Santo Christo Feast, Fall River, MA June 24, 2012

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Quequechan River Rail Trail Proposed Designs Heard

Over 50 people consisting of community leaders, biking enthusiasts and concerned citizens gathered to hear the specifics and details on the proposed Quequechan River Rail Trail Project at the Government Center in Fall River Tuesday night.

With illustrated drawings of a beautifully, if not drastically, renovated Quequechan River set on easels and a digital slideshow, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the landscape architect firm of Brown, Richardson, and Rowe informed those in attendance what is being proposed for the project and to also listen to any questions, feedback and concerns they may have.

The 1.4 mile bike trail, which is Phase Two of the project, will run from the end of the existing one mile bike path skirting South Watuppa pond (Phase One) and will continue along the Quequechan River and end with a split to Britland Park and Rodman Street.

No information was given when construction of Phase Two would begin.

Fall River grant writer Jane DiBiasio began the meeting by bringing everyone up to speed on the project from its inception in 2002 through the progress and completion of Phase One of the trail in 2008.

Curt Gartner of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the state, the agency funding the designs being discussed, was then introduced and stated that he was “optimistic of projects like this one can make a big difference in both in terms of providing recreational opportunities and in terms of transforming cities.”

“This particular project,” Gartner went on, “offers the opportunity to connect residents from one part of a community to another in a way they couldn’t before.”

Gartner mentioned that this is the first round of public conversations with the public involving the designs of the project.

Imogene Hatch, senior landscape designer at Brown, Richardson and Rowe, the architects behind the design of the bike trail, presented a digital slideshow of rendered images of what the firm has researched and planned for Phase Two.

Among items Hatch mentioned in the presentation were installing kiosks along the path with maps and historical images of the area, concrete mileage markers, bike racks, and re-using existing railroad tracks as guardrails along the path.

Hatch also pointed out that Fall River is a very industrial and urban area, which will be in consideration in terms of maintenance and usage when furnishing the trail with benches.

Steven Camara, of the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Association, added to the hearing with a proposal for the waterfront in conjunction with the Quequechan project.

A citizen addresses his concerns about the Quequechan River Rail Trail project Tuesday night at the Government Center. Michael Smith – photographer

Steven Camara demonstrates to a packed city council chamber his proposal for the waterfront Tuesday night at the Government Center. Michael Smith – photographer

Involving extending Heritage State Park to the east-side of Davol Street and pedestrian crosswalk bridges over Davol Street, Camara pointed out utilizing a parcel of land on the waterfront for a half-shell for outdoor concerts, which drew some “ooohs” from the crowd.

At the completion of the presentation, questions and concerns were aired by those in attendance.  Such issues mentioned was installing a traffic light on Quequechan Street, which cuts through part of the bike trail, in order to protect bicyclists and pedestrians, along with placing emergency call boxes on the bike path.

Existing with Mass Transit on the South Coast

It’s 6:10 PM on a Monday evening.  The sixty-hertz hum from the CVPA lighting fixtures is deafening as I re-edit the opening sequence of a digital storyboard project.  The assignment is due tomorrow, and I’ve been sitting in front of an iMac since 3PM, but time is running out.  The digital lab is still open for another three hours, but I cannot stay.

Since UMass Dartmouth isn’t comfortable with me sleeping in the CVPA lounge area overnight so I can finish my project, I am forced to catch the 6:30 bus home.

The last bus.

As a commuter dependent on public transportation in the South Coast, I am not alone in being handcuffed by mass transit’s limited schedules. Students like me living in Fall River or nearby towns are in the terrible position of relying on public busing that does not meet the needs of those who use it.  And it’s not only students who feel marginalized.

Those reliant on mass transit to get to school, go to work, or do errands, have to make sure their day is done before 6PM.  If not, they face the reality of being stranded miles from home.  And with no bus service at all on Sunday, resting on the seventh day is mandatory.

It is not that I don’t like mass transit – I do.  The problem is the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority’s (SRTA) current system is antiquated.  If bus service was extended on weeknights, it might allow a rider to take a better, more intense job, or spend more time on a class project and getting an A instead of a B.

Recently, there have been meetings with Fall River mass transit commuters, city officials, and representatives from the SRTA to extend bus hours on weeknights and include service on Sundays.  But some citizens are critical of the possibility of expanding bus service.  Their belief is that we should save the area money by getting rid of older buses, cutting hours of operation and eliminating under-used bus routes.

Wouldn’t the region undermine itself by doing that?

Recently, Fall River has been clamoring for a casino, along with a ferry to Block Island to lure tourists and their dollars.  These types of entertainment and leisure depend on an efficient and viable public transportation system to succeed.   I’ve never seen a casino without a line of Peter Pan and city buses parked in front, carrying droves of hopeful winners.

By not improving public busing, the region and its people are unintentionally constraining economic growth and quality of life.

One public transportation system that works successfully for its city is the Tri-Met, which serves Portland, Oregon.  Tri-Met offers busing and light-rail to all parts of the city with scheduled routes starting early in the day and running well into the night.  There’s even a section of downtown Portland that offers free fare.  That’s right, free fare.

SRTA and the South Coast should heed the example set by Portland.  Mass transit is a product of forward thinking and progress, and also can relieve the burden on your wallet.

With gas prices near four dollars and the scarcity of decent-paying jobs in the region, owning a car today is becoming strenuous.  And with that, more people will be relying on mass transit.

Once I earn my undergraduate at UMass Dartmouth next year, I may head to Portland for a master’s degree.  The city’s public transportation system is one of many factors in my preferring to move there.

In Portland, even without a car, I will be able to live…and get an A.