Providence to Provincetown: Bike advocacy from our saddles

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MassBike's Galen Mook and Kristine Keeney, the Greenway's New England coordinator, ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

By Kristine Keeney, New England Coordinator, East Coast Greenway Alliance

Months ago I dreamt up this bike tour with Galen Mook, executive director of MassBike, the statewide bicycle advocacy organization for Massachusetts. We wanted to check out a new and improved route for the East Coast Greenway through southeastern Massachusetts and across Cape Cod. We wanted to meet many of the local staff and volunteers working in their communities to create connected multi-use paths. Significant challenges remain (Sagamore and Bourne Bridges, I’m looking at you), but the progress we saw and the people we met along the way give us confidence that one day, people of all ages and abilities will be able to walk, run, and ride their bikes safely from Providence, R.I., to Provincetown, Mass.

I started my trip in a public hearing room in Providence packed with bicycle and walking advocates testifying against the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s proposal to cut $37 million from the State Transportation Improvement. I heard a construction worker talk about how she rides her bike to get to and from job sites, a college student read a letter — co-signed by dozens of other college and high school students — explaining how important biking and walking is to their decisions to stay or leave Rhode Island, and a 20-something talk about being hit by a car while biking and landing in Intensive Care with severe damage to his spine. The East Coast Greenway Alliance stands with local workers, students, and residents who oppose cuts to the small amount of bicycle and pedestrian funding available annually in Rhode Island.

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East Bay Bike Path heading south along the Providence River and Watchemoket Cove

The next morning we biked the beautiful East Bay Bike Path from Providence, led by Eric Weis, a former long-time East Coast Greenway staff member. The path’s nearly-new pavement and amazing views were a highlight of our trip; everyone should put the East Bay Bike Path on their bucket list.

As we approached a bike path crossing in Warren, R.I., we saw people in safety vests holding a safety audit of bike/ped crossings. We met with Town Planner Bob Rulli to talk about crossing safety improvements and plans to replace the “broken bridge” on the Warren Bike Path. Once complete, the bridge will add a key off-road connection to avoid a busy on-road section of the East Coast Greenway.

In Fall River, Mass., we picked up Jackie Jones, a planner and active transportation champion at Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District. She rode with us to point out the good and the bad of the South Coast Bikeway, an effort to connect from the Rhode Island border to the Cape Cod Canal by off-road path. I brought along my trusty measuring wheel to ensure that segments being considered for the East Coast Greenway are up to our width standards. One of the gems we saw is the Quequechan River Rail Trail, a beautiful facility built as a boardwalk along the river, truly an oasis in the urban heart of Fall River.

Members of the South Coast Bikeway Alliance arranged an evening workshop for us in New Bedford with MassDOT staff and local elected officials. It was an amazing opportunity to have everyone in the same room talking about ways we can collaborate to move these projects forward and to install wayfinding along the route.

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Galen Mook enjoying New Bedford's Harborwalk, a multi-use path on top of a hurricane barrier.

The following morning we explored New Bedford. We were surprised to find beautiful biking and walking facilities that are part of the city’s Blue Lanes network, including the CoveWalk and the Harborwalk, a multi-use path on top of a hurricane barrier. I had never seen a hurricane barrier, which are built with huge metal gates that close during periods of intense flooding. We’ve added these Blue Lanes to the Greenway’s complementary route — another don’t-miss highlight.

We crossed the Acushnet River into Fairhaven and biked the Phoenix Rail Trail. We saw the gravel and dirt path at the trail’s end that is soon to be under construction this fall to become the Mattapoisett Multi-Use Path.

The Bourne Bridge loomed ahead, a white-knuckle ride on a narrow, raised sidewalk. (The Greenway’s complementary route travels over the Sagamore Bridge, also a white-knuckle experience, but Galen and I are taking the Bourne Bridge instead because we are scheduled to attend the annual Bourne Trail Fest.) We breathed much easier once we had crossed it and could enjoy the festival, a community event put on by the Friends of the Bourne Rail Trail to help raise money and drum up support for connecting the Cape Cod Canal Trail to the Shining Sea Bike Path (which ends in Woods Hole). Joining us were local advocates, MassDOT staff, and more cycling fans from the Boston Cyclist Union and MassBike. We camped that night at Shawmee Crowell State Park in Sandwich.  

The next day we enjoyed a break from meetings and workshops while scoping out the East Coast Greenway route in Hyannis. We found a brand new sidepath, nearly complete, on Sea Street that will give cyclists and walkers a safe route from Main Street to the ocean! We reached the sanctuary of the Cape Cod Rail Trail by afternoon, with the comfort of biking off-road for the next 27 miles. We camped at Nickerson State Forest, which is ideally located right on the trail.

We overcommitted ourselves the next day with four stops on our way to Provincetown. After packing up camp we pedaled to the Hot Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans to meet with the Cape Cod Commission. We compared notes on  planning off-road routes and discussed a possible collaborative signage project that would provide wayfinding for the East Coast Greenway and the Claire Saltonstall Bikeway — currently there is no ECG signage on Cape Cod. 

After hopping back on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, we saw a woman standing in the middle of the trail at a crossing holding a sign, “Galen and Kristine Yay!” She was making sure we didn’t miss the turn for our next stop. We continued down the trail with some local advocates. When we reached the current end of the trail, we slogged through loose sand on the right of way of the future Cape Cod Rail Trail extension in Wellfleet. We learned that loaded bikes really sink in sand! The advocates took us for a walk on an overhead utility line where they want to extend the Cape Cod Rail Trail through Wellfleet and into Truro.

From there we continued north towards Provincetown and found a brand new trail that connects the Coast Guard and Head of the Meadow Beaches. We learned that the Head of the Meadow Bike Path was recently paved. Both are beautiful rides through the sand dunes along the Cape Cod National Seashore.

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Sporting our new Bike Provincetown t-shirts after meeting with fellow advocates.

Finally we rolled into Provincetown and went straight to a workshop, “Creating Connected Bikeways,” organized by Bike Provincetown, the town’s bike/ped committee. We looked at the envisioned local off-road route for the East Coast Greenway which includes a possible major road diet of a state highway. We talked about strategies for bicycling safety and education, given the high volume of cyclists on the roads during the summer. We learned that Provincetown is the only place in Massachusetts where the Department of Transportation has granted access for two-way bicycle traffic on one-way streets. The group gave us ice pops, a great treat after our long day of riding in the hot sun, and Bike Provincetown t-shirts that we sported with pride.

The sun was setting as we pedaled from our meeting out to the Cape Cod National Seashore for a picnic dinner at sunset. A thunderstorm sent us back to Dunes Edge Campground for the night. The next day we caught the ferry in downtown Provincetown that took us back to Boston.

Our trip offered more than we could have hoped for in terms of meeting so many passionate people along the way and creating connections to spur future collaboration. I loved seeing beautiful new greenway sections while recognizing the problem areas where work still needs to be done. The trip reenergized me to keep developing the East Coast Greenway in New England, helping to realize the vision of a safe, connected route for all.

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Leaving Provincetown after a great trip.
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