The following op-ed was submitted and written by Liam Blank.
Newport is undoubtedly Rhode Island’s most popular tourist destination, attracting more than 3-million visitors annually. With only 5,000 available parking spaces in Newport, getting around the city can prove to be difficult for tourists and 25,000 local residents. Recently, city leaders have been looking to expand Newport’s workforce and economy by developing several acres of land at the base of the Newport Bridge in the North End neighborhood. As a city, it is crucial that Newport supports this growth with an expansion of smart and sustainable transportation.
Improved public transportation, both locally and throughout Rhode Island, are greatly needed to ease congestion and the burden of new development. However, Newport is lacking this infrastructure, with very few reliable transit options, narrow roads, and seasonal overcrowding. Commercial corridors such as America’s Cup Avenue, Thames Street, and Memorial Boulevard are plagued with gridlock traffic, narrow sidewalks, and unreliable bus service. This congestion and overcrowding is commonplace during the summer season and is exasperated by beach traffic and special events, such as the Newport Folk Festival and America’s Cup Race.
Before America’s Cup Avenue and Memorial Boulevard were developed into a four-lane pseudo-highway that tears right through Newport’s urban core, a streetcar line used to transport locals and visitors between Thames Street, Memorial Boulevard, and Easton’s Beach. Furthermore, the Old Colony Railroad tracks, which used to carry passengers between Newport, Fall River, and Boston, still run along the west side of Aquidneck Island. This public right-of-way is an invaluable resource that must be tapped and used for local commuters’ benefit.
It is paramount that Newport takes advantage of the railroad tracks and poorly designed boulevards by implementing an efficient and accessible light rail service that would connect Newport’s North End with downtown and Easton’s Beach. Additionally, once the ramps at the base of the Newport Bridge are reconfigured, one of the parcels of newly available land could be developed into a park-and-ride and intermodal transportation hub. Visitors could drive across the bridge, park their car in a large parking garage, then take the light rail line to the heart of Newport and Easton’s Beach.
Light rail is exactly the smart, sustainable service that would accommodate Newport’s continuing growth. It is environmentally friendly and, in this particular location, could serve as an efficient means to get visitors onto public transit as soon as they enter the city.
The Newport Light Rail would run on a dedicated right-of-way from the base of the Newport Bridge to the Gateway Center along the Old Colony Railroad train tracks. On America’s Cup Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, four lanes of automobile traffic could be reduced to two, which would allow the remaining two lanes to be used for the light rail line.
Reintroducing environmentally-sound light rail service to Newport would not only ease traffic congestion, but it would also stimulate development in the North End and encourage different types of businesses to plant roots in the community.
In a city that is almost entirely built out, Newport must prepare to take advantage of every option to improve economic opportunities and overall quality of life. This project is ideal for bringing “America’s First Resort” into the twenty-first century.
~ Liam Blank, Middletown R.I.
Liam Blank is a Transportation Analyst for ReThink Studio in New York City and the Co-founder of the New Jersey Commuters Action Network. He is a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at Rutgers University, and has worked in Rhode Island and New Jersey on various projects in the fields of politics, urban design, and transportation planning. As a Middletown, RI native and La Salle Academy alum, Liam became involved in public transportation activism and intends to continue his advocacy upon completion of his degree.