In Barrington, a battle is brewing for access to the beach

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“People paid for it,” Block said, “but they can’t access it.”

Rhode Island is the ocean state. It has 400 miles of shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay, and as the novelty t-shirts say, it’s 3% larger at low tide. (Not true, but still.)

In cities around the state, however, people must fight to access this shore, thwarted by transportation restrictions, encroachment, or municipal indifference. The seaside town of Narragansett is currently being sued for adding parking near the shore in a battle between private owners and surfers.

In Barrington, a town with large schools and manicured lawns that overlook the lower Providence River and Narragansett Bay, the problem is emerging.

The problem: Barrington has several public rights-of-way to the shore, each marked by one of these elegant pillars installed in 2018 and maintained with taxpayer dollars. But the streets surrounding many of them don’t allow parking, although residents like Block say at least some of them can.

The end result: a large portion of the public cannot actually access the beach.

Assess the streets

Much of the work to fix the problem takes place in the dark. Barrington is currently undergoing an all-street review and is about a third of the way there. The midnight shift cops come out with a tape measure to see the width of the roads. If they are at least 26 feet wide at the narrowest point, the City Manager will recommend that they allow parking on one side. If they are at least 32ft, he will recommend adding parking on both sides. The city cites a non-binding fire code standard of 20 feet for fire access roads, adding six feet for the width of a car, for this measurement.

“I’m looking to have an objective standard that we can apply to determine that, so we’re not playing games with who lives in the neighborhood,” City Manager James Cunha said.

Last month, the city council rejected a proposal to add parking on certain streets, citing the more objective standard that was in progress. If they eventually followed Cunha’s recommendations, some parking changes would be coming to Barrington neighborhoods. But it will ultimately be up to the city council to decide on certain streets, Cunha said.

Already, however, the city’s review has identified some roads where parking is permitted but should not be subject to that 26-foot rule. Potentially more controversial, however, Cunha said he has found others where the roads are wide enough to allow at least some parking, despite all the no parking signs and tickets issued over the years. Some are near the shore, in areas where residents said they weren’t comfortable adding more parking spaces for safety reasons.

Block, a former moderate party and Republican gubernatorial candidate who spoke out against parking rules in and around the Nayatt neighborhood of Barrington, says it’s not really about safety, but about access.

Security vs Access

As part of his quest, Block asked the city to send him records of all parking tickets issued in Barrington over a period of about two years. He received records of 358 tickets, the vast majority of which were written for parking on roads, such as in the Nayatt district, which are within walking distance of public rights of way to the shore – roads to which restrictions parking lots have been added over the years. .

Most of the tickets – 84%, according to Block’s calculations – were written after someone contacted the police to complain. In multiple dispatch logs, police note that someone called after seeing someone walking towards shore, in one case carrying beach chairs.

However, it’s also worth noting the times when tickets haven’t been issued: Block noted that some people are calling the city to say they’re having a party and asking the police not to ticket people who park. near their house that day. (Cunha confirmed that the city honors such requests as a service to its residents from time to time, and urges them to park on one side only.)

This, for Block, creates an unacceptable situation: The people who decide who parks where the people who live in Nayatt are, not the police. This effectively turns a publicly funded resource like shoreline into something that only certain people can easily access. Indeed, trips to the Nayatt neighborhood on a recent weekday found landscaping trucks, electricians’ vans and all manner of passenger cars parked on roads that were supposed to be no-parking.

“If it’s about safety,” Block said, showing a Globe reporter some of the local roads where there were illegally parked cars, “how do you allow that? It’s not a security issue. We all know that.”

Block lives on Atlantic Crossing, an area away from public rights-of-way. Its street allows parking even though it is only 23 feet wide according to its measurements. He first became interested in this access issue when he got his goldendoodle puppy, Tilly, two years ago. He wanted to take her to the beach because she has a lot of energy and the beach was a good place to burn off some of it. His tax money has been used to install and maintain these rights-of-way to the shore, but he has no convenient way to get there because you’re not supposed to park nearby.

Limit access to the beach

Other areas where people could park have recently restricted access, such as Rhode Island School of Design property that is now university-only. Barrington Town beach now only allows residents to purchase parking passes in the beach car park, a policy that was instituted last year due to how quickly the lot would fill up during the COVID pandemic. Cunha said they are allowed to do this because they did not take state funding for the beach; the city may let outsiders back in if the lot stops filling up with Barrington residents.

Block’s efforts have focused primarily on providing access to Barrington’s shoreline for other Barrington residents, who, after all, have paid for the upkeep of these rights-of-way. He’s less attentive for now to the larger questions of how every Rhode Islander — or really anyone, given the city’s proximity to Massachusetts — might be able to access the beach. That fight will come later, Block said.

Even under its narrower approach, Block has faced resistance from residents of the Nayatt neighborhood and other surrounding streets, who say adding parking spaces to their neighborhoods would present an unsustainable security risk. .

“You have a lot of kids riding bikes, scooters, skateboards and all sorts of things,” Annelise Conway, a Barrington councilor who lives near a coastal right-of-way, said in an interview. “When you have a number of cars driving up and down the street, that raises a safety issue.”

Conway worried that more parked cars would make it harder for ambulances, fire trucks and police to respond to emergencies in the area.

Conway said there are other options for people: they could park at a school just over half a mile from Barrington Town Beach when school is not in session. They could also be dropped off or cycled, she said.

“The access is there,” Conway said. “The option to go to the beach is available.”

For nearby resident Dr Amy Nunn, who has a background in public health, worries about narrow roads in Barrington are deeply personal: her son was injured when he was ‘sandwiched’ between a car and a trash can while he was on his bike in the neighborhood. She doesn’t want parking added to neighborhood roads because, she said, it could lead to more accidents. She would prefer things like bike lanes or more thoughtful parking lots.

“I’m all for public access,” Nunn said. “I just don’t know if it should be in the proposed areas.”

Jacob Brier, a Barrington councilor, said his own road in the Primrose Hill area – not near a public right of way – allows parking on both sides, although it’s about the same width than those near the shore that do not. In June, he introduced a resolution to allow parking on some waterfront streets, but the council decided to go ahead with the study that would measure the roads.

As Brier walks the streets of Barrington, he looks both ways.

“I respect that they chose a house on a quiet street within walking distance of the water, and if that were to change and allow parking, it would change where they are,” Brier said. “I also hear from people who want to be able to go to the beach. I’m interested in having this conversation and finding ways to increase access and maintain our value of being an inclusive, welcoming and neighborly city, all maintaining the quiet and peaceful neighborhoods that people are used to.


Brian Amaral can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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