opinion Newport Rhode Island

I still get giddy every time I hop on the bus and ride from my home in Pawtucket to downtown Providence. I smile a big goofy smile, snap a selfie and text friends like I’m at a concert. I’m lucky to live right on the R-line, the most used (and only free) bus line in the whole state.

I understand it’s weird to be so excited about the bus, but I’m here to say it shouldn’t be. Good public transportation is awesome. It could (and should) be a thing Rhode Island is known for.

Anyone who’s traveled to London, Tokyo or New York knows that cities with great public transportation are more fun. People from all walks of life use public transit to get to work, a restaurant or a friend’s house. Commuters, party-goers, seniors, students all rub elbows as they pump life through their communities.

Rhode Island doesn’t have this kind of public transit system–yet. Instead, we move people around by overcrowded roads, crumbling bridges and insufficient parking. Those of us who don’t drive are treated as an afterthought.

While I love the bus, I understand that many view RIPTA as a last resort, something you have to do if you don’t have other options. But I want that to change. We have a vision for a truly public transit system that will make Rhode Island a great place to live, work and play.

It started a few years ago when community members came together to create the Transit Forward RI master plan. This sets the stage for a world-class, statewide public transportation system complete with frequent buses, light rail and dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding transportation hubs. And it outlines how we get there by 2040.

Last year, we began implementation. We made the R-line totally freeWe opened a new, state-of-the-art transit hub. And we launched the state’s first transit-oriented development zone, where hundreds of new housing units will soon offer homes in walking distance of restaurants, businesses and public transit.

To get to where we need to be, we need to keep thinking big. We talk about housing prices, road infrastructure and economic development as if they’re separate issues. But they’re not: it’s all tied together, and it’s all tied in to how we get around.

We know housing prices are a huge challenge: we need to build homes that people can afford, in a way that complements our neighborhoods. One way to do this is through more transit-oriented development where dense, walkable, mixed-use development is planned around transit hubs. We’re already doing this in Pawtucket and Central Falls.

Our roads and bridges are consistently ranked among the worst in the nation. Although we live in the second densest state, most people drive everywhere. That puts a lot of wear on our roads and makes repairs costly. A great public transit system would take cars off the roads, meaning reduced traffic and fewer potholes.

Economic development is about more than offering companies tax breaks to relocate to Rhode Island. Companies are looking to set up shop in vibrant cities where talent wants to live. And the growing pool of start-ups, remote workers, nondrivers and retirees are seeking fun places where they can get around easily.

We know what we have to do, and we’ve taken some huge steps forward. This year we can do more by making RIPTA free for everyone, funding the transit master plan, and bringing transit-oriented development statewide.

We’re on the road to awesome. With continued vision and commitment, we can all get excited about public transit. Let’s leave traffic in the rearview mirror.