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If you’ve ever tried to exit the Newport Folk or Jazz Festival by car at the end of a day of music, you know patience is a virtue, and cyclists come first. Although it’s not quite the Tour de France peloton, the site of dozens of bikes exiting Fort Adams en masse is inspiring.
Riding your bike to the Festival is becoming increasingly popular. It’s estimated that about 18% of attendees ride their bikes to the Fort, and the racks of parked bikes near the festival gate are a testament to that.
The organization that makes it happen safely and orderly is Bike Newport.
We spoke to Bike Newport Executive Director Bari Freeman at the beginning of what might be her busiest week of the year. She’s proud of the organization’s success.
“We’ve had up to 18 percent at the Folk Festival, which is 1800 bikes in one day,” explained Freeman. “At Jazz, we drop to 100 to 300 a day, it’s a different demographic. At 1800 a day, that is, as far as we can tell from our research, the highest percentage of festival-goers arriving at a music event in this country.”
“It a huge amount of people arriving by bicycle and every year it gets to be more. We could go up to 900 or even a thousand a day this year,” added Freeman. (This year, daily festival capacity will be approximately half of normal capacity due to the pandemic.)
It’s a remarkable achievement for the city by the sea, where the roads are not exactly built for bike traffic.
Freeman has seen enormous growth in the program since it was established nine years ago. “When we started in 2012, we had a few wooden racks and a couple of hundred bikes. Every year it increases, because it’s clearly easier, faster, and more fun than driving. It’s really nice to sail past the cars and there’s a lot of support that goes with it.”
The benefits of riding your bike to Fort Adams are clear. “It’s only a couple of miles into town and you can park anywhere and hop on your bike. When you get to the Fort, we have volunteers there to help with parking to optimize the space, we park them very close together to get that many bikes into such a small space,” explained Freeman.
“We do ask people to make donations, we ask for a minimum of a dollar per bike a day,” she continued. It’s far less than the $20 parking fee you’ll pay at Fort Adams. “All donations go to bike safety education and to support Bike Newport,” she added.
Riding to the Fort has become a matter of pride for those who cycle the Newport roads annually. And there’s some good-natured competition as well.
“One of the fun things that happens is that every year we have blinker lights that get put on the bikes at the end of the day, so that people who are leaving have that added visibility. Well, the folks that ride year after year don’t remove those blinking lights, so it’s sort of like a badge of honor, how many of these things you have hanging on the back of your bike.”
Freeman suggested that Festival attendees secure bikes ahead of time as there is a shortage due to the pandemic. “They are going to be very hard to come by in the city. We recommend that people bringing their own to the Festival,” she cautioned.
If you are biking to the Festival, here are some reminders from Bike Newport:
Bring your LIGHTS and HELMET. You’ll likely be leaving after dark; your lights will make you SAFE and VISIBLE.
You should expect heavier traffic during the Festivals. Ride carefully, follow the bike route signs, pay extra attention to motorists, and give yourself time to get there safely.
Newport is known for its history and beauty – but not so much for the condition of the roads. Watch for potholes and ruts!
More from Bike Newport: https://bikenewportri.org/bike-to-the-newport-folk-and-jazz-festivals-this-summer/