Blackstone and East Bay Bike Paths: Now Connected!



Blackstone and East Bay Bike Paths: Now Connected!

This past Monday, I rode along the East Bay and Blackstone River bicycle paths and through a now well-marked network of public roadways which connect them.  Bridging these two bike paths to create one, near 35 mile stretch from Woonsocket to Bristol is the vision of Bob Billington, Executive Director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. Instead of waiting years for funding to build a dedicated bike-way connecting the existing paths, Bob and a collaborative team of planners and engineers from RIDOT and the municipalities involved laid out a route along existing roads and marked it with pavement paint and signage.  It is a low-cost wonder with real power in several ways:

1) For Bicycle Commuting:  The connector route provides a vital transportation link between Woonsocket, where bus service has been cut, and Providence.  Studies show that employees who bicycle to work are likely to be healthier, more productive and to cost less in health care benefits.

2) For Recreational Cycling:  The connector links the boats and beaches of Narragansett Bay to the historic old mills of the Blackstone Valley ~ the roots of the global industrial revolution. Opening the corridor for two-wheeled sightseers, regardless their starting point, is a boon for increased tourism and a potential boost to small businesses along the way.

3) Immediate Gratification:  The connector route is delivering benefits to fitness, fun and transportation right now!

Is it a perfect route?  No.  But even locals who drive know those do not exist.  It is a signed route on public streets with “sharrows” (shared road markings) on the pavement and burnt orange street signs pointing the way.  There are a few small but thoroughly manageable hills. There is a temporary section where you have to take the lane and share the road with motorists (i.e., no room to pass or be passed).  And there is a section, again, temporary due to construction, past an on-ramp to 95 North where smart cyclists will check over their shoulder then, move left, taking the lane, so drivers can get to the ramp without collecting a bicycle.

But, if you know how to ride a bicycle beyond your driveway (going with, not against, traffic, using your hand signals, taking the lane when appropriate and, generally, understanding that the increased maneuverability of a bicycle does not relinquish you from following the rules of the road (or common sense)), then the new connector will work for you.

Pawtucket Mayor, Donald Grebien was one of the 40 or so cyclists who gave it a try and rode all or part of the day’s route from East Providence to the base of the Blackstone path in Cumberland.  The ride clearly inspired him to spend more time bicycling in his town — and I hope that it inspires his constituents to do the same.  The health benefits will be significant as will be the contribution to cleaner air and the traffic to local businesses.

When Bob Billington first announced this project, a lot of people chuckled.  Well, it’s done! And it’s a potentially significant contribution to a healthier, cleaner, more sustainable Rhode Island.  “Chapeau,” as they say in the pro cycling world, to Bob and everyone who helped make the connector a reality.




  • Don Wright
    Jul 16, 2011 at 5:05 am

    Hold on a minute. Until they build an actual "bike path" like the east bay and the blackstone, this is really not any more connected than it was before. And by that I mean, those cutesy little signs are not going to keep cell phone using, makeup applying, lunch eating drivers from running up your back anymore than any other road in the state. Sorry to sound negative, but I'm just not one of those people to say any progress for cycling awareness is just wonderful. More importantly, you're not going to take your 5 year old for a nice afternoon ride through downtown Pawtucket, like you can on an actual path, are you? I didn't think so.

    Another thing … as a 20x365x5 day bicycle commuter, don't lecture me on how to ride. My rule is -> SURVIVE. If that means breaking some rules, so be it. Yes, common sense, and having your head on a swivel. Until they paint actual bike lanes on the road, educate drivers, enforce existing no texting laws like other cities (e.g. Portland OR) the only rule out there is -> watch your ass !

  • Labann
    Jul 17, 2011 at 5:18 am

    I'm with Don… a minimum is a driving prohibited wide shoulder, like the stretch between Apponaug and East Greenwich. Route signs are nice but ignored. Sharrows are a desperate measure to justify 4-lane undivided roads; eliminate a driving lane or widen road! More could be done with extra wide sidewalks redesigned as bike-ped; in many places in suburbs, sidewalks are almost never used.

    Midday recently rode for the first time Cumberland Hill Road, RI-122, from downtown Woonsocket (Clinton) onto Mendon to intersection with West Wrentham and Manville Hill. Not only is it 4-lanes undivided, the most dangerous of arrangements, there are countless doubled grates, no shoulder, poor pavement deeply scarified at white edge line, and shoals of sand. There's no reason for it to be 4 lanes considering how little traffic it flows to RI-99. At least you could use parallel Blackstone Bikeway for most of that trip, which I bailed out to once I got to RI-116.

