December 29, 2016 02:21AM
By Dale P. Faulkner
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — Advocates for a dedicated bicycle lane that would run along a portion of Shore Road and likely extend to a share-the-road lane on Atlantic Avenue are seeking $30,000 to update a feasibility study last revised in 2007.
Fred DeGrooth, bike path committee chairman, Lisa Konicki, Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce president, and Bill DeSantis, corporate director of bicycle transportation planning and design for the Providence-based engineering firm of Vanasse-Hangen-Brustlin, discussed the status of work on the lane with the Town Council during its Dec. 19 meeting.
Konicki said having an updated feasibility study would better position the town for a share of the $10 million earmarked for bicycle paths in the $35 million Green Economy Bond approved by state voters on the Nov. 8 ballot. The $10 million is to be used to complete portions of the Blackstone River Bikeway, the South County Bike Path and other dedicated bike routes around the state, with an ultimate aim of connecting them.
The Westerly segment of the lane is a seven-mile loop along Shore Road, Winnapaug Road, Atlantic Avenue, and Weekapaug Road.
DeGrooth, Konicki and Town Council President James Silvestri attended a recent meeting on the Tri-Town Coastal Bike Route, a collaborative effort between the towns of Westerly, Charlestown, and South Kingstown aimed at creation of a regional bike route. VHB performed a study on the regional route in 1999. The study was then updated by a different firm in 2007. The $30,000 sought from the Town Council would be used to update the Westerly portion of the plan.
DeGrooth urged the council to consider funding the study update, saying Westerly is further along in the planning process than the two other towns. “Westerly will be competing with other towns for funds based on how far along we are with our project,” DeGrooth said.
After the meeting Silvestri, a supporter of the path concept, said he anticipates the council considering the request for $30,000 during deliberations on the 2017-18 municipal budget.
“It will bring more people to Westerly. It’s another reason to come here and to South County and increases the chances people will spend money here, vacationing here, or relocating here,” Silvestri said.
Additional municipal funds will be needed if the project advances to the design and construction phases, DeGrooth said.
Paths to Progress, a coalition of bike groups and nonprofits from around the state, will soon work with Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat state representative from Wakefield, and state Department of Environmental Management staff, to rank and assign priority to bike path projects in the state. “Shovel-ready” projects with completed feasibility studies will be given higher priority, DeGrooth said.
In its current conceptual phase, the Shore Road portion of the path would be separated from the road and used only by bicyclists, pedestrians, and joggers. The other sections of the path would most likely be share-the-road designs and not separated from the portion of the roadway used by motor vehicles. DeSantis said it is too soon to know whether taking property by eminent domain will be required to construct the path. DeGrooth said organizers are hopeful the Shore Road portion of the path could be built using state-owned land alongside the road.
The local bike lane is seen as a way to increase tourist opportunities and once a regional leg is established a means to reduce traffic congestion.
“The most popular activity on the Cape Cod National Seashore is people driving there, parking in the parking lot, and going on the Cape Cod [bike] trail … it’s no secret that southern Rhode Island with all of your beaches is drastically underserved for getting to and from the beaches by anything other than an automobile,” DeSantis said.
Completion of Westerly’s leg of the regional route could serve as a catalyst, “setting off a chain reaction” of other communities’ competing segments, DeSantis said.
The Westerly section of the path is included in the town’s Comprehensive Plan as an action item, Town Planner Jason Parker noted.
The committee will eventually work on paths in other parts of the town, DeGrooth said.
DeGrooth’s committee has been working on the project since 2013. Silvestri praised the involvement of DeGrooth and Konicki saying they and other members of the committee helped the town move forward with its plans more quickly than other communities.
“It seems Westerly is more enthusiastic and determined,” Silvestri said. “We’re fortunate to have Fred DeGrooth and Lisa Konicki’s involvement.”