Since Memorial Day, local residents, business owners and even tourists have been providing us with an overwhelming amount of feedback regarding wrong-way bicycle riders and sidewalk riders.

A recent city traffic scanner validated their concern, it counted 150 wrong-way vehicles on Thames Street over a weekend. In a recent study by the League of American Cyclists, wrong-way riding on a bicycle was among the leading  causes of bicycle/automobile accidents.

While the report does not specifically cite what the 150 wrong-way vehicles were, many believe that it’s safe to attribute that number to bicycles and not cars.

City of Newport’s Codified Ordinance “10.72.100. Operation of bicycle.” prohibits anyone thirteen years of age and older from riding on a sidewalk, and requires that all riders follow the direction of traffic.

“Persons thirteen (13) years of age and older are prohibited from operating bicycles on city sidewalks. Bicycle operators thirteen (13) years of age and older shall operate on public roadways, following the direction of traffic, operating on the right side of the road, if practical, and observing the traffic and vehicle laws, proscribed for bicycle operation, as specified in the Rhode Island General Laws. Persons younger than thirteen (13) years of age are permitted to operate on sidewalks, with caution given to pedestrians. Persons of any age are permitted to walk a bicycle on a public sidewalk.”

Bari Freeman, Executive Director of Bike Newport told me on Thursday that she is well aware of the situation;

“We’re definitely aware of wrong-way riders – we call them ‘salmons’ and their wrong-way riding ‘salmoning’. It’s a dangerous and far too common behavior that puts everyone at risk – cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. Thames Street is probably the worst, confirmed by a recent city traffic scanner that counted 150 wrong-way vehicles over a weekend, and we can be pretty sure the large majority, were bicycles,” 

Why do bicycles ride the wrong way and on sidewalks? Freeman thinks it happens for four main reasons;

  1. Laziness: They don’t want to make their way to the street going in their direction.
  2. Lack of information: They don’t know that the law here is to ride only in one direction. Many countries in Europe, Asia, South America allow bicycles to go both ways on all streets. This is the case even in the most advanced cycling countries such as the Netherlands.
  3. Lack of infrastructure: It’s hard to know where to be or where to go without guidance.
  4. Arrogance: They just don’t care. The rules don’t apply to them.

When I started a conversation about the issue on Nextdoor recently, Newport City Councilor Kate Leonard shared a concern;

“Groups keep promoting more use of bicycles. However, the best description — and appropriate one made by the City Manager — ‘Our streets are narrow. It is like trying to put a size 10 foot in a size 3 shoe.’ Bottom line: We cannot accommodate all the buses, trucks, cars, pedicabs, bikes etc on our streets at the same time.”

A point that some in the community have made on that point is that if more and more people are turning to riding a bicycle; what are we doing to make sure that we as a community are supplying enough awareness, education and enforcement.

Bike Newport, who’s mission is to improve, encourage and facilitate bicycling in and around Newport for the health and
well-being of our youth and families and as a viable and enjoyable method of transportation for residents and visitors, believes education and enforcement are the answer to stop wrong-way and sidewalk riding from happening.

Many residents including Alan Voll believe more enforcement is the answer;

“Sidewalk bicycle riding needs to be curbed. So to speak Huge hazard for pedestrians and drivers, especially when biking the wrong way. Enforce it for a few weeks at the beginning of each summer; I bet the word will get around and the number of incidents drop precipitously.”

Councilor Leonard almost immediately agreed with Alan Voll on Nextdoor.

In a recent phone conversation with Councilor John Florez, he agreed that wrong-way and sidewalk bicycle riding is a safety concern and the rules of the road, and sidewalks, do need to be enforced.

Newport resident Rocky Steeves believes that Parking Enforcement Officers, “Meter Maids”, enforcing the law could be the answer;

“While I rarely see officers on foot on lower Thames (mostly since I’m not out there after bars close…), I do see a fair number of traffic enforcement officers on both Thames & Spring – could their ticketing powers be broadened (or they even handout warnings) to wrong way/sidewalk cyclists?

@kate leonard I think Mr Nicolson’s opinion on this issue is a shortsighted-bike riders help alleviate some of our city’s biggest issues in the summer- traffic and parking, not necessarily in that order. And surely the issue of emissions reduction is helped by biking rather than driving – we should be making things more bike friendly for locals and tourists alike. Perhaps getting tour busses off our roads, since they do damage to our streets & sidewalks while bringing little or no revenue to either local businesses or city coffers, would be a better approach.”

Alex Doumato, a Newport Resident in the North End, agreed with the idea that the city should use meter maids to enforce bicycle rules and regulations;

“I strongly agree! I think the meter enforcers who write tickets for parking should be able to hand out tickets to each and every wrong way rider in town. It may be a cynical view but I can’t wait to see the court verdict or insurance claim for a vehicle operator who is hit on Thames by a wrong way bike rider! Who do you think will be the “at fault” party. I think it will end up being the person who was following the law not the person going the wrong way, only because the car will obv inflict more damage. And I apologize for the long post but moreover, who will be saddled with the repair costs? No bike rider has ins coverage for his bike so it will be the policy or pocket of the vehicle owner won’t it?”

