A bike path running from the Bristol campus to the center of town has been a topic of discussion for many years. Given that there are no designers, funding or permits at this time, Director of Facilities William Seymour explained there is no actual project in motion. However, a plan has been developed.
The town has given preliminary approval of a plan for the path that was created by a group of RWU students as a senior project two years ago. Within this project, they looked at six alternative routes and worked to create solutions for various issues and modifications that would affect the route. They also worked to formulate a solution for crossing Metacom Avenue safely, with possibilities including an underpass, overpass or a signal crossing. Despite not being an official project yet, this acts as a milestone within the progress.
“The routing that was nominated by the student design team two years ago has been the routing that has been designated as the preferred routing by the town,” Seymour said.
The potential path would have a trailhead on campus near the parking garage and span all the way to the East Bay Bike Path in Bristol.
One incentive the bike path brings for the town is the possibility of increased connection between students and businesses in the downtown area. Parties at RWU agree that safety is a main requirement and focus of the bike path.
As far as the progress of the plan, Seymour explained the matter is currently in the town's hands.
“Right now the ball is in the town’s court. The town is applying for a design grant so that we can get a landscape, architecture and civil engineer consultant on board to do preliminary plans and a real budget development,” Seymour said.
The town has also committed to setting up two meetings, one with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the other with local private landowners. Both Vice President of Student Life John King and Seymour have agreed to partake in these meetings. They are currently waiting for the town to schedule them.
Christopher Menton, a professor of criminal justice at RWU, has been a prominent advocate of the idea for many years. A self proclaimed bike-nut, Menton believes the creation of a bike path is both important and beneficial for the university as well as the students. He emphasized the personal benefits of bike riding, from improved physical health to an increased connection with nature and other people.
“This has been the most active I’ve seen it over all these years. Because of Professor Menton, I think something actually may happen,” said June Speakman, professor of political science and state representative of District 68 (Bristol/Warren).
Speakman’s role as a representative includes making sure RIDOT is responsive and helping to facilitate communication between the state and other parties. Despite the immense support from most involved, Seymour and Speakman are unsure of how long this plan will take to become a reality, and they both question the priority that it has at the town and state levels. The bike path is included in RWU’s master plan.
Menton believes an increase in awareness and support for the bike path throughout the student body are important components in terms of continuing this process.
“I think that the people who hold the real power are you, the students,” Menton said. “If more students demanded better bike infrastructure, then that would cause it to happen, because you are the paying customers.”