Letters to the Editor 05.22

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    I enjoyed Mike Raia’s article on the proposed merger between RI PBS and The Public’s Radio.  It was not stated and is stunningly obvious to this reader — who has it as his Home Page — that the Eye itself  is already a valuable, indispensable player in the local media landscape. And it is what — a year? — in existence.

    I don’t know if the Eye will, by virtue of its excellence,  “push” local media — including the public media — Mike wrote about, to provide better and more timely local content.  In any case it certainly fills a void many of us simply assumed would be “permanent.”

    I also think it is worth acknowledging Steve Ahlquist as an important journalist in Rhode Island.  Steve is indeed a one-person show and as a totally independent entity ( he is available through Substack) , he is beholden to no one in what he covers and what he writes.  He too, fills a need — for local journalism that advocates and speaks truth to power.

    Thank you again to Deb and the fab team she has assembled.

    Rich Streitfeld
    Providence


    To the Editor,

    It’s no secret that the Washington Bridge closure has been an unmitigated disaster for residents of Providence. And we know things are slated to get worse before they get better. Recently Governor McKee released a statement that confirms our fears of a worst case scenario – a demolition and replacement project that will continue to impact citizens for years to come. In the face of this news and in response to the influx of traffic congestion on key arterial city roads, Mayor Smiley’s administration has begun work on a plan for how the city can endure the transportation impacts made by the bridge failure until the project’s completion in 2026. As part of this effort, Smiley has stated that the city will need to consider “a fair amount of infrastructure changes,” including the possibility of removing bike lanes on South Water.  And while we can’t fault the administration for exploring options in the face of a catastrophic infrastructure failure, the mere mention of removing bike lanes as a consideration exposes a secret that’s been hiding in plain sight. Smiley never intended to complete the much celebrated urban trail network and he finally has the opening he needs to sound the death knell for a once great vision for our city.

    Providence’s Great Street and Urban Trail Network was established in 2020 under former Mayor Jorge Alorza’s administration, touting a vision for safer streets, more inclusive and equitable transportation infrastructure, and connectivity between all city neighborhoods. And while Alorza left office before seeing the original plan through to completion, great strides were made in transportation infrastructure improvements throughout the city, including the installation of key trail networks on San Souci, South Water, etc etc.

    It seemed obvious that the next administration would finish what was started. So much so it was a key topic of the 2022 mayoral election. But if you’re surprised that Smiley has been nothing more than noncommittal to forging ahead with his predecessor’s plan, you shouldn’t be. Back during Smiley’s election campaign, he was the most vague of all of the candidates on how he planned to continue efforts of Elorza’s “Great Streets Initiative” – both touting support for continuation of the program as well as going as far as questioning whether the South Water Street is “in the right place,” alluding to its possible elimination.

    But hope came shortly after the election via the Federal Department of Transportation’s *Safe Streets and Roads for All* Grant program. The program provided $800 million in funding to 510 projects across the country – $27 million of which was awarded specifically to continue the infrastructure build-out of the urban trail network. Funds with the aim of bettering this great city, instead were held hostage by the Smiley administration for upwards of eight months without any communication surrounding their usage or allocation to on-going urban trail network initiatives.

    That October the latest blow to the trail’s forward progress came in the form of the administration’s response to October’s results of the Hope Street Temporary Trail project. The results indicated that the temporary trail provided the local community with a safer and more inclusive roadway with negligible impact to parking, currently public transportation and business. And despite a majority-level support for a more permanent addition to the community, Smiley responded with “There are more ways and more places where we can continue to build out and enhance our bike infrastructure.” and “Just, in my opinion, that’s not the best place for it.” So what’s next? The Mayor’s office stated that they have a study in the works that will evaluate the larger issue of bike lanes and traffic infrastructure.

    What makes these types of mayoral responses so frustrating is that Smiley seems to be keenly aware of the primary issue plaguing the success of the existing trail network – connectivity. Back in the Fall of 2022, Smiley noted that fragmentation of the existing network is leaving its users unsafe.  Why then, are we not considering new projects on arterial roadways such as Hope Street? Or considering removing existing infrastructure and contributing to the existing fragmentation problem?

    As Smiley “tirelessly” scours the city for all “the right place(s)” for new infrastructure, when can we anticipate some semblance of a plan to fill the existing gaps of Providence’s trail network? Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine we’ll have answers anytime soon. The administration has understandably shifted their attention and resources away from the program’s advancement while at the same time has labeled the program itself as a literal roadblock for mitigating the impacts of the Washington Bridge crisis.

    Jack Hartman


    To The Editor
    Why is there a long wait list for Providence students to get into charter
    school?
    Why do so many students come to school part time?
    Why do teacher dread the yearly lay off letter and morale is so low?
    Why don’t teachers have more voice in their teaching and curricula ?
    Who are the strangers coming into the central office with new educational
    plans so frequently?
    Why are so many students working so far below level?
    These are just a few of he questions that must be resolved for the
    Providence School system to become better.

    I would like to discuss what I think is the most critical issue—-that of
    attendance. Obviously, if schools are safe, clean, and welcoming, it is
    likely more students would choose school to attend school regularly. With
    half of the students being chronically absent, there is absolutely no way
    positive achievement can occur. Not only do the teachers have to reteach
    previous material to those who were absent, but the students who were
    present are held back because they are not receiving new material. Some
    students must take two buses and experience Kennedy Plaza to get to
    school and others have serious issues at home. Those are well known
    reasons for poor attendance. To be honest, their teacher role models are
    not the best. The teacher attendance is less than acceptable.

    I believe more involvement with the social service agencies, DCYF,
    Probation, and churches might help. Perhaps a coalition from these
    groups could come up with a plan. Most chronically absent students start
    the pattern in Kindergarten, which is no doubt a parenting/home issue. An
    early intervention seems necessary. I would hope a combined team of
    leaders from these groups and the district would try to investigate this
    problem which happens so early in the academic career of these students.
    Any volunteers?

    Shirley DiMatteo
    School Counselor-Retired