When asked about the rules and regulations regarding meter maids, Councilor Florez started an e-mail conversation between Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson and I.

“Hi Joe, I have a question regarding bicycle rules. If the meter maids are allowed to give tickets to illegally parked cars. Should they or other public safety officials also be able to give tickets to bicycles going the wrong way on the sidewalk or street?”

Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson quickly responded with the following;

“The meter maids cannot and should not site for the issue. Too confrontational a situation and not empowered. Cops do when the situation occurs.”

A request for comment from the Newport Police Department regarding the number of tickets handed out for wrong-way and sidewalk riding was not immediately responded to.

Freeman told me that Bike Newport does rely on and need the support of the Newport Police Department, rental shops and everyone possible to enforce our local bicycling laws and regulations;

“We need to reach people on and off their bicycles:
– The police department has pads of information that review bicycling rules in English and Spanish. We hope that all officers will make use of these pads to inform errant cyclists of the laws.
– The police department needs to enforce the law with tickets. Officers can use their judgment as to whether folks need information or a fine. Sometimes a tough call.
– Bike retail and rental shops also use these informational tools and can/should review the rules of the road with their customers – including, if not especially, the requirement to ride in the same direction as traffic.
– More distribution of the Newport County Bike Map – which includes much information regarding local laws, practices, and recommended routes
– Bike Newport reviews Rules of the Road with all program participants. We are also launching a new program to recognize “Roll Models” – cyclists who agree to model and share safe cycling practices.
– Bike Newport is working more with the media, local organizations, and hospitality partners to help spread the facts about safe road behavior.
– In many cases, especially with visitors, we need to simply let folks know – and they’ll be happy to follow the rules. Friendly acts will go a long way to correcting wrong-way cycling. That said, you can also lose your head if you correct the wrong person – see “Arrogance” above – another tough call.”

Bike Newport has provided the Newport Police Department with this flyer to give to cyclists.

In a recent comment, Susan Genett, who lives off of Broadway in Newport, is one of those who “simply let folks know”;

“when I see sidewalk bicyclers when out walking, I let them know they can ride in the travel lane with traffic & they move onto the street. Simply, think most tourists don’t know that streets without a bike lane they can merge with traffic…”

Freeman wants all to be aware that there are good and bad bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians. She told me about two recent examples of where we need to be aware of the big picture as we as a community work to both improve and encourage cycling.

“1) Last week a group of students from China brought their bikes to our Bike Garage to learn some basic maintenance. When they left, they headed the wrong way on Spring Street. We caught up with them. They had no idea of the local law, as two-way cycling on one-way streets is allowed in China. They were very happy to learn – and to turn around.
2) Just yesterday there was a near collision of a bike and pedestrian on Broadway that I personally witnessed. Anyone might think it was the cyclist’s fault, but the pedestrian was crossing in the middle of the road with no crosswalk, and a car on the road was accommodating her. Both the pedestrian and the car were wrong. The cyclist had no view of her and was following all rules.”

Freeman went on to say;

“Bikes are a good thing for Newport. People on bikes reduce traffic congestion, free up parking, are gentler on our historic landscape, improve the retail economy, and make people happier and more aware of their surroundings. We want more cycling in the best interest of quality of life and quality of place. With most destinations within 1-2 miles, we can easily encourage and support more biking. To accomplish this, we need to ensure that all road users are safe and predictable”

Bari Freeman and Bike Newport encourages everyone to stop by their shop at 29 Spring Street, there you can pick up a map full of bicycle safety information, sign up for a Bike Safety class, become a Roll Model and meet other safe cycling enthusiasts.

Corey Huck from Newport Police Department’s Community Policing and Traffic Services Unit provided the following response on Friday morning;

“The Newport Police Department greatly appreciates all of your concerns. As a reminder bicyclists are required to adhere to the same rules of the road as motorists. We are always trying to improve our operations and we will be placing a digital sign on lower Thames Street for the upcoming holiday weekend in an effort to educate all. Please have a safe and enjoyable weekend.  


City Ordinance 10.72.100 Operation of Bicycle
B. Obedience to traffic regulations. Every person operating a bicycle shall comply with all vehicle traffic laws and with all vehicle traffic signs and signals erected for regulation of traffic.
F. Persons 13 years or older are prohibited from operating bicycles on city sidewalks
Both are punishable by a $25.00 fine”

Everyone seems to agree that education, awareness and enforcement is the answer; the question of who will consistently  enforce the law for the safety of all residents and visitors remains.

What can you do? Share this story, follow the rules of the road, be a role model and/or kindly let the cyclist going the wrong way or traveling on the sidewalk about the rules of the road and city. It may save someones life.

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Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.