In Portsmouth: A wide berth for just walkers and cyclists

Most of Park Avenue and more will be closed to motor vehicles Saturday for The Sakonnet Coastal Bike and Stroll

By Jim McGaw
Posted 9/5/23

PORTSMOUTH — Plan ahead, as most of you won’t be able to drive a car or truck through Island Park or the Hummocks for a good chunk of time this Saturday, Sept. 9.

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In Portsmouth: A wide berth for just walkers and cyclists

Most of Park Avenue and more will be closed to motor vehicles Saturday for The Sakonnet Coastal Bike and Stroll

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Plan ahead, as most of you won’t be able to drive a car or truck through Island Park or the Hummocks for a good chunk of time this Saturday, Sept. 9.

The Sakonnet Coastal Bike and Stroll, the town’s third event just for cyclists and pedestrians, will be taking place from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday along Park Avenue, north past the Hummocks, to the entrance to Common Fence Point on Anthony Road. 

It’s being billed as “two miles of car-free, family-friendly fun.”

The event is presented by Bike Newport and the Island Park Preservation Society, and is 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.

In what was billed as a first for Aquidneck Island, cyclists and walkers had Middle Road all to themselves during Bike Newport’s “Farm-to-Farm” Bike Ride, which was held in 2018 and 2019.

Saturday’s event will be similar, except the location is very different, and the Island Park Preservation Society (IPPS) has come aboard to lead the efforts along with Bike Newport.

“The beauty of these events is the relaxed nature from a safety perspective that families are able to enjoy,” Chris Barker, director of development for Bike Newport, told the Town Council recently. “As your kids swerve and meander, they’re in complete safety.”

Sen. Linda Ujifusa, who along with Rep. Michelle McGaw (wife of this story’s author) went door to door in Island Park to drop off informational flyers and alert residents of the ride, said the event is greatly needed after a pandemic that kept so many people disconnected.

“Because of COVID and how it isolated everybody, I think there’s a real desire in the community to reconnect with each other — and not through Zoom. This is an opportunity for everyone in town to see old friends, and make new friends. It will be a happy reunion for a lot of folks,” Ujifusa said during an appearance with McGaw on the local cable show “Portsmouth This Week,” hosted by Conley Zani.

Ujifusa and McGaw said they’re just messengers, and gave all the credit for the event to key players such as Mike MacFarlane and John Vitkevich of the IPPS, project manager Ovanes Sungarian, Barker and Bari Freeman of Bike Newport, Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Bulk, the Portsmouth Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Portsmouth Historical Society, the R.I. Department of Transportation, and others.

Unlike Middle Road, Park Avenue is populated by many local restaurants and businesses that the organizers hope will be frequented by event participants.

“We encourage everyone stopping by to grab a snack, something to drink or a bite to eat, while they’re down there. We want this to be successful, not just for Portsmouth … but for the people of Island Park as well, so they can really appreciate what this is going to add to their community. I think there’s been a lot of improvements made in that neighborhood,” said McGaw, adding more people will be able to “see” the improvements if they’re walking or moseying along on a bike.

She said the event also presents an opportunity to connect “two great neighborhoods with their own personalities” — Island Park and Common Fence Point. 

The route

The route that will be closed to motor vehicles starts on Park Avenue at Mason Avenue, and extends throughout Island Park and over the Escape Bridge into the Hummocks, taking the sharp right before the Route 24 on-ramp and under the Sakonnet River Bridge and onto Anthony Road and under the railroad bridge into Common Fence Point. 

Pedestrians and cyclists from Tiverton can also access Anthony Road and the rest of the route via the separates bike lane on the Sakonnet River Bridge. (You can enter the car-free area from either direction, and Sunset Cove at 706 Park Ave. will serve as the event hub.)

Parking is restricted along the route, but there will be some parking available along Park Avenue to the west of Mason Avenue, at Hathaway School, and at the CFP Arts, Wellness and Community Center and the field across the street in Common Fence Point.

Barker said anyone who lives along the route can request an escort from police if they need to exit their neighborhood. 

“We don’t want anyone to feel they would be hemmed in or closed in during the event,” he said. A volunteer will be stationed at each intersection to assist people who are looking for a way out. 

Added Police Chief Brian Peters, “Residents should prepare for a potential inconvenience that day. We’re going to encourage residents to hopefully have a plan in place.” 

“If they normally do their shopping on Saturday morning, maybe they could do it Friday afternoon or Saturday afternoon,” said McGaw, adding the response to the event “has been overwhelming positive.”

Step toward complete streets?

Ujifusa was on the Town Council in 2019 when it approved a resolution asking for a complete streets ordinance, which is part of the reason Saturday’s event was awarded the grant. “We’ve been wanting to have streets that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists for a few years. That got a little bit derailed because of COVID, but our town planner has created a draft of a complete streets ordinance,” she said. Portsmouth is now in good position to secure similar future grants for bike-friendly development and events in the future, Ujifusa said.

McGaw said she hopes the event will bring awareness to the “comfort” that’s possible for bikers when they have a safe zone like the one they’ll experience on Saturday. 

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to ride your bike from Common Fence Point to Clements’ Marketplace to get your groceries? The majority of trips across Aquidneck Island are less than five miles. Those are bikeable trips, and if we can find a way for it to be done safely, I think that’s a real positive step forward,” she said.

If you have questions in advance of the event, call John Vitkevich at 401/952-1953. If you wish to volunteer or become a sponsor, e-mail chris@bikenewportri.org.

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