Emily Tessier wants Middletown to pay closer attention to bicycle and pedestrian safety.
The new Town Councilwoman proposed the creation of a Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee at the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday night in Town Hall, a request approved unanimously by her colleagues.
Tessier said those duties have been handled by the town’s Open Space & Fields Committee, something that doesn’t fully mesh with that group’s stated purpose.
With the new five-member board, she said the volunteer group could offer input on existing projects, provide research on bicycle and pedestrian matters and work on spreading the word about safety issues, among other items like investigating electric bicycles.
“I think its really important for our community,” Tessier said. “There are more and more people biking.”
According to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation Office On Highway Safety Pedestrian Bicycle Safety, there were 13 pedestrian fatalities across the Ocean State in 2014-2018, the most recent five-year period where statistics are available. Over the same period, the DOT office reported about two fatalities a year for bicyclists.
Nationally, the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention reports close to 1,000 bicyclists and 7,000 pedestrians die annually across the United States.
Earlier in the session, Nick Coogan — the chairman of Open Space & Fields Committee — asked the council to do everything in its power to accelerate RIDOT work on a bike and pedestrian path between Enterprise Center and Turnpike Avenue in Portsmouth.
RIDOT information showed the $3 million project — also known as RIDOT TAP 9005_1 — is slated to start in 2029 and take two or three years to complete.
The idea would be to create a shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists in the East Main Road corridor north from Enterprise Center near Middletown Town Hall. The project would include signal and intersection improvements too.
Hearing Coogan’s bid, the council voted unanimously to send a letter to RIDOT leadership asking the project be accelerated to 2023 instead of 2029.
Citing pedestrian safety among other issues, the council also approved continued study of new sidewalks along Purgatory Road from lower Aquidneck Avenue to Second Beach. Town officials said that project would cost the nothing in terms of local tax dollars.
Noting the sidewalk discussion went on for an hour, Tessier said it was an important item that needed consideration — across the community.
“We don’t have a bike lane on Valley Road where kids go to school. That’s a problem,” Tessier said.