Newport's road network reflects the development pattern of the colonial era in which the city was established. Characteristic of this era, narrow streets form a grid network better suited for pedestrians and horse and buggy than the numerous automobiles of today. This compact layout however, is considered an essential element of Newport's desirability as a tourist destination and place of residence.
In addition to changes in modes of transportation, the Newport transportation system must accommodate a seasonal influx of visitors estimated at over three million annually. This influx results in extended travel times, increased noise, congestion, and pollution. Residents express dissatisfaction with the impact visitor traffic has on their community; however, the problem appears to be more systematic than inherent, and solutions involving reduced reliance on automobiles are being explored.
Newport's compact character is both a challenge to its transportation system and an advantage. Because of the close proximity of tourist destinations, commercial and recreational areas, and residences, Newport is predisposed to alternatives to automobile travel.
Walking, biking, natural gas trolley, bus and ferry service, air transport and taxi's are all alternative means of transportation available to the public. Indeed, many incentives are offered to encourage visitors and residents to "park and ride". These include subsidized parking validation at the Gateway Visitor's Center when using RIPTA service: trolley, bus, etc.
Parking is one of the most contentious issues for Newport. There are approximately 5,000+ spaces available to the public in downtown Newport. With residents and businesses often sharing the same streets for parking, it is difficult to find an equitable balance of parking privileges.
In addition to on-street parking, many off-street parking lots are also available. These lots however, usually charge a fee for parking unlike many of the on-street spots. Parking meters have been installed along some of the most popular shopping streets, providing an incentive for visitors to park in visitor lots.