Street Stories: Dexter Vincent

Name, age, any personal identities you feel like sharing, neighborhood where you live, who you live with/care for, school you go to, type of work you do or hope to do. 

My name is Dexter Vincent, I am 17 years old. I live with my mom, my step-dad, our good friend Kevin, and from time to time with a boarder in our home in Elmwood. I am a rising senior at Classical High School, and I recently became the co-leader of the Leadership Team at the Providence Student Union. I hope to go to school for urban planning and/or architecture so I can give back to my hometown.

How do you typically travel around Providence? Is that working for you? How does it affect your life, your job, your family? 

I typically traverse Providence through a mix of walking and taking the bus. During the school year this arrangement was very easy since all PPSD students receive free bus passes, but it has become more difficult lately as that benefit does not extend into the summer. Public transportation is a cheap and easy option for me, but it’s not the most reliable and doesn’t go everywhere I need it to, so I walk a lot. Walking provides me exercise, time to decompress, and chance encounters with friends and acquaintances, so I don’t mind it at all. The bus frequency and hub-and-spoke layout of RIPTA does make all of my trips longer and less convenient, but most of the time it’s a challenge I can work around.

How would you ideally like to get around Providence and what would need to happen to make that a reality?

I’ve recently begun to make biking around my neighborhood a regular practice, but I still mainly commute by foot/bus. The Broad Street bike lane is wonderful, and the extensions such as the one on Pine Street are such great compliments to the system, but there are still huge lulls around the city. Large portions of the city feel completely severed from others by roads such as Elmwood Avenue. The high speed, high intensity traffic makes it stressful to approach, so it acts as an untravellable moat between each side. I would bike more if there was a fuller network of bike lanes and traffic-calmed streets instead of a patchwork interrupted by stroads and urban highways. Until it becomes safer, I’m content with a longer commute.

Do you feel safe when traveling around Providence? Where do you feel safe, and where do you not? 

I have lived here long enough to know which paths are most safe and comfortable, but sometimes hostile barriers are unavoidable on my way from point A to point B. While on foot, I find a direct correlation between sparsity of tree cover, road width, and vehicle speed with unsafe avenues I try to avoid. Elmwood Avenue and North Main Street are two of the worst offenders. Both are state-owned roads which have multiple lanes of automobile traffic in each direction, infrequent and hostile pedestrian crossings, and few barriers between highway-speed traffic and pedestrians. On the other hand, the narrow, tree-lined neighborhood streets of the West End or Fox Point always feel inviting. Furthermore, the architectural beauty and sense of vibrance that accompany such compact, traditionally scaled places makes the walking experience transcend from merely safe and comfortable to exciting and attractive.

How could the City or RIPTA improve your experience getting around?

In spite of the best efforts of the state to starve RIPTA for funding, it has maintained a reasonably effective bus network. However, only 3% of Rhode Islanders use public transit as their primary mode and most of the state has no access to high frequency transit. If RIPTA were given the proper funds, it could implement new Bus Rapid Transit or Light-Rail lines throughout the city and suburbs, it could increase frequencies and dependability, and add new radial or cross-town lines to connect centers underserved by the hub and spoke model. Improved transit service will naturally attract new transit oriented development (TOD). The city should not only promote TOD, but guide the development so it offers ample affordable housing, efficient land use, green space, and pleasant architecture. The Providence city government can also supplement RIPTA by completing the Great Streets initiative and improving pedestrian infrastructure. My dream is that one day the city and state will remove (not cap) I-95 downtown, and on the recovered land build a Commonwealth Ave-style park, with a museum and mixed use development.

What do you think is the best way to attract more people to ride RIPTA? 

Frequency and reliability are the most important elements of a transit network. Frequency is freedom; it will allow a rider to leave the house and wait no more than 5 or 10 minutes to board their bus. Frequency solves issues with bus capacity and reduces wait times for transfers. Although new routes are very important to reach more remote areas and connect underserved hubs, those new routes will not perform their intended function unless they are frequent and reliable.

What are your favorite parts of riding RIPTA or the RIde? What are the biggest challenges?

My favorite part of riding RIPTA is the free school-year service. I also love the R for the same reason. The infrequent service and incomplete network makes it very challenging to reach my destination without transferring, waiting, or walking a long distance. These delays make a 30 minute trip into an hour-long trip. I think that better service is always better than cheaper service, but if the service will be mediocre then it might as well be cheap too.

When did you start riding a bike to get around? What made you decide? 

I’ve always been reluctant to bike around Providence because it feels a bit dangerous, but since my school-year RIPTA access has ended, I’ve needed a cheaper form of transportation. Biking is fun, good for me, and a lot quicker than I had realized. I can get to a lot of places more conveniently on my bike than on the bus because I don’t have to transfer or wait anymore. The only other downside is that biking in this sweltering weather isn’t the most comfortable, and I’m not necessarily the most presentable by the time I reach my destination.

What do you think most contributes to a walkable environment? Where do you find that in Providence, and where do you not?

Walkability requires safety, comfort, and proximity to desirable destinations. I think that the most walkable places have vegetation and a tree canopy to regulate heat and provide adornment, well arranged and intricate architecture to provide interest and beauty, and narrow streets with wide sidewalks and obstacles to reduce vehicle speeds. Although walkable places require good destinations, attractive walking environments are attractive destinations in and of themselves. For example, Benefit Street, which has only a little commercial activity, attracts most on account of its attractiveness as a walking environment. On the flip side, aforementioned Elmwood Avenue and North Main Street (above Smith Street) are horrible environments for walking, mostly because they are great environments for driving.

How can Providence improve accessibility for people of all ages and abilities? 

Providence should reduce the danger on all of our streets posed by automobile traffic to improve accessibility for all. Specifically, this means installing more speed bumps, planters, bollards, etc. Fortunately, I find that improvements for the most vulnerable tend to also aid everyone. For example, curb cuts, meant initially for wheelchair users, make walking more convenient for parents pushing strollers and bikers using the sidewalks on a busy street. Likewise, streets with traffic calming measures intended to protect children, the elderly, and the disabled from oncoming traffic, also reduce noise from vehicles for nearby residents and facilitate biking and walking for the whole.