By ROBERT ISENBERG I found the sign by accident. I was on a bike ride anyway, a little jaunt through Roger Williams Park. I reached Park Avenue, like I often do, and waited for the red light. Then I looked up and saw it: a square sign printed in white,
I found the sign by accident. I was on a bike ride anyway, a little jaunt through Roger Williams Park. I reached Park Avenue, like I often do, and waited for the red light.
Then I looked up and saw it: a square sign printed in white, green, and gold. The logo showed a coasting cyclist, and behind the figure hovered three birds. Around the image were the words: “Cranston Bicycle Network/Cross City.”
An arrow pointed forward, down Park View Boulevard, between the middle school and baseball diamond. So when the light turned green, I went straight.
In that moment, I had no idea what the Cranston Bicycle Network was. I’ve lived in Cranston for two years, and I’m an avid cyclist. Yet no one has ever mentioned a “Cross Town” network. It has never come up in conversation. I pedaled down the block, and a second sign ushered me over some railroad tracks. More signs guided me into a residential neighborhood I had never visited before. Like breadcrumbs, the signs lulled me into deeper side streets. I saw rows of houses, then old warehouses and factories. This part of Cranston stands only a few miles from my home, yet every inch was new to me.
Weeks have passed since that first excursion, and the question nags me: What is the Cross-Town Bicycle Network? The markers remain mysterious, no matter how much time I spend on Google. I have found no digital map, much less a GPX file I can download. There are no YouTube videos, no relevant groups on Facebook. I can’t find a news story about it, nor a single mention on the City of Cranston website. I have no idea who created the route, or how.
One helpful source was an article in this very paper, written by Bruce Saccoccio in 2012. At the time, he described the Cross-Town Network as roughly 20 years old and covering about 30 miles. The idea was to blaze a path across Cranston, using mostly level streets. The network was a safe alternative to busier roads like Pontiac and Reservoir avenues.
Many of the signs remain intact, but not all. I followed them for a couple of miles, until I reached Wellington Avenue, and the signs seemed to vanish. I pedaled around, eager to continue, but the trail went cold. If the Cross-Town Network ever actually crossed town, it didn’t seem to anymore. Now the ride felt archaeological: What ancient bike advocate had constructed this route? What had become of those missing totems?
Understand, I have plenty of places to ride a bike in Cranston, and I count those blessings. Indeed, we have the Washington Secondary Bike Trail, whose trailhead stands only a short distance from my front door. Really, what more could a cyclist ask for? When you have easy access to a paved, non-motorized path that cuts through 19 miles of scenic countryside, why trifle with some forgotten “network”?
Still, the Cross-Town was a great idea, and it still is today. In the era of COVID, cycling has remained one of our safest outdoor activities. The cycling industry has exploded, and bikes are in unprecedented demand. “Functional” cycling is more popular than ever, largely thanks to ebikes. Next door, the City of Providence will soon complete its “Great Streets” project, an ambitious latticework of urban trails and bike lanes.
For whatever reason, Cranston let the Cross-Town Network lie fallow. This happens, of course; with civic apathy comes a lack of funding. A valuable resource vanishes from view, then from memory. Newcomers like me have no idea that a kind of infrastructure once existed before we showed up in town. If I hadn’t spotted that sign on Park, I might never have heard the phrase “Cranston Bicycle Network.”
Since that first ride, I’ve tried to use the Cross-Town Network as much as I can. The route is actually helpful; while two of Cranston’s most important bridges are being rehabilitated, the old network is a handy – if roundabout – way for me to get home. The streets are quiet; the riding is breezy. There’s plenty of asphalt to share with cars. Meanwhile, the Cross-Town route has a sentimental advantage over the Washington Secondary Bike Path: You get to see Cranston, instead of just pedal past it.
It’s hard to say whether the Cranston Bicycle Network has a future. For most of us, cycling is a recreation, not a serious means of getting around. Between the bike path and Roger Williams Park, we may never again bother with surface streets. The rise and fall of the Cross-Town Network may have proven how little demand there is.
But if it were revived, I feel our community would only benefit. The timing has never been better. And I, for one, would be out there all year long.
Robert Isenberg, a resident of Cranston, is a freelance writer and multimedia producer. Follow him on Twitter (@robertisenberg).