2018-05-10 / Around Town

Bike Barn Raising, Bike Month Rolling

By Brooke Constance White


A volunteer effort is underway to turn an under-utilized area into a vibrant multi-purpose space for bike enthusiasts and the neighborhood. A volunteer effort is underway to turn an under-utilized area into a vibrant multi-purpose space for bike enthusiasts and the neighborhood. Fasten your helmet because big things are happening for bikers in Newport, and it’s bound to be an exciting ride.

Not only is it National Bike Month, which means that Bike Newport’s calendar is stacked to the gills, but the nonprofit’s executive director Bari Freeman said the Big Blue Bike Barn project on Sunset Boulevard, immediately adjacent to Miantonomi Park, is taking shape and portions of it could be open for programming in June.

The project, which has been several years in the making, will utilize two 40-foot shipping containers as a satellite bike maintenance and borrowing facility, space for programming, and trail and gardening tool storage. The project will also include benches, picnic tables, awnings and green space such as community gardens, trails and a bike park/play area.


Riley Cleverdon is joined by her parents Joe and Samantha for Bike to School Day at Pell. For Bike to Work Day on May 18, participants should bike to the starting area at the city hall front lawn, between 7 and 9 a.m. 
(Photo by Jen Carter) Riley Cleverdon is joined by her parents Joe and Samantha for Bike to School Day at Pell. For Bike to Work Day on May 18, participants should bike to the starting area at the city hall front lawn, between 7 and 9 a.m. (Photo by Jen Carter) Freeman said volunteers have been clearing the site and work will soon begin to level the spots for the two large shipping containers. Once the containers arrive and are set in place, she said they can begin building the doors and figuring out how the interior will be laid out.

Steve Sabo, community bike garage educator for Bike Newport and chairman of the City of Newport's Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) said, "It's really exciting that we've outgrown the smaller container and I'm thrilled that we will soon have this larger space and location for this community project to grow and connect residents to the larger community."

Sabo has been involved in various aspects of the bike barn project planning, such as site surveying, trail planning and designing the site layout and container interiors. "A key aspect of [the] project is [being able] to connect it to the community and tie the facility into Newport's larger bicycling infrastructure through a network of paths and trails."

Until recently, the Newport Housing Authority-owned property was behind an “ugly fence,” Freeman said, and was filling up with trash. But with the help of the city, Aquidneck Land Trust, numerous volunteers, grants from the Rhode Island Foundation, the Frederick Henry Prince Memorial Fund and Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority Foundation, Bike Newport is now revitalizing the property and turning it into a seasonal satellite site.

Austin Anderson, 15, volunteers at Bike Newport. "I've been looking forward to having this bike barn for several years now and I'm really excited that they're going to have summer programs that I can be involved in and that the whole community can take part in," he said.

“The way that all these community organizations are aligning to make this happen is really quite amazing,” Freeman said. “We’ve had some community cleanups and it really seems like everyone is really getting together to create this communal point of pride. The universal support has been truly heartwarming.”

It’s going to take a little while until the concept is completely built out, she said. “We’re trying to do everything the right way with this project, so we anticipate having solar power electrical and power sources, rainwater collection and a green roof. We also want to use locally sourced wood for the benches and tables, have community murals on the containers and have all the signs painted by kids in the community.”

Once the barn is up and running in the next month or two, she hopes they can begin training instructors and staff to run programs and facilitate workshops on bike maintenance and other topics.

The most important part of the project to Freeman is that it has been a community-wide effort from the beginning and will be utilized by residents of all ages and backgrounds. The community identified three bike-related needs in the Newport Health Equity Zone workshops in February 2016: equipment, education and places to ride close to home to help build confidence, she said.

“This project fulfills all three of those needs. And I think that that, coupled with the fact that this is a resident-driven project, is really important. Our residents are truly going to be stewards of this space,” Freeman said, adding that the new satellite site is closer to the majority of Newport’s housing than Bike Newport’s Broadway headquarters.

“Bikes are a great equalizer and we’ve got a wonderful cross-generational thing going on with bikes in Newport, so I think it’s going to be a great place where everyone works together.”

Have talents or resources to spare that might prove useful to Bike Newport in their Big Blue Bike Barn endeavor? Freeman said they love volunteers and donations of excess materials to help keep project costs low.

"I love to ride bikes,” said Anderson. “I ride every day to school. I'm most excited for the bike trails and for the community that will grow out of this bike barn project and all the fun we will have."

For a full list of activities, visit bikenewportri.org.

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