Instead of Extending Bike Path, Bristol Will Improve Cycling Safety Measures on Town Roads
April 1, 2022
BRISTOL, R.I. — Town officials are abandoning a plan that would have extended the East Bay Bike Path to the Mount Hope Bridge, opting instead to improve bike safety on the town’s roads.
Planning consultants recommended switching from a multi-use, off-road bike path alongside Ferry Road to improving bicycle safety infrastructure, markings, and signage on existing streets to create a townwide bike network. The new proposal would be paid for in part by a portion of a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) grant originally set aside for the bike path, a 14.5-mile route that begins at India Point Park in Providence, crosses the Seekonk River via the George Redman Linear Park and Washington Bridge, and continues southeast to Bristol along the shoreline of Narragansett Bay.
“We have a great downtown network we can work within,” town planner Diane Williamson said.
“We do need to do more to pull in residents from the other side of town.”
In a memo to town leaders, the planning firm Fuss & O’Neill, hired to design the new bike paths, recommended the town create a townwide Bristol Bike Network on existing east-west town streets by improving signage and enhancing crossings and pavement markings. The firm also advised local officials to create a design plan for a central corridor consisting of an off-road, shared-use bike path connecting existing trails and green space through the center of Bristol. Under that plan, Bristol would also explore the feasibility of widening the shoulder on Ferry Road.
The pivot comes more than a year after planning officials’ original presentation to town leadership. The original design, funded by a $500,000 grant from DEM, would have extended the East Bay Bike Path from its current terminus just north of Independence Park, down the west side of Ferry Road, past Roger Williams University, to a new proposed endpoint at the Mount Hope Bridge. The bulk of the grant funds were designated for design, and the town has employed Fuss & O’Neill throughout the process.
The project ran into several roadblocks. Town Council members desired to shrink the width of the bike path to 8 feet but, per the terms of the DEM funding, any bike path built has to have a minimum width of 10 feet. The available right of way on the west side of Ferry Road, particularly on the curved section of Hope Street that intersects with Wood Street and Ferry, does not have enough room to build a 10-foot-wide bike path, according to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).
Ferry Road (Route 114) and Metacom Avenue (Route 136), as state roads, fall under the jurisdiction of RIDOT. Any changes or improvements to a state road must be approved and completed by the department.
Town officials now plan to petition and work with RIDOT to improve the walkways, repair curbs, remove dead trees and plant new ones. Williamson, in her remarks to the council, emphasized the need for safety.
“You can ride on any road in Bristol, but when you’re on that road with a RIPTA bus behind you and the landscaping truck behind you there’s no safe place to pull over,” she said.
Safety on state roads has been a longtime concern for cyclists in town. Resident Loren Byrne submitted written testimony imploring the Town Council to approve the new bike network project.
“Widening the shoulder along Ferry Road will dramatically improve the safety of that route for cyclists and any joggers who would continue to use the shoulder,” Byrne wrote. “Even a few feet of extra shoulder room makes a huge difference in creating a more comfortable route.”
The Town Council received the new plan warmly. “I think this project is fantastic,” council member Timothy Sweeney said. “It advances many of the goals we’re looking for in town in terms of aesthetics. It’s about safety.”
Planning officials now have the go-ahead to conduct additional studies for the new direction of the bike network. Improvements could start as early as this summer.