2013-09-12 / News

Four area bridges will be bicycle friendly this Sunday

By Margo Sullivan

Sunday is shaping up as a kind of amnesty day for bicycle enthusiasts who have ever harbored dreams of skimming downhill on the Newport Bridge with the bright green patches of Jamestown farmland behind them and the harbor on the horizon.

On any other day of the year, a cyclist could expect a ticket and fine for riding a bicycle over the Newport and Jamestown bridges. But on Sept. 15, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority will sponsor a 26-mile bike ride over all four authority-controlled spans for a one-day charity event.

The bridge authority manages the Mount Hope, Sakonnet River, Newport Pell and the Jamestown Verrazzano spans. Almost three years ago, the authority sponsored a foot race over the Newport Bridge, which marked the first time runners were allowed to run over the span. That race was a hit and became the inspiration for the running of the bicycles, said David Darlington, chairman of the authority.

“The board saw the success of the Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run and thought a bike ride over all four of the East Bay bridges would make for a unique cycling and fundraising event,” he said.

They followed up with a run over the Jamestown Bridge and now with the bicycle ride.

The bicycle ride starts at 7 a.m. at the park-and-ride lot on the North Kingstown side of the Jamestown Bridge. It ends outside Roger Williams University on the Bristol side of the Mount Hope Bridge.

It is open to the public, with one caveat: riders must be able to complete the course in under three hours.

Practically, that means the ride is for capable and experienced bike racers. The length is a marathonlike 26 miles long, and the terrain is also hilly in a lot of sections.

However, there are roles for people who want to be part of the event but don’t want to ride. One way to become involved is to volunteer. The 4 Bridge Ride needs people to help with the event, and the volunteers can sign up at 4bridgeride.com.

Councilor Eugene Mihaly, who has signed on for bicycle trips through Europe, expects to participate as a cyclist in the ride.

“I probably am,” he said. “I like these group rides, particularly ones that have some charity facet. It’s fun riding with others.”

Although he conceded a crowd of cyclists can make for dangerous conditions, Mihaly anticipates pedaling over the bridges surrounding Jamestown will be a unique experience.

Bicyclists can traverse the Mount Hope Bridge and will be able to use the Sakonnet River Bridge legally when the pedestrian path opens. The path is supposed to be ready just in time for the race.

However, the other two spans are unclaimed territory for bicyclists. The Pell span offers an unprecedented challenge.

“It’s steep,” said Mihaly about the 2-mile long bridge.

Still, Mihaly is a qualified enough rider to complete the route in the allotted time.

He rides a lot, he said. “And I really enjoy it. It’s my main exercise and main sanity restoration activity.”

Seven coastal police departments, as well as the state police, the state Department of Transportation and the bridge authority, all had to approve the route. From the park-and-ride, cyclists will cruise a vehicle-free lane down the offramp to Route 138, across the 1.4-mile-long Verrazzano Bridge and continue to the toll plaza via the connector road. After the trek over the Pell Bridge, riders will take the downtown Newport offramp and merge with regular traffic on Farewell Street. During this stretch, all rules of the road apply, including traffic lights, stop signs and rotaries. Another traffic-free lane opens up when the ride turns from Stringham Road onto West Main Road in Portsmouth. The protected lane ends when riders take the Hummocks Avenue exit toward the Sakonnet River Bridge, where traversing will be done in a single file. When cyclists reach the turn around in Tiverton and cross back into Portsmouth, the ride heads toward the Mount Hope Bridge on Anthony Road and Boyds Lane.

The main beneficiary is the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, Darlington said. Specifically, the commission is going to use the funds for its Aquidneck Island Bikeway Project.

Plus, he said, “There are additional, optional fundraising opportunities using CrowdRise.com through the event website. Individuals can use the ride to fundraise for federally recognized non-profit organizations.”

This event marks the first time the event has been held, and Darlington hopes it turns into an annual happening. He expects the course to draw expert riders from all over New England.

“Bike enthusiasts will have a unique tour of Rhode Island waterways that has never been offered before,” he said.

According to RITBA, “Hundreds of participants are expected to turn out and enjoy this scenic morning ride through seven coastal communities. Experienced riders will cross the Narragansett Bay and Sakonnet River taking in some of the more exceptional views Rhode Island has to offer.”

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