WESTERLY — Nearly 300 Misquamicut residents and taxpayers have registered their opposition to a bicycle path planned for the village.
The residents signed a petition opposing the path that would run through the village along Shore and Winnapaug roads, Atlantic Avenue and Winnapaug Road. The petition was submitted to the Town Council in June along with a letter from the Misquamicut Fire District Board of Directors.
In May the Town Council voted 5-2 to authorize Town Manager J. Mark Rooney to seek bids for design and engineering work for the loop.
"As concerned citizens and taxpayers, we believe this plan is a dangerous proposition in an already heavily congested and heavily traveled area, especially during the summer months. Narrowing vehicle lanes will not improve safety but, to the contrary, make the roads more treacherous for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles, creating an unsafe environment for all," the letter, which was signed by the district's Board of Directors, states.
Michelle Vacca, Misquamicut Fire District moderator, discussed the bike path and the district's position on it with the Town Council on Monday. She described a steady stream of traffic into the village on the Fourth of July. "It started at 7 in the morning and didn't end until 7:30 at night and then it turned around and went the other way," Vacca said.
The bike path, Vacca said, would endanger bicyclists and others. "We all know this. We know the traffic situation on Winnapaug Road and we know the traffic situation on Atlantic Avenue," Vacca said.
Bicycle lanes would be situated on both sides of the four roads. The project would involve repainting lines on the roads, marking the dedicated lane on the pavement and installation of signs along the route.
Vehicle travel lanes would be narrowed to allow for 4- to 5-foot wide bicycle lanes. The loop was described as Alternative A in a report prepared for the town by Pare Corporation of Lincoln submitted to the town in May of 2018 after the company performed a feasibility study.
The loop under consideration by the council was estimated by Pare Corporation to cost about $130,000. Plans call for paying for the work with part of the $300,000 grant from the state's Green Economy Bond that was awarded to the town in 2017. The grant expires July 1, 2020.
On Tuesday, Town Councilor Sharon Ahern, who along with Councilor Karen Cioffi voted against seeking design and engineering bids, repeated her concerns. "I wish that the Misquamicut Fire District had been able to speak back when we were discussing it before," Ahern said.
Ahern said she would readily support a secure bike path that was isolated from the road but would not support a path that involves bicyclists and motorists sharing the road.
"Anything with sharrows I think is dangerous. They're outdated,"' Ahern said during an interview Tuesday.
She said she was particularly concerned about a shared road bike path in Misquamicut where she said bicyclists are likely to contend with sand on the roads, heavy volumes of vehicular traffic, and distracted families.
Vacca said the residents of Misquamicut would prefer the town spend funds on road repairs in the village. Town Council President Christopher Duhamel said the grant funds could only be used on a bike path or other recreation project. He also noted that Pare's study considered the public safety aspect of constructing a bike path in Misquamicut.