Dozens of Aquidneck Island residents and community representatives filled the CCRI auditorium, along with members of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and Bike Newport, to participate in a forum with Carl Knoch, of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
Thursday night's forum was the second in a series of events to educate and pique the interest of Aquidneck Islanders for the project.
The Shoreline Bikeway is a proposed 10-mile recreational trail that would run alongside the existing Old Colony railway throughout Aquidneck Island.
Newport is at a tipping point in the process, Knoch said, referring to the support given to the project by the AIPC, Bike Newport and a growing number of local residents.
“We are further along than you think,” said. “You have the momentum. . .now you need to get it going.”
Knoch touted the Rails to Trails projects as a “great alternative” for getting from one part of Aquidneck Island to another.
Benefits of the bike trail include reduced traffic congestion, health benefits, economic opportunities and potential for residential development, he said.
Knoch said other Rails to Trails projects have spurred businesses along the bike paths ranging from equipment shops to sandwich stands to full-scale restaurants.
“The trails aren’t a cost, they’re an investment.”
Appropriate signage, fencing and barriers, as well as safe crossing points and adequate distance between the track and the trail, are all design elements to keep the bikeway safe for bikers and pedestrians.
Who would manager the trail has not yet been decided, but would likely be split between the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the municipalities the trail runs through.
Funding is also an unknown variable in the project. The project could be federally funded, or could be paid for by municipalities, private or “creative” fundraising by the community.
“I don’t think there’s a question that [The Shoreline Bikeway] would be the finest trail in the state,” Tina Dolen, Executive Director of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, said.
In order for the bikeway to come to fruition, each municipality would have to approve it. The Department of Transportation would have the final say in the matter.
Bob Andrews, owner of the Newport Dinner Train, attended the forum and said he supported the bikeway as well and looked forward to working together on the project.