The discussion focused on the possible creation of a multi-use recreational path alongside the island’s railroad track. Sponsored by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and Bike Newport, this was the second in a in a series of forums meant to involve islanders in the possible development of a rail-with-trail project.
The proposed Shoreline Bikeway on Aquidneck Island is a 10-mile trail that would run alongside the rail used by the Old Colony Railway and the Newport Dinner Train. When complete, the trail would include two bridge connections to create a 60-mile trail network in Rhode Island.
Mr. Knoch’s presentation highlighted the key elements of building a rail-with-trail project and his remarks focused on the benefits, implementation and design elements of such a project, reports the Coalition for Transportation Choices. He said that such trails can stimulate local economies by promoting businesses. Elsewehere, such projects have spurred businesses along the paths ranging from equipment shops to cafes and full-scale restaurants.
“The trails aren’t a cost, they’re an investment,” Mr. Knoch said.
A rail trail corridor creates healthier places for healthier people, he said, and can reduce traffic congestion. They offer safe and accessible routes for work and school commuting, and promote active lifestyles for members of the neighboring communities, he said.
Mr. Knoch told the audience that momentum for a trail here is building and that there is now a real possibility of it coming to fruition. Key steps to making that happen, he said,are to inventory the corridor, involve the community throughout the process, evaluate liability, crime and impact on property values and create a sustainable funding and management plan for both the construction of the bikeway and its long term maintenance.
While cost and funding are yet undetermined, Mr. Knoch proposed a collaborative funding base, ranging from federal, state and municipal support, and he encouraged the audience to seek private funding and to be creative. Approval for the project is another hurdle, and according to a RI-DOT spokesperson present, DOT will have final approval authority.
Also present at the session was Robert Andrews, owner of the Newport Dinner Train which uses the west-side tracks. He said he believes the two uses can coexist and that he welcomes the discussion.
Several rail-to-trails already exist in Rhode Island, including the Washington Second Bike Path, beginning in Cranston and ending in Coventry; and the East Bay Bike Path, which runs from Bristol to India Point Park in Providence.
Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and Bike Newport are planning future forums on the proposed Shoreline Bikeway in the new year.