Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — For the first time, bike paths could receive funding in Rhode Island's biennial open space and environmental bond that goes before voters on Election Day.
The largest portion of the $35 million Green Economy Bond referendum, $10 million, would pay for expanding and eventually connecting the Ocean State's network of bike paths. Currently, the state has 65 miles of dedicated pathways for bicycles, walkers and wheelchairs.
The goal is to link the state’s eight bike paths so that riders, walkers and runners can reach Newport, Narragansett, the Blackstone Valley, and bike routes in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“And connecting on our own two feet and on our own bikes and even on our own wheelchairs instead of cars,” Alicia Lehrer, executive director of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, said during a recent kickoff event for ballot Question 6.
The nonprofit established the 5-mile Woonosquatucket River Greenway bike path that runs between Johnston and the Providence Place mall. A master plan put forth by Rhode Island Paths to Progress aims to create, extend or repair bike paths in Burrillville, Woonsocket, Coventry, Warren, East Greenwich, Pawtucket, Providence, Bristol, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport, Kingston, Narragansett and Westerly.
“If we close the gaps and expand the network, Rhode Island will become a destination that draws even more people who want to bicycle,” Alex Krogh-Grabbe of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition testified before the House Finance Committee in March.
The $35 million bond referendum was later approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Gina Raimondo as part of the 2017 budget. It must be approved by voters on Nov. 8 to take effect.
Krogh-Grabbe noted that an enhanced network of bike paths would address the 60 percent of people who want to bike more often but are uneasy about sharing roads with cars.
The Paths to Progress coalition says the off-road projects not only promote personal health but also help create jobs and decrease traffic congestion. In all, some $100 million is needed to develop an interconnected statewide bike path network.
During the kick-off event, a new bike park at Roger Williams Park was recognized as an innovative project that promotes outdoor activity. Berms and banks in the park allow BMX and mountain bikers to circle a dirt track without pedaling. Brandon Robinson, a 2016 graduate of the Met High School, created plans for a similar bike track for his senior project. This bike facility will be part of a teenager adventure park in Merino Park. A $494,800 grant from the 2014 open space and parks referendum will fund the project.
In all, 17 projects received $2.2 million for community recreation grants from the 2014 bond:
Bristol: $23,440 for upgrades to Legion Square Park.
Burrillville: $400,000 to expand the Oakland-Mapleville Bike Path.
Central Falls: $75,000 to buy land for new soccer field at 1304 High Street.
East Greenwich: $120,000 for new kayak launch and upgrades to town dock.
East Providence: $96,000 for upgrades to Central Avenue Park.
Hopkinton: $500,000 for upgrades to Langworthy Field and Depot Square Park.
Jamestown: $500,000 for updates to Lawn Avenue recreation area and community playground.
Johnston: $80,000 for update tennis courts at Johnston Memorial Park.
Newport: $100,000 for updates to Miantonomi Park.
North Providence: $400,000 for new amphitheater at Governor Notte Park.
North Smithfield: $53,440 for upgrades to the Municipal Annex Playground.
Pawtucket: $50,000 for new public access area at East Street Pocket Park.
Providence: $494,800 for new teen adventure park.
Tiverton: $393,237 for upgrades to Grinnell’s Beach.
Warren: $63,481 to update tennis courts at Burr’s Hill Park.
Warwick: $450,000 for updates to Rocky Point Park and City Park.
West Warwick: $100,000 for new accessible Civic Center playground and orchard.
Woonsocket: $388,000 for updates to Cass Park.
The Green Economy Bond breakdown:
$10 million to complete the state’s network of bike paths.
$5 million for local recreation development grants.
$5 million for brownfield development.
$4 million for historic state park development.
$4 million for state land acquisition.
$4 million for local open space grants.
$3 million to reduce stormwater pollution.