Stonington Borough, CT
Mystic Chamber of Commerce
Noank Historical Society
WESTERLY — A newly formed committee hopes to create a little space for recreational bicyclists by establishing a dedicated path for the pedalers.
The idea came from Fred DeGrooth, a local resident, who was struck by the proliferation of paths he has seen in other parts of the country. “I started noticing a lot of towns, especially coastal towns, have well-laid-out bike paths,” he said.
DeGrooth approached former Town Manager Steven Hartford with the idea and the two discussed the fact that a bicycle path is set out as a goal in the town’s Comprehensive Plan. “He said it was something the town wanted to do but had no one to spearhead the effort,” DeGrooth said.
He discussed the bike path idea with Robert Ritacco, whom he knew from their membership in a local yacht club, and recruited him to serve on the committee. DeGrooth said he was aware that Ritacco, who serves as chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, knows a lot of people in town. Other members are DeGrooth’s wife, Deidre, Louis Misto, chief of the Misquamicut Fire District, and Dr. Brian Busconi, who is serving as the committee’s medical adviser.
Ritacco and DeGrooth discussed their plans with the Town Council on Monday. The committee will research potential locations for a path, develop a budget, and seek funding from private, state and federal sources.
The committee, DeGrooth said, envisions a dedicated bicycle path rather than a “share the road” lane. Dedicated paths, DeGrooth said, typically run alongside a portion of a roadway but are protected, at least in some sections, by a guardrail.
As the committee begins it work, DeGrooth said the most logical bike path route would seem to be along Shore Road and down to and along Atlantic Avenue. But the group will study other areas as well, he said.
“Look at the number of people trying to bike, walk, and run along Shore Road and Atlantic Avenue during the season and the increased number of accidents involving bikers and runners and you will understand that a path is desperately needed. In order to make biking along any proposed route safe for everyone, the path will most likely have to be a dedicated path not a share the road path,” a summary plan provided to the council says.
Speed limits for motor vehicles along the path would have to be lowered. The committee will also look for potential parking spots along or near the bike path, DeGrooth said. He said financing a path and finding parking would likely be the most challenging aspects of the committee’s work.
In addition to the health and recreation benefits that a path would provide, DeGrooth said a path could serve as an attraction for tourists. “It’s another way to put Westerly on the map as a destination location,” he said.
DeGrooth, who writes a boating and fishing column for The Westerly Sun, said a piece he devoted to the bike path idea resulted in about 40 emails from readers voicing their support for the plan.
Councilor Kenneth Parrilla said a bicycle path is sorely needed. He said he has frequently seen bicyclists struggle to maintain a piece of the road while motor vehicles squeeze by. “Someone is going to get hurt one of these days,” he said.
Communication with bike path organizers in others parts of Rhode Island and the country has revealed that it can take two to four years from the start of research to completion of an actual path, DeGrooth said.
Ritacco said the committee would look to tap the aid of state Sen. Dennis L. Algiere and state Rep. Samuel Azzinaro
“It’s a huge undertaking. It’s not going to be easy but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Ritacco said.