By the time Newport’s City Council convened Wednesday night, more than a dozen people had gathered at the organization Bike Newport to watch the virtual meeting together. Many of them rolled in on bikes. One even arrived riding a pedicab.

The cyclists had come to support the bicycle safety resolution, but they also hoped to urge the Council to include a plan to address specific high-priority routes in the city, which were identified in the statewide 2020 Bicycle Mobility Plan. They also wanted a timeline for painting bike markings on these roads — which had been scrubbed from an earlier version of the resolution.

Instead, the Council approved a resolution that expresses support for “the goals of the RI Bicycle Mobility Plan,” and references two specific roads — Ocean Avenue and Hillside Avenue — where the city already has efforts underway to improve bike safety. It also calls on Newport’s city manager to continue studying the Bicycle Mobility Plan and begin using it to guide the city.

Bari Freeman, the executive director of Bike Newport, called the document a “drastically reduced resolution.”

“It lost any reference to the citywide prioritization of streets where people are already riding bicycles, where people are already feeling insecure and asking for improvements,” said Freeman. “So over the last couple of weeks, Bike Newport and the community have rallied around — This is great that there is a resolution. Let's make sure that the resolution asks for a plan and a timeline to address the priority roads now.”

Some councilors said they want to wait for a transportation master plan that Newport recently hired a team of consultants to develop. That process is expected to take approximately 18 months.

“I want to go forward with the consultant work, so that we can all come back and discuss it and see what actually is looked upon as being a way to improve traffic in Newport — which includes all of the vehicles that we have,” said Councilor Kate Leonard.

But some locals say the city’s narrow, highly trafficked roads pose an urgent danger.

“We have residents who, their only option for getting around the city is a bike,” said Councilor Jamie Bova. “And we have people who are hit, and who are killed, and who are severely injured because our roads aren't safe and amendable for cyclists.”

Bova proposed adding a deadline for the city manager to create an action plan for implementing bicycle safety measures, but the Council rejected the amendment. Councilor Lynn Ceglie, who introduced the resolution with Bova, said she agreed with the sentiment but worried it put the resolution “in peril.”

“We can always come back with a proposal for another road, and the Council can vote on that,” she said. “I just want this resolution to pass. That's all I care about right now.”

During the discussion, there was a disagreement among some councilors about how much public comment to allow. Councilor Angela McCalla attempted at one point to yield her time to a member of the public, and said that nine people were still waiting to speak. But Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said the Council was ready to vote.

“We have other things that we have to go through tonight. They could keep us here all night, and that turns people off,” said Napolitano.

“I understand that,” McCalla replied. “And although we are privy to all of the information, it's fair enough to let people just say what needs—”

“I will let a couple people speak,” Napolitano interjected. “If it's the same thing, time after time, then that's it.”

The City Council ultimately passed the resolution unanimously, without a timeline or a map of priority routes beyond the two referenced roads. The Council added an amendment that stipulates the city manager must submit any additional bike lanes, road markings, or signage proposals to the Council for approval.

Freeman, of Bike Newport, said it wasn’t the outcome she had hoped for, but she still looks forward to working with the city — to improve not only road safety, but also connectivity in Newport.

“We have many people who ride their bicycles to get from one place to another in this town — some have a choice and some don’t,” Freeman said. “It’s not about enthusiasts and activists and advocates. It’s about people riding bicycles to get where they need to go, and ensuring that our roads accommodate that in a safe way.”


Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org