Roger Williams Students Map Out R.I. Locations Primed for Transit-Oriented Development

 Roger Williams University assistant professor of architecture Ginette Wessel, left, and four of her students, Benjamin Cantor-Stone, Allison Bacon, Jackie Ruggiero and Tracy Jonsson, spent this past semester mapping transit-development opportunities. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

Roger Williams University assistant professor of architecture Ginette Wessel, left, and four of her students, Benjamin Cantor-Stone, Allison Bacon, Jackie Ruggiero and Tracy Jonsson, spent this past semester mapping transit-development opportunities. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

BRISTOL, R.I. — Since January, Roger Williams University students have been working with Grow Smart Rhode Island and HousingWorks RI to pinpoint the opportunities and challenges of development along Rhode Island’s rail corridor and high-frequency bus routes.

This research group is also collaborating with the Division of Statewide Planning, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and other state agencies to find ways to spur housing and job creation in locations with the capacity to best accommodate growth through access to robust transit.

“Finding the opportunities for and implementing transit-oriented development represents a triple win for Rhode Island,” said John Flaherty, Grow Smart’s deputy director. “It can provide a significant boost to our economy, accommodate our need for substantial new housing development and do so in a way that's good for the environment. The business and residential market has shifted in favor of walkable urban neighborhoods, so pursuing these opportunities plays to our strength and makes Rhode Island a more competitive place for investment.”

 This three-semester collaboration is designed to find ways to spur housing and job creation in locations with the capacity to best accommodate growth through access to transit.

This three-semester collaboration is designed to find ways to spur housing and job creation in locations with the capacity to best accommodate growth through access to transit.

During the recently completed semester, 18 students conducted research as part of a course titled “GIS in Planning, Design and Conservation,” and on May 14 they exhibited 50 geographic information system (GIS) maps identifying the spots in Rhode Island that are ripe for transit-oriented development. The students learned methods of spatial analysis with GIS software and gained professional experience working on real-world planning issues.

ecoRI News recently spoke with the course’s professor, RWU assistant professor of architecture Ginette Wessel, and four students — Benjamin Cantor-Stone, Allison Bacon, Tracy Jonsson and Jackie Ruggiero — about their work.

Besides mapping locations built on certain criteria, such as demographics and sustainability, the 18 graduate students each also mapped an area of interest. Jonsson, for example, looked at the Ocean State’s water-based transit-development opportunities.

Cantor-Stone mapped the populations of where transit-users who receive discounts are located; Bacon looked at public transit options in the Blackstone River valley; and Ruggiero mapped transit access for single mothers.

“Transit-oriented development is a mixed-use community that encourages people to live near transit services and decrease their dependence on driving,” Wessel said. “From a sustainability point of view, the focus on walkability, shared modes of transportation and compact development can reduce our carbon footprint and preserve vulnerable ecological areas in Rhode Island.”

The GIS mapping represented the first of three phases of an ongoing three-semester project that will feature different students who will analyze potential locations for transit-oriented development in Rhode Island. Municipalities that have expressed an interest in future collaboration include Providence, Cranston, East Providence, South Kingstown, North Kingstown, Westerly, Woonsocket and Cumberland.

Students will help to identify and evaluate priority districts and conduct an in-depth review of existing conditions, zoning, development capacity, and the availability of utilities. Teams of graduate students will focus on the four most promising districts and prepare a series of case studies to illustrate the opportunities within these districts.