Professor's vision includes a new bike path to Roger Williams University

Biking advocate and expert Chris Menton envisions a bike path connecting the university to the rest of Bristol

By Kristen Ray
Posted 1/18/19

The New England winter may have settled in, but the harsh weather does nothing to faze Chris Menton. All year long, the Criminal Justice professor at Roger Williams University can be found navigating …

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Professor's vision includes a new bike path to Roger Williams University

Biking advocate and expert Chris Menton envisions a bike path connecting the university to the rest of Bristol

Posted

The New England winter may have settled in, but the harsh weather does nothing to faze Chris Menton. All year long, the Criminal Justice professor at Roger Williams University can be found navigating the streets of Bristol by bike, expertly riding the 11 miles it takes to travel from his home in northern Bristol to the campus and back again. By this point, Mr. Menton knows the route like the back of his hand, and he also knows he has to be careful around motorists along Route 136 and its neighboring side streets.

Now the bicycling enthusiast wants to make it safer for even more people to travel to and from the university by bike, with his proposal to develop a new bike path that would connect Roger Williams to downtown Bristol and its waterfront.
 
Why now?
For Mr. Menton, biking is not only a passion — it is hardwired into his DNA. Growing up during the ’60s and ’70s, when being more environmentally conscious was a part of the national conversation, he had always been attracted to biking, but it was not until he began his career as a prison guard in his twenties that the alternative method of transportation truly began to take hold. After selling what he calls his gremlin of a car, Mr. Menton would trek the 32 miles daily aboard his Italian racing bike in order to get to and from where the prison was located just outside of Boston — regardless of the conditions outside.

“I arrived more than once with a half-inch of snow on my chest,” he said.

In an environment where being physically fit and appearing tough was not only beneficial but critical, biking offered Mr. Menton the solution he needed to accomplish both. It was not uncommon for him by the end of the day, after completing all of his errands or visiting with family, to have ridden upwards of 60 miles. The strength he built served him well, not only in his career but in competition too, winning the (since-dissolved) third annual Boston Commuter Marathon alongside Walter McNeil in 1981.

A few decades and a career change later, Mr. Menton is still enjoying the health benefits of biking, but on a more recreational scale. With his wife of 37 years, Judy — between the two of them, they own 11 bicycles — the pair have traveled all over the country and in parts of Europe by bike, participating in bike share programs in cities from all over. When the Uber-owned JUMP bike share program reached Providence this past September, Mr. Menton — a nationally certified bike safety instructor — assisted with training. In the months since, he has seen their signature red bikes traveling down the East Bay Bike Path, reaching even as far as Bristol. He knows it is only a matter of time before they begin making their way to Roger Williams.

“It’s just going to happen, whether or not we make it a safe way to get there,” Mr. Menton said.

As it stands now, anyone attempting to cycle from the existing bike path or from the center of town is putting themselves at great risk. With the university sandwiched between major roadways, accessing it any way other than motor vehicle is nearly impossible. Mr. Menton knows he is one of the very few who braves the commute by bicycle every day.

“Many people living within a mile of the university won’t ride their bikes because it’s clearly not a safe thing to do,” he said.

Implementing a new bike path, Mr. Menton feels, could alleviate that concern, providing students, faculty and the general public an alternative option to reach campus safely.

The proposed plan
The conversation for an additional bike path began two years ago, after Mr. Menton had just participated in a pedestrian and bike safety audit in town. The Director of Parks and Recreation at the time, Walter Burke, had approached Mr. Menton, asking him why there was not yet a bike path extending to the university. To that, Mr. Menton replied, “because you and I haven’t mapped one out yet.”

With the help of the Roger Williams Engineering department, the two drafted a preliminary circuit route — not unlike the one Mr. Menton has been traveling already for a decade — that would allow bikers and walkers coming from campus to safely access the center of town and the waterfront. The route, distinguished by either a painted, approximately 15-foot-wide path or bike share road symbol, would snake its way through several of the town’s more suburban side streets, including Franklin, Constitution, and High streets, as well as DeWolf and Griswold avenues, while also crossing busy Metacom Avenue.

While many portions of their plan would require little more than a bit of street painting, Mr. Menton knows that other aspects of the proposal could draw criticism. The current neighborhood parking situation on Franklin Street would need to be addressed, as would the potential implications of installing a pressure plate traffic signal at the intersection of Woodlawn and Metacom avenues.

“This would not be without its controversies and bumps,” he said.

Because the proposal is still in such an early phase of development, though, Mr. Menton is not married to any of its specific details, as long as safety is maintained as the number one priority in the final outcome.

“That’s what governs and guides me,” he said.
 
Next steps
Since its creation, progress on the proposal has ebbed and flowed, and Mr. Burke, now retired, is no longer involved. However, it has circulated among executive staff members of the university, town and state planners, as well as impacted neighbors and abutters. Recently, Mr. Menton reached out to state planners about the process of installing a pressure plate traffic signal, and soon he will meet with Vice President for Student Life at Roger Williams, John King, about next steps, both short- and long-term.

Part of that will involve reaching out to stakeholders, which will include re-involving the Recreation Department, as well as other groups, such as the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition. Other aspects will include distinguishing ways to promote bike safety on campus itself, educating students how to ride responsibly.

“One of the things about bikes is, if you ride a bike, you become aware very quickly that you’re invisible,” Mr. Menton said.

If his plan were to be adopted, Mr. Menton feels that the new bike path could serve as an asset for both Roger Williams and the town, attracting prospective students and increasing bike tourism within the community. For now, though, he simply wants to get the conversation going.

“I just want students to be safe and for the public to be able to access the beauty of the campus,” Mr. Menton said.

As he moves forward, Mr. Menton welcomes feedback about the proposal and encourages residents to reach out to him at pmenton@rwu.edu. In the meantime, he will continue to ride just as he always does — rain, snow or shine.

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