'Interim' Aquidneck bike path a warmup for real thing


Plans for a 'real' bike path remain in the works, but planners have now devised an 'interim' plan for an Aquidneck Island path that they believe could be complete much more quickly.

"A shoreline bikeway you could ride in two to three years," is how Tina Dolen, executive director of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) describes it.

The 18-mile stretch would include a 1.2-mile section along the railroad tracks in Portsmouth that would, like the East Bay Bike, be exclusively for bicyclists and walkers. The rest of the route would involve dedicated bike lanes along existing roads, and, on quieter roads, lanes that cars and bikes would share.

Jared Weaver, planner for the AIPC, said the long-term vision of a bike path along the railroad route remains the ultimate goal.

"But we realize that that is going to be a long endeavor — we want to provide some instant gratification."

Much of the project can be done at relatively small cost and fairly quickly. The lion's share of the estimated $2.5 million to $4.2 million cost would be spent on the 1.2-mile Portsmouth stretch.

"We believe that that section will be the catalyst" for what is to come. "It will get our foot in the door and allow people to see what is possible," Mr. Weaver said.

With a multi/purpose bike and walking lane part of the new Sakonnet River Bridge, the path will give riders access to a growing network of trails spreading through Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

And riders from elsewhere will be able to drive to the island, park at a lot proposed in the Melville section of Portsmouth, and pedal south into Newport.

The 'interim' route

From north to south, the proposed interim path will actually start in Tiverton (where a path has also been proposed along the waterfront railroad route from Fall River to the Sakonnet River Bridge).

• Leg one will be across the Sakonnet River Bridge on the new bike lane.

• Once across the bridge, riders would be led onto Anthony Road. This would be a shared lane with motor vehicles — signs would alert motorists of the need to share the roadway with cyclists.

• From Anthony Road, the path would join Bristol Ferry Road where dedicated bike lanes (lanes marked clearly for use by cyclists and walkers) on the existing road. This may involved reducing Bristol Ferry Road from four lanes to two, part of a 'road-slimming' effort already begun on several formerly four-lane Portsmouth roads (such as Turnpike Avenue).

• The path would then turn right onto West Main Road, again on dedicated bike lanes.

• From West Main, the path would divert to Old West Main Road, a much quieter stretch that would be a shared lane with cars.

• At Cory's Lane, the path turns right (west) onto a shared route past Portsmouth Abbey School and St. Philomena School and downhill to the shore.

• Here, the path takes a left (south) turn onto the 1.2 mile leg of 'real' bike path built alongside the railroad tracks much like the East Bay Bike Path. Running along the water to Melville, this stretch would offer views across the bay for its entire length. Part of the expense of this stretch will be a bridge across a stream — there is already a railroad bridge here.

• At Melville, where a parking lot is also proposed in the vicinity of the old fuel tank farms, the path would join Burma Road as a dedicated bike lane south into Middletown. Along the way it would pass several waterfront parks including one planned for Green Lane.

• At the Navy Base Gate 17, the path would jog left (east) on Chase's Lane to circumvent Navy-owned property.

• It would then turn right (south) again onto Lexington Street as a shared lane.

• The path would next head west, mostly as dedicated lanes on busy Coddington Highway.

• From Coddington, the path would join Third and then Washington streets as shared lanes through neighborhoods of old Newport houses.

• The final stretch would be on dedicated lanes along America's Cup Avenue into downtown Newport.

The AIPC has applied for a $75,000 recreational trails grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for study, design and review of the critical 1.2 mile Portsmouth link.

The AIPC continues to pursue its original Shoreline Bikeway plan that emerged from its 2005 West Side Master Plan.  AIPC recently invited Bike Newport to partner with it on this goal. The eight mile "rail with trail" Shoreline Bikeway is projected to take ten to 15 years to construct at a cost in today's dollars of $24 million.

"At a median cost of approximately $3.5 million, the 18-mile Interim Shoreline Bikeway will allow bicyclists plenty of time to warm up as the rail with trail path is completed," said Ms. Dolen.

"Please let us know what you think about the Interim Shoreline Bikeway," she added. "We'll be here, tuning up our bikes."


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