catering to the varied demands of elites and special interest groups for example, can be the “death of transit” — according to Walker.

The forum concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Virgin Pulse Institute President, Dr. Rajiv Kumar. Local officials provided updates on transit projects currently in the works: RIDOT’s Julie Oakley spoke about plans for the Providence Intermodal Transit Center at Amtrak Station, RIPTA’s Amy Pettine on the Downtown Transit Corridor, and the Pawtucket Foundation’s Jan Brodie on the Pawtucket/Central Falls Commuter Rail Station.

Additionally, forum attendees received a crash course on what an in-state rail service would offer. This emerging concept, once implemented, could improve mobility for thousands of Rhode Islanders, increase the efficiency of existing bus service, and create opportunities for residential and commercial development along its route — explained consultant Roger Leaf.

Grow Smart RI advocates sustainable economic growth that builds upon and strengthens Rhode Island’s quality of place. Expanding transportation choice has been one of the award winning nonprofit’s strategic priorities.

“It’s important for us to get this right. Transit is a central issue to the overall well-being of the state’s future,” added Wolf, who called for the State Government’s economic development leaders and business community to work in concerted effort, with RIPTA being empowered by state leaders to lead the way with innovative ideas.

For more information, visit www.GrowSmartRI.org and www.facebook.com/GrowSmartRI.

Information obtained in a press release from GrowSmartRI was used in this story.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).