R.I. Takes Biking/Walking Funds for Highways

Providence's "City Walk" on-street biking and walking trails are one of the projects targeted for cuts by Rhode Island DOT. Photo: City of Providence
Providence's "City Walk" on-street biking and walking trails are one of the projects targeted for cuts by Rhode Island DOT. Photo: City of Providence

Almost one dozen biking and walking projects across the state of Rhode Island are in jeopardy after a state agency decided to transfer $27 million in federal money dedicated to active transportation to highways and administrative expenses over the next 10 years.

The money represents about 33 percent of the tiny pool of funding the Rhode Island Department of Transportation receives from the feds for walking and biking.

The state blamed the changes on a state law that requires roads to be in a “state of good repair.” “We must use our limited funds for vital safety concerns [like] structurally deficient bridges,” the agency said in a statement.

Rhode Island bridges have been ranked worst in the nation. But they’re hardly the most immediate safety threat. In the last decade, 127 people have been killed while walking in the Ocean State and 10 were killed while biking. Zero people have been killed by falling bridges.

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition said the state has increased spending for a highway interchange project in Cranston, House Speaker’s Nicholas Mattiello’s district, as well as to add some highway tolling infrastructure. In addition, RIDOT also wants to double the amount of money it spends on “legal” expenses, for reasons that are unclear. (The agency has not responded to Streetsblog).

The transfer will rob funding from City Walk, the innovative on-road trail project underway in Providence aimed at increasing walking and biking rates and improving safety. Other trail projects, some of which provide the only safe connection for people on foot or bike, may be delayed or scrapped altogether.

The move comes when the Bicycle Coalition and other stakeholders were actually expecting the state to make a big policy commitment to encouraging walking and biking.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” said Sarah Mitchell, board chair of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition. The coalition is in the midst of a campaign aimed at fighting the changes. “These cuts aren’t really being equally distributed. Nearly every single bicycle project is being cut, delayed or eliminated.

“It feels like they’re deliberately targeting these projects,” Mitchell added.

Another project that appears to be in trouble is the extension of the South County Bike Path, which would extend from the University of Rhode Island to — it was hoped —  Narragansett Town Beach.

“RIDOT dragged its feet, even as the Town of Narragansett voted three times in support of the extension,” David Smith of the Friends of the William C. O’Neill South County Bike Path, said in a statement. “In 2018, RIDOT still did nothing, and now proposes arbitrarily changing the route, slashing the funding, and delaying the project further.”

  • Lousy. Sad to see RI continue to prioritize auto infrastructure at the expense of biking and walking. The South County trail sounds like an amazing plan, and one I would use in a heartbeat – to make a multimodal bike connection between the Kingston Amtrak Station at URI to the Block Island Ferry in Galilee (if Amtrak allowed bikes on NE Regional). Providence continues to struggle despite being a satellite of Boston, also thanks to barely adequate MBTA service. Great potential for sustainable urbanism in RI, but apparently little progress.

  • Nicholas L

    We need to replace those leaders.

  • Bernard Finucane

    It’s sad how New England, America’s most picturesque corner, has wiped out all its old cities.

  • Stephen Simac

    Some of the smaller cities have come back to life. Northampton, Mass, Amherst, Greenfield. Brattleboro Vt. A lot had to do with the rivers being cleaned up from a century of abuse from industrialization and dumping. It amazed me when I saw that most riverfront commercial buildings had their backs to the water, until I learned they that dye works, metal works, leather, sewage, etc.. were just dumped into them for over a hundred years.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Nice to here.

  • qatzelok

    Small town people are very trusting.

    “Hi, I’m with the automobile-oil-highway industry. Let me show you how you can make your town really work for you!” *everyone smiles haplessly*

    Slow urban death follows.

  • Sven

    The RIDOT director is on 630am every Thursday morning. You could call him up and ask him why

  • Stephen Simac

    Of course they still have Vermont Yankee with tons of radioactive rods in a cooling pond about a hundred yards from the Connecticut River. Then there’s the six months of snow and ice. I liked a lot about the Pioneer Valley, except for that.

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