2015-08-20 / Front Page

Shuttle Dialogue Continues

By Barry Bridges

Several days after outlining the details of a proposed university/ city shuttle loop to the Newport City Council, representatives of Salve Regina followed up with about two dozen neighbors who are complaining that the service could have a detrimental impact on already crowded residential streets.

Councilors heard about the shuttle plans on Aug. 12 through a presentation by Salve's Director of Safety and Security Michael Caruolo and Chief Communications Officer Kristine Hendrickson. In light of objections lodged by nearby homeowners, the matter was not immediately endorsed but was instead referred to the city staff for further study and a recommendation.

The university was also encouraged to reach out to opponents from the Annandale Road area to try to find compatible ground, and with the beginning of the academic year just around the corner, a meeting was promptly arranged and around 25 skeptical residents convened with SRU leaders on Monday, Aug. 17, at Ochre Court. City officials were also in attendance.

Caruolo said that the proposal calls for two 29-passenger mini buses to operate seven days a week in the evenings, running along a designated loop of 11 oncampus stops and four stops in downtown Newport. An increased number of students in the last few years has outpaced the capacity of the 15-passenger vans currently being used on campus, he reported .

The university emphasized that while the plan would help to alleviate traffic and noise issues, safety remains a primary goal, especially for the 45 or so residents of Conley Hall on Gammell Road.

“I am responsible for our students’ safety, and I have a special obligation to the women at Conley, which is a bit removed from the central campus,” said Salve President Jane Gerety.

But because of neighbors’ worries about existing traffic congestion and noisy bus stops where riders often congregate, SRU leaders offered several alternatives for possible routes. Reiterating that all ideas are still on the table, Caruolo offered a compromise that would provide service to Conley only on an “as needed” basis, rather than through a regularly scheduled stop.

“This will minimize a lot of your concerns,” Caruolo suggested. But not everyone was appeased.

“I must say that I oppose anything that adds more traffic to Annandale Road, which, at this point, is a nightmare,” one attendee stated. “Some days I can’t even get out of my driveway.”

Another described Annandale as a shortcut taken as an alternative to Bellevue, and did not relish the thought of a bus stop in front of her home.

Among the most vocal challengers was Mary Banta of 64 Middleton Ave., who deplored the “horrible situation.” She insisted that Salve was too focused on money, wondering why the smaller 15-passgenger van couldn’t be separately maintained for use at Conley. Caruolo advised that it is not feasible to “keep a 15-passenger van on standby for 42 hours a week” for the relatively few transportation requests emanating from Conley.

Banta was not swayed. “You have an alternative but won’t put it on the table. I don’t find it respectful and I don’t expect this from a Catholic university. This is not being a good neighbor,” she maintained.

“We are always looking for efficiencies,” countered Gerety. “Trust us to have good faith in the matter. That’s what we did when we came up with the proposal and we’ll continue to look at it and engage with residents.”

Several in attendance were also offended by what they viewed as an eleventh-hour notification of the plans on the cusp of the new school year. “I apologize for the timing near the start of the semester, but we were following a process to get the idea before the City Council. It was never our intent to mislead,” explained Hendrickson. “We are here now to solicit your ideas and feedback, and we value our relationship with our neighbors.”

The university was not without its supporters. Kerry Fater, a 35- year denizen of the Gammell Road area, said, “We have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Salve, and they have always been responsive to our concerns.” She didn’t understand the ruckus about bus stops. “I don’t get it,” she argued. “We’re talking about student safety. Just find a place to park.”

Responding to growing complaints about traffic problems, including a proliferation of summertime tour buses on restricted streets, Sgt. Jonathan Cortes of the Newport Police and interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson advised the group that more targeted enforcement initiatives are on tap for Annandale. Improved signage to better alert drivers to prohibitions is also in the works.

“Officers on every shift will be sitting out there. We’ll not always hand out summonses, as part of the effort will be educational. But we are going to make things better on Annandale,” promised Cortes. Everyone was encouraged to call the police to report problems so that issues can be properly addressed and documented.

With councilors expecting an update from the administration on Aug. 26, Nicholson commented to Newport This Week that “Salve has been a good working partner and they don’t want this to be something adversarial. But everyone at the meeting had valid points. I will look at the alternative routes and make a recommendation based on what was presented.”

After the meeting, Hendrickson said, “The university respects the process. Our goal in hosting the forum was to try to show the thought and research that went into this proposal. We will continue to listen to suggestions and alternatives.”

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