  • barry
    Jul 17, 2011 at 7:23 am

    I think the sharrowed "conection" is a small step forward for making bikes a little more legitimized on the roadways, but I agree with the above posts it is far from heldul to mny of us Though there are plans for an actual bkeway thru some of the route, at $30 million or so it seems there will be no money for this project unless advocates really work for it. (see my post "end of bike path program??")

    The sad state of roads Labann notes above is partly due to inadequate funding, partly to past decsions to solve problems in the most expensive way (e.g. I-way, Route 403 freeway) and partly due to deferred maintenance that makes things more expensive in the long run (e.g. Sakonnet Bridge)

  • Labann
    Jul 20, 2011 at 4:47 am

    Who do we blame, Barry? It's time for city/town councils, governor, and state representatives to apologize and vow to correct the egregious errors of incomplete streets and poor infrastructure. There are minimum standards available for review. The code of federal regulations and state law prohibit, but only penalties (FWHA scrutiny leading to funding denials) are paid by citizens, residents and taxpayers. Feds are generally glad to provide bike-ped specific funds, but RI can't afford to match them after blowing a billion on roads (not to mention state pensions and salaries) but neglecting bridges, brooks, rivers, streams that affect them. RI sits on a liquid time bomb, only 1 week of rain away from washing businesses and homes into the ocean, yet nothing is done to catch and divert water. The 100-year flood levels are obviously not adequate protection anymore, esp. along Blackstone, Pawcatuck, Pawtuxet and Woonasquatucket Rivers. This all stems from bad urban planning and endless government corruption.

    In Cranston (Quahog, as some call it), the mayor threatened to withhold all public services including garbage pickup, libraries, and senior services. If he and his greedy staff can't do the basics after a 10% property tax increase, why are we paying their huge salaries? There's something more than wrong here. It's a rat race orchestrated by neocons and republicans by offshoring, outsourcing, policy rigging and union busting to return to a slave labor force maximizing their profits while threatening our UN ratified four freedoms: from want and tyranny, of religion and speech. The enemy has been identified. Wealthy want to be called "job creators", yet 90% of workforce is self-employed and there's been a net job loss since the Bush tax cuts to them. Trickle down never worked; time to restore the 90% tax (instead of 35%) for those in the $200K+/year bracket. Only then can you force through some basic maintenance that offers protections from enemies abroad and weather related.

  • Allie
    Aug 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I certainly look forward to giving the new bikeway/path a go. I just experienced the South County path for the first time and loved it. I forgot how much I valued my days on the DC area bike paths – W&OD Rail Trail for daily commutes in northern Virginia, the Mount Vernon and Bethesda paths for long runs and rides when training for charity events.

    So up next – Bristol to PVD and back, after that a round trip from Bristol up the Blackstone and back!

  • Labann
    Aug 22, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Allie, we await your ride report. Occasionally I'll make the Blackstone Bikeway a part of my return trip from Woonsocket, which I generally go to from Cranston by way of Smithfield. I enjoy certain roads and spots that are hilly, but a 40 miler needs some flat stretches, too. The Blackstone is, IMO, RI's most historic and scenic with it's close proximity to the former "Hardest Working River in America" and it's canals and waterfalls. I lobbied hard to get it reopened at Martin Street, as it was, at the time, a $12 million facility going to disuse and waste. Recently I made the uphill trip along the spur to the I-295 Visitor Center, a nice rest stop with a DD.

  • Labann
    Aug 24, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Blackstone Bikeway Connector to EBBP

    Props: Heroic effort to offer anything for bicyclists. Signs supplemented by sharrows keep you on course. Better than nothing as a temporary measure.

    Criticisms: Route marginalizes cyclists. Takes you out of your (and motorists') way, when you could just ride main streets. Would've preferred a route through East Providence along RR tracks to Prospect St rather than having to cross Geo Washington Bridge. Ugly detour over Division St bridge in Pawtucket due to a block of construction on Roosevelt Ave; does go by a nice view of Slater Mill and swell wind kinetic sculpture should you survive crossing 4 lanes after discovering a blocked DETOUR sign at last second. Never actually saw Wyatt Detention Center before; lots of razor wire, but parks and schools along that line. Sharrow already disappearing at intersection of High and Hunt Sts. Got to pay close attention, since huge sharrows point straight and tiny signs redirect shortly thereafter on a twisty maze.

    Whatever: Bad pavement… lots of it… mean get off bike bad in spots, under RR bridge on Hunt St. Huge holes at irregular intervals. You'd think they'd use these designations to improve to minimum bike standards. Understand this is a common route for cyclists, offers a lovely view of Seekonk River, and uses Blackstone lanes, but why suffer hills unnecessarily? Gano St intimidates without a shoulder. You know there is an Old Bridge Path along the Seekonk River by which, if paved, you could ride separately behind ball field to Pitman St. Good routes run at 45° angles to motorways, bee-lines to destinations.