Proposed Aquidneck Island Bike Route On Fast Track

By KYLE HENCE/ecoRI News contributor

NEWPORT, R.I. — The bicycling landscape on Aquidneck Island could be significantly improved within three years with the addition of a new bike route, the “Interim Shoreline Bikeway,” being advanced by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC). The 18-mile route would extend from Easton’s Beach across town, north along Burma Road on the island’s west side to the Mount Hope and Sakonnet bridges.

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“We’ve applied for a grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for $75,000 to look at design, review and getting it started,” AIPC’s executive director, Tina Dolen, said recently on WADK’s “The Open Forum.” After the design and review process, project leaders will approach Rhode Island’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for completion funding.

“This, to me, is a big quality of life enhancer, right here,” said Dave Roger, Open Forum’s host.

Several sections of the proposed bike route have already been established by the state Department of Transportation and most of the remaining sections are slated for completion this year or in 2014, according to the AIPC.

In 2005, AIPC, in its West Side Master Plan, developed the concept for the Shoreline Bikeway. The interim plan is a revamping of that original concept, Dolan said.

Once completed, the Interim Shoreline Bikeway would connect to more than 55 miles of inland bike routes and trails (pdf) and allow riders to bike from Newport’s First Beach to Providence.

Bicyclists crossing the Mount Hope Bridge to Bristol will be able to access the East Bay Bike Path, which winds its way 13 miles through Warren and Barrington to East Providence. There it joins with another 40-plus miles of Rhode Island bike routes that are part of the East Coast Greenway — a network of bike paths and routes being created along the entire Eastern seaboard.

The recently announced AIPC plan comes just a month after the joint-municipal planning group co-sponsored a forum with Bike Newport to further a multiuse “rail with trail” bike path project.

“While bike paths are complex engineering projects, bike routes are relatively easy solutions. One does not replace the other,” Bari George, executive director of Bike Newport, said. “Bike paths are safe, motor-free environments for all users of all skill levels. Roads require road-sharing skills by both motorists and cyclists. Both benefit from the partnership of state, municipal and advocacy agencies.  We’re on the right path in all regards here on Aquidneck Island.”

According to rail with trail planners, the project would cost about $24 million in today’s dollars and take 10-15 years to complete. The proposed interim trail is projected to cost between $2.5 million and $4.2 million, according the AIPC.

“It’s a low-cost, high-return investment in quality of life, and a place for our young people and families to develop the skills and confidence to become lifelong cyclists,” George said.