2015-09-03 / Around Town

Salve Shuttle Ready to Roll

By Barry Bridges

Two 29-passenger mini-buses will soon be running between Salve Regina University and downtown Newport after City Councilors gave their endorsement to a shuttle program that the university is confident will enhance student safety while also helping to alleviate traffic problems in surrounding neighborhoods.

Although there is nothing in the city’s regulatory structure that would prohibit the shuttle system, the university nevertheless wanted the buy-in of the council. That came in the form of an agreement that the service along the designated route will be on a trial basis for the fall semester, at which point the issue will be revisited.

A main impetus for the proposal was to provide safer options for female students at Conley Hall, which is somewhat removed from the main campus. The plan sanctioned by councilors will offer transportation to and from Conley on an “asneeded” basis. Interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson reported that the route chosen will best serve the interests of students as well as residents, who have been worried that traffic congestion could be exacerbated with the project.

“I am of the opinion that [the approved route] will provide the least amount of impact to the neighborhood and at the same time provide the best safety environment for the students,” Nicholson wrote.

From downtown, the buses will travel on Memorial Boulevard to Middleton Avenue and then to Slocum Street. The path will cross Annandale Road to Gammel Road and then to a direct drop-off point at Conley. There are no passenger stops on residential streets.

Leaving Conley, the loop will go from Gammel, across Annandale, to Slocum. The buses will then take a left on Middleton, a left on Parker, and a right on Annandale to Narragansett Avenue.

Representatives of the university first presented the proposed shuttle to councilors on Aug. 12. Salve’s Director of Safety and Security Michael Caruolo and Chief Communications Officer Kristine Hendrickson described the service as one with 11 stops on campus and four off campus, operating seven days a week in the evenings: Sunday through Wednesday from 7 p.m. to midnight, and Thursday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.

“The shuttle would help alleviate both motor vehicle and pedestrians coming to and from campus, thus decreasing the level of noise and vehicular traffic on our streets,” Salve said at the time. “It is our intention to work with our neighbors and the City of Newport to provide the least intrusive means of transportation for the university community.”

But councilors were cognizant of noise and traffic criticisms that had been raised. They referred the matter to city staff for a recommendation, while also encouraging the proponents to try to hash out an acceptable compromise with objectors.

Salve promptly set up a meeting with residents at Ochre Court, where neighbors’ worries about existing traffic congestion and noisy bus stops were discussed. Nicholson made his eventual route recommendation to the council from among the several alternatives that were presented that evening.

Mary Banta, of 64 Middleton Ave., who was strongly opposed to the plans at the Ochre Court confab, addressed the council briefly on Aug. 26 before they lent their backing to the shuttle’s launch. While somewhat conciliatory, she said, “I just wanted to go on the record that I have a petition and we are opposed to this particular route. I hope we do revisit this.”

Referencing the one-semester trial period, Councilor Justin McLaughlin commented, “I think it’s really important that the city take part in the monitoring. Let’s watch and make this work as best as possible.”

Second Ward representative Lynn Ceglie, who had done legwork to encourage a dialogue between the university and residents, said, “I’m very happy how everyone has come together to make this work. Salve has a right to access its property, and with continued vigilance in this matter, I think we will see success.”

“We appreciate the council’s support,” Salve’s Hendrickson told Newport This Week.

She also reported that the university plans to convene another meeting by the end of October to take stock of how the program is working. In continuing to bolster the “town and gown” relationship, every aspect of the shuttle will be examined as it gets underway, Hendrickson said. “We will look at all impacts, such as whether additional foot traffic causes any problems. We are hoping it will be successful and will provide more ease of use for our students, but if there are concerns we’ll address them and look at our options. We want to be a good neighbor.”

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