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This Letter To The Editor was submitted by Jon Dember, the views and opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of What’sUpNewp, its contributers or its advertisers. To submit a Letter To The Editor, email Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.

There seems to be a vexing problem with the redevelopment of the historic Newport Spring site, that needs urgent public input.  To enable a re-development of the site, it is being studied to permanently close off Court House St , which is the current link for bridge-destined traffic between Spring St and Farewell St.  This is the key to enabling the success of the redeveloped site being planned by the worthy Historic Newport Town Spring Leadership Committee.

As with most urban planning challenges, there is the need to balance competing interests.   One is that of efficient vehicular traffic flow; the other is pedestrian safety and the enabling of a visitor friendly park-like design of the area in front of the Citgo gas station .

By continuing the time- honored but unfortunate pattern that tries to thread tourist traffic (ie, high volume and confused ) through narrow and suddenly twisting streets, we continue to wait for the next injury or fatality.  Although a separate issue to some, people are still being injured on Memorial Blvd despite recent efforts to improve safety.  Tourist vehicular traffic is high volume and confused.   Mix that with speeding and pedestrians and bikes, and the next accident will be sooner than later.   Or to get a more visceral feel of the issue, if you have not done so-  try biking down Spring St on a summer evening.  In time you might come into contact with drivers who may not seem to understand that (like most Newport streets) it is a shared roadway.

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Another closely related reason to keep Court House St closed is that any plan for a relatively calm setting for reflection on community heritage will heavily rely not being engulfed by 21st century vehicular traffic. We need only to look to “Patriot’s Park” in Portsmouth, which is curiously surrounded by the high speed traffic of various legs of Rte 114 and Rte 24.  Not familiar with it? You’re not alone, since you probably would not want to have a picnic there.  Therefore, if the city is taking the proposed designs of the committee seriously, the return to the “traffic island” is not an option.

As per the traffic consultant’s own recommendation, the out –of- town high volume traffic needs to be routed along the main thoroughfares that were developed for that purpose, and along the “horse & buggy” streets only where absolutely unavoidable. Most bridge-destined traffic leaving town should use Spring St and then left onto Memorial Blvd.  Residual Spring St traffic should continue north to join Broadway, then left onto Admiral Kalbfus Rd.  There is no need to force traffic to suddenly have to swerve at Touro St and execute multiple jogs just because it seems to be the most direct route to the bridge.  If some want to have fun on a slalom course, they get some cones and play in the Casino parking field where they won’t hurt anyone.

I’m pretty confident that tourists will continue to find the jewels of this historic gem, even when they can’t always drive up and park in front .   In a way the situation reminds me of Venice, Italy.  I don’t remember seeing any cars there.  In fact it would have been hard to get around with any wheeled vehicle including a wheelchair, because many streets and walkways incorporate steps.   But they did not seem to have a problem with attracting tourists.   Must be the expectations that developed over time.   If we can’t do without a little street that is 100’ long, we may still have a lot to learn about taking back the streets to make Newport more livable.

Jon Dember

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