Council nixes First Street pilot bike lane in East Providence

Mayor’s office halts project, lacking ordinance or authority to implement necessary changes

By Mike Rego
Posted 6/2/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — An effort to install a pilot bike lane on First Street connecting the linear path on the Washington Bridge with the East Bay Bike Path was nixed by the council during an …

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Council nixes First Street pilot bike lane in East Providence

Mayor’s office halts project, lacking ordinance or authority to implement necessary changes

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — An effort to install a pilot bike lane on First Street connecting the linear path on the Washington Bridge with the East Bay Bike Path was nixed by the council during an amended discussion item on its June 1 meeting agenda.

Brought to the floor by Councilor Anna Sousa, in whose district where the street is located, the project would have added two lanes for bike traffic and changed First Street into a single lane for motor vehicles, making it, she said, “essentially” into a one-way road.

The bike lane pilot program, developed under the auspices of the East Providence Waterfront Commission and Mayor Bob DaSilva’s Planning Department, is intended to be used to study potential ways to enhance the bike path in anticipation of a larger reconfiguration of the Watchemocket Square area at the Warren Avenue basin in coming years once the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is finished with refurbishment of the Washington Bridge. The latter effort includes building a new ramp connecting Interstate 195 with Waterfront Drive in city.

“It was not something that was altogether welcomed by the businesses in that area,” Ms. Sousa noted of the pilot program, while expressing her initial opposition to it. “There was a general understanding of the reasoning for it or consideration but not something that was clear cut and in the best interest.”

Ms. Sousa also took umbrage with how the bike lane was being implemented. She pointed out the council, which has authority over any traffic changes in the city, did not approve the alterations via ordinance.

The councilor called the proposed lane changes on First Street confusing and said it could cause harm to motorists.

Ms. Sousa said the potential switch in the traffic pattern ultimately was “illegal,” “not enforceable by the police department” and will cause “havoc.”

Ward 4 Councilor Ricardo Mourato echoed his colleague’s concern about what appeared to be a unilateral decision by the administration to install the bike lane and bypass the council.

“I’ve said it from Day One and I’ll say it again. We are the legislative body for the City of East Providence. The mayor’s office is the administrative body for the City of East Providence,” Mr. Mourato said, pointing out as well what he perceived as slights of council authority by Mayor DaSilva in recent years.

He continued, “I find this incident right now a gross overstepping of the administration’s boundaries. It’s a slap in the face to this council. And I keep saying this over and over again. If the mayor really wanted to pass ordinances and circumvent this council he should have ran for city council instead of mayor.

“It’s disrespect to this council that you have a mayor who continuously does things that do not pertain to his department. Complete disrespect.”

Asked by Mr. Mourato about the legality of the situation, Assistant City Solicitor Dylan Conley said it was his understanding the administration chose to stop the project until “there was proper authority” to implement any changes, in other words until an approved ordinance by the council was on the books.

Napolean Gonzalves, the mayor’s Director of Administration, explained the disconnect between his department and the council was likely due in part to the recent transition in Department of Public Works directors and simple, though unintentional, miscommunication.

“Just to make it clear, this decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. It wasn’t made solely by the mayor. There were several public hearings on it. There were public events, one of which I attended. There’s going to be opposition to certain things. It was supposed to be a ‘bike friendly’ solution to connect the East Bay Bike Path so that people wouldn’t be in jeopardy riding their bikes to the path,” Mr. Gonzalves said.

He continued, “Why would we try to do something that we didn’t have the authority to do? It was a misunderstanding. There was no intention. We’re not trying to circumvent the council. We always try to work with the council…It was an oversight. We’ll try to make it right.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, both Councilor Sousa and Director Gonzalves agreed more talks between elected officials, administrators, business owners and residents of the area were needed before the pilot bike lane program could be implemented.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.