2018-02-01 / Front Page

City Council Discusses Buses, Bikes and More

By James Merolla

The Newport City Council spent the majority of its Jan. 24 open-session meeting discussing RIPTA’s talking buses and temporarily deflating a proposal to start a new bike share program in the city.

Councilors Jamie Bova and Susan D. Taylor introduced a resolution to bring such a program to Newport, but councilors Lynn Ceglie and Kate Leonard had doubts, saying their independent research showed that bike shares lose money in other cities. Mayor Harry Winthrop said he did not want the city involved at this point.

“I’m all for a bike share program. What I’m not for is the city getting in the middle of it,” Winthrop said. “If someone wants to start a bike share business they can come and see the council and ask for our approval. I’m not going to commit city resources to pull this thing together.”

Stephanie Schmidt spoke from the audience, and feared accidents on bike-share bicycles can result in lawsuits. “We are a very litigious society,” Schmidt said. “We cannot bear that burden [of liability] as a city.”

Taylor said the city received a bike share proposal last January from P3 Global Management, a New York City-based company with bike shares in New York, New Jersey and Florida, but said she would like to gather more information before a decision is made. “My goal is to expand the search,” Taylor said. “I think it’s going to have a big impact on the city. It’s a different, unique type of business.”

Bova said the proposal is not just for tourists, but would be “a strong residential [use] program.”

Councilor Marco Camacho, who earlier this month replaced John Florez on the council, said he wanted more data in order to avoid placing financial pressure on already thriving local bike rental businesses. He named four and reminded the council that when the issue first came up last January, those businesses were upset at the prospects.

Camacho urged that Newport’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) study the issue. Taylor amended the resolution to have BPAC review potential bike share programs with input from community stakeholders, and a “goal of presenting options to the council by June 1, 2018.”

At the end of the discussion they agreed that the proposal to have public bicycles available to residents and tourists required more study.

The council also voted unanimously to alert the state in an effort to ban RIPTA’s ‘talking buses,’ which, according to some residents, repeatedly wake them up when the bus’s safety announcements ring out over loudspeakers at early morning and evening bus stops.

Leonard told the assemblage that there is a bill in the statehouse designed to ban the buses in residential areas.

“Residents have been complaining about talking buses and their constant messages over and over and over in the middle of the night,” Leonard said. “These recordings were put on buses without any meetings or input from Newport.”

Taylor called the contentious buses a “quality of life issue.”

“The solution that RIPTA has applied seems clumsy at best,” she said. “There must be a way to refine that solution so that it’s actually reaching the intended audience. We have to work harder to get it right.”

“This has been quite a nuisance in the City of Newport for quite a long time,” said Winthrop, who added that RIPTA officials want to meet with representatives in Newport to discuss the issue and find a solution.

Resident Niko Merritt reminded the council that these loud microphone messages were put into place after a child was killed by a bus. RIPTA wanted buses to be louder.

“I am a bus rider. My daughter is a bus rider. She has special needs,” said resident Margaret Kirshner. “I wouldn’t ignore the original problem that RIPTA was solving and I am grateful for the buses. They are a great public service that I rely on, and many people rely on.”

But resident John Ward countered. “I appreciate what both [women] said concerning safety issues, [but] if you live near a bus route you would know what I’m saying,” Ward said. “It’s very upsetting at 4:30 in the morning to hear a bus … and hear about six or seven minutes of this. It’s just absurd.”

“I do think that there is a solution to be found somewhere in the middle,” Bova said.

In the final minutes of the meeting, Ceglie made a motion to move the council to executive session to discuss three publicly held buildings in Newport, citing Rhode Island law 42-46-5.

Bova addressed Winthrop: “There have been a lot of questions about why we’re going into executive session. I was just hoping the city manager could provide a comment.”

Taylor then posed a question to Newport City Manager Joseph Nicholson. “Are we making any decisions in executive session tonight?”

“I doubt it, no.” Nicholson replied.

In Other News:

The Council tabled renewing a victualing license for Via Via II, 372-376 Thames St., which has been operating since 1988. (Subsequent to the council meeting, on Jan. 26, a writ of eviction and trespass against the business' owner, Mohamed Badr, was approved by District Court, for non-payment of rent. The notice, pasted to the front door read, "This property is seized. Nobody is allowed to enter this property without Constable Ken Norigian being present."

Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano announced that, over the next five years, the Capital Improvement

Plan (CIP) would mean rebuilding and improving the heavily used Edward King Senior Center.

“I am really happy that there is a sizeable amount of money allocated for the improvement of the Edward King Senior Center. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. We have worked on this for many years,” said Napolitano.

There is also money allocated to replace the roof on City Hall. CIP hearings will be held on Feb. 14 and 28.

Executive Session: A Question of Process

After its Jan. 24 open-session meeting, the Newport City Council adjourned to privately discuss city properties held by the public, a right granted by state open meetings regulation. Invoking Section 42-46-5 of the Rhode Island General Law, the council met in a closed-door executive session following its open meeting to address the “lease or disposition of publicly held property,” specifically the Cranston Calvert and Coggeshall schools, as well as the Armory building. Newport residents have expressed concern over a potential loss of jobs if the Sailing Hall of Fame, currently located in Annapolis, Maryland, moves to Newport and pushes the Armory Antiques Marketplace out of the building. Unease also surrounds the process by which Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop, the council and other city officials have negotiated with the Hall of Fame over its potential purchase of the Armory building. Later, Bova said the council’s discussion in executive session was purely informational. She believes the council is making the best choices for Newporters, but that its process needs adjustment. “Sometimes when we go into executive session, I think that we could be more clear about why we are going into it,” Bova told Newport This Week in a Jan. 30 phone interview. “The appearance of impropriety, that alone is bad. Even if everything going on is above board, if it looks like it’s bad, people are going to make assumptions.” At the end of the open-session meeting on Jan. 24, Bova acknowledged that some Newporters were concerned that the council was making decisions about public property behind closed doors. “I’ve had people approach me who were concerned that we were taking votes in the executive session, which we were not,” Bova said. “I wanted that to be clear and I wanted that to be said publicly to at least get that on the record for folks who were concerned.”

– Joseph T. O’Connor

NTW will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Return to top