Robert Whitcomb: Transportation and other news

Excerpted from the Sept. 9 Digital Diary column in GoLocalProv.

Terrific transportation improvements in Boston in the last 20 years because of the Big Dig and the creation of the South Station intermodal transportation complex have helped make Greater Boston  richer. A key element has been the  expansion and uniting of train and bus service at South Station. (Linking  that facility with North Station via a direct MBTA train line would help expand the progress.)

Yes, these projects are expensive, but, as with the improvements in subway service in New York under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, the economic benefits of more efficient and pleasant transportation  are impressive.

Thus kudos to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation for working to create a sort of mini-version of the South Station public-transportation center in and around Providence’s Amtrak/MBTA station. The few bad things that happened with the revival of much of downtown Providence starting in the ‘80s included moving the train station up the hill to across from the State House and what was then called the Bonanza Bus Terminal way north of downtown to a gritty, windswept, pedestrian-unfriendly area next to Route 95. Stupid moves for a city that wants to be walkable.

Well, the train station is stuck  where it is but building a bus station complex right next to it would make public transportation a lot easier in Providence, which would boost its economy and quality of life. That a lot of younger adults avoid driving and the number of old people who  can’t or won’t drive is rapidly increasing, mean that the numbers who want to use public transportation can only swell.

As part of all this, there should be very frequent nonstop RIPTA shuttle buses to and from the new intermodal center to Green Airport, barring a big expansion in MBTA train service there from the Providence  train station.

The RIDOT’s project will help pullmore businesses and shoppers to Providence from a large swath of southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut.

Full speed ahead on this project.


In other transportation news: My wife and I were on Block Island for a (bravely scheduled) wedding on Labor Day weekend, though not for as long as we had hoped. While we were able to take in a big outdoor pre-wedding picnic on a spectacular heath from which you can often see Montauk Point, we had to leave hours before the wedding, scheduled for late Sunday afternoon, because the ferry folks told us that the last  trip for the next few days would leave soon because of concerns about Post-Tropical Storm Hermine.  As it turned out, the trip, while a bit bouncy at the start as we moved out of the harbor,  was pleasant enough.

There were on board a few somewhat oafish morning beer drinkers – a tribe traditionally associated with Interstate Navigation Co.’s ferries, but fewer than I remember from our first trips on the service, way back in the late ‘70s.  None threw up.

The trip reminded us of how dependent islanders are on the weather: However high tech they are they are, they must obey Mother Nature more  than most people. While this can be inconvenient, it’s also edifying (teaching patience and respect for, and sometimes fear of, Mother Nature) and adds some drama to programmed lives.

September has the best weather of the year, except when it has the worst, during those rare but memorable visits from hurricanes.  By the way, there’s something exciting about the  sexy term “tropical storm’’ up here that gets people’s attention. Thus even though Hermine was a post-tropical storm as she dawdled south of New England in the first part of this week, the National Weather Service kept using the phrase “Tropical Storm Warning’’ for the New England coastal areas being affected.

That’s because after Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, became an extra-tropical storm some people ignored the warnings as she slammed into the Jersey Shore. So the NWS decided to keep the ominous if misleading word “tropical’’ this time around, though Hermine by any other name  (such as “gale’’) would be as windy.