PORTSMOUTH — Bari Freeman, executive director of Bike Newport, said she asked the kids pedaling along Park Avenue on Saturday what they liked most about the Sakonnet Coastal Bike and …
PORTSMOUTH — Bari Freeman, executive director of Bike Newport, said she asked the kids pedaling along Park Avenue on Saturday what they liked most about the Sakonnet Coastal Bike and Stroll.
“Freedom, freedom, freedom!” she recalled them exclaiming.
“That’s really was it is,” said Freeman, while helping to man Bike Newport’s tent at Sunset Cove, which served as the event’s hub. “The concerns are gone, the restrictions are gone, the restraints are gone, and you can just enjoy where you are. It’s really a wonderful demonstration of what’s possible when bikes are separated from cars. Fully 60 percent of the population want to ride bikes and don’t because they’re required to ride with cars.”
It was the town’s third event just for cyclists and pedestrians. In what was billed as a first for Aquidneck Island, people pedaled and walked along a long stretch of Middle Road in 2018 and 2019 during Bike Newport’s “Farm-to-Farm” Bike Ride.
Saturday’s event ran from 9 a.m. to noon along Park Avenue, north to Point Road, the Hummocks, and along Anthony Road until the entrance to Common Fence Point. The roads were closed to motor vehicles, although Portsmouth Police gave escorts to those who needed to leave or get into those neighborhoods. According to Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., police provided 64 escorts during the event, and the overall response from the community was positive. Town officials, organizers and volunteers all thanked local businesses and residents for being so cooperative.
Town Council member Daniela Abbott, an advocate for bike safety, was among the volunteers stationed at intersections to guide participants and answer any questions from neighbors.
“It’s nice to have a change of scenery — the farm versus the waterfront,” said Abbott, who helped organize the Middle Road rides. “It’s a nice, flat course, too. It’s been super smooth.”
Abbott said she hopes the event will get people to think more about bike-friendly lanes on public roads, as that was one of the major goals of the event. “It would be nice to have some more permanent infrastructure so we can ride safely,” she said.
East Main Road is scheduled to undergo major upgrades by the R.I. Department of Transportation next year, but it’s unclear whether the improvements will include more bike lanes.
“When we tear these roads up for repaving and we have to re-stripe them, how are we going to address the distribution of the road surface in the best interests of reducing the crashes?” Freeman asked. “We had 76 crashes one year on East Main Road, and most of them had to do with people turning left.”
She said installing center turn lanes such as those on Bristol Ferry Road would not only allow room for bike lanes, but would actually get motorists to where they’re going faster.
“You’re still going to get there sooner because you’re not stopping and starting. You’re not going to get stuck behind somebody because they’re turning left. If we can have one lane in each direction and a center turning lane, now we have room for physically separated bike lane in the roadway. We don’t have to wait until 2029 to bring in bulldozers to put in a shared-use path,” she said.
The paving is definitely happening, she said. “What’s going to be painted on the paving is up to the community,” she said, adding that safe bike lanes are needed to improve “connectivity” to other routes on the island for cyclists.
“There’s a wonderful project underway call Ride Island, which is Aquidneck Island. The goal is to have enough of a bike network so you can go where you want to go. Most of our car drives are very short distance,” Freeman said. “There’s funding now for that from the federal government. We’re looking to reduce carbon and get people out of cars. It’s health, it’s environment, it’s economy. There’s benefits in all of those things when we can get more people biking and walking. Everybody who we see here today are people who want to ride their bikes more.”
Lots of smiles
Members of the Cote family from Dartmouth were among those enjoying the freedom of riding their bikes without having to worry about cars.
“I was looking around for events near me and this came into my awareness,” said Jeremy Cote, who brought along his three children: Jack and Georgia, both 8, and Sam, 6. “We came here to be by the water and enjoy being outdoors with the kids and cycling. It’s such a good activity for good health and the community.”
John Vitkevich, one of the local organizers, was stationed on Park Avenue near Localz Kitchen and Cocktails. At his feet were numerous chalk drawings that children made after stopping at his station, which he dubbed “the art zone.” One child even asked him to lay down on the road so he could be traced, and he happily obliged.
“I’m John Doe,” he joked.
Vitkevich literally bled for the event, as he suffered cuts to his right shin earlier that morning during a mishap with a traffic sign. Only after the event did he seek treatment, and ended up getting nine stitches. Standing in the middle of Park Avenue while families whizzed by him, however, he was grinning from ear to ear. So were others.
“The biggest part of this is the amount of smiles that I’m seeing. The kids love it, and people walking their dogs who walk here all the time are saying, ‘I get to walk in the street!’”
The event was presented by Bike Newport and the Island Park Preservation Society, and was supported in part by a Rhode Island Streets Transformation Mini Grant of $4,000 through the R.I. Department of Health, Grow Smart R.I., and Providence Streets Coalition.