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The Bubbler: Why Is A Walkway On The Jamestown Bridge Inaccessible To Pedestrians And Bikers?

Published
The Public’s Radio brings you the first story from our new project, The Bubbler. Listeners submitted questions online on all sorts of topics then voted for their favorite. Our reporter Avory Brookins investigates why a narrow lane on the Jamestown/Verrazano Bridge that looks like it was meant to be walked on is inaccessible.

The Jamestown Bridge connects the small, island town near the middle of Narragansett Bay to North Kingstown and the mainland. 

The bridge looks pretty typical in its design, but drive over it, and the views are spectacular. 

"I like looking out and seeing the water, the islands, the lighthouses, the boats, seeing the sunlight glistening on the water, I love it," Peter Quesnel, a Providence high school librarian, said.

Quesnel also submitted this winning question to The Bubbler: It looks like there’s a pedestrian lane on the Jamestown Bridge, but why has it never opened?  

Quesnel noticed the lane a few years ago while driving, and he thought about how nice it would be to walk it.  

"I kind of got excited until I got to the end of the bridge and saw that it wasn’t accessible, that it was blocked, and you can’t get up there. So it was disappointing," Quesnel said.

But here’s the thing. Quesnel is wrong. There is no pedestrian lane. 

What Is The Lane Used For Anyway?

"That is called a safety walkway," Eric Offenberg, director of engineering at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which manages the upkeep and construction on the state’s bridges, said.

We’re sitting in a Ford pick-up truck on the side of the bridge in North Kingstown when Offenberg explains, if you’ve stood on the walkway before, you were probably having car troubles. 

"That is a walkway that inspectors can walk on, if you have a problem and you’ve broken down on the bridge you can get out of your vehicle and you can stand in that area," he said.

Quesnel said he’d like to see a pedestrian lane because it could give more people access to the beauty of Narragansett Bay. 

"Not everybody can get on a boat. I can’t unless I’m on a ferry or something, I don’t have a boat. Not everyone can fly over it. So to be able to walk or take your bike, I just think it would be a real gift to all Rhode Islanders," Quesnel said.

Offenberg agrees now is the time to make that happen. 

"Most of the bike paths are not connecting Jamestown, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth. We’re looking at the opportunity of now connecting these islands, which play a vital role in tourism," Offenberg said.

State officials are in the process of developing pedestrian and bike paths for all the bridges in Rhode Island.

Offenberg said the new plan was sparked by the 50th anniversary of the Newport Bridge and by a push from bike enthusiasts to make more of the state accessible to bikers and walkers.

However, before anybody walks across the Jamestown bridge, Offenberg said there needs to be safety improvements, like connecting the lane to walking paths and sidewalks on the mainland. 

"So that piece is missing. There’s no link to safely get you here," he said.

Right now, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority is in the very early stages of making the pedestrian and bike lane a reality. 

They've put together a working committee that will be hosting a series of public workshops across the state this year to get input from residents.

Information about where and when the workshops will be happening is expected to be released this Spring.

Now You Know

I called Peter Quesnel, the Providence resident who submitted the question to The Bubbler and filled him in on what I discovered about the safety walkway

"Oh, that’s all it is," Quesnel said.

He said he’s excited though that there are plans to open pedestrian and bike lanes, and that he’ll definitely be ready to walk the Jamestown Bridge once state officials cut the ribbon. 

"I hope they give me a call," he said.  

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority said it’s too early to say when exactly people can bike and walk across the Jamestown Bridge.

They estimate the earliest anything could happen would be three years from now.

What are you curious about? Submit your question online for your chance to have us investigate it.


Peter Quesnel
Peter Quesnel
Eric Offenberg, director of engineering at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, stands on what could be a section of the future pedestrian lane in North Kingstown.
Eric Offenberg, director of engineering at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, stands on what could be a section of the future pedestrian lane in North Kingstown.
On each side of the Jamestown/Verrazano Bridge is a lane that looks like it was meant to be walked on. However, it's inaccessible -- but why?
On each side of the Jamestown/Verrazano Bridge is a lane that looks like it was meant to be walked on. However, it's inaccessible -- but why?
The sun reflects off of Narragansett Bay over the Jamestown Bridge.
The sun reflects off of Narragansett Bay over the Jamestown Bridge.
A small American flag by the safety walkway blows in the wind. Right now, the walkway is only intended for inspectors, maintenance workers, and drivers with car troubles.
A small American flag by the safety walkway blows in the wind. Right now, the walkway is only intended for inspectors, maintenance workers, and drivers with car troubles.