2018-08-09 / Front Page

Dangers Crossing Memorial Boulevard

By James Merolla

Rebecca Paul always crosses her fingers before crossing the street. Paul has been a resident of Donovan Court on Chapel Street since 2011, and says she is familiar with the risks for pedestrians at the intersection near Chapel Street and Memorial Boulevard, where there have been two fatalities in the past three years.

“One time,” she said, “a truck came up on the sidewalk. It was going to hit a car and it couldn’t stop,” she said. “Thank God, at that time, I could still jump.”

The most recent incident was in January 2015 when Donovan Manor resident Robert Silvia, 57, was killed crossing Memorial Boulevard in his wheelchair. One week later, another pedestrian was killed on a Bellevue Avenue crosswalk.

Paul, who now uses a walker, said there is also danger near the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which is across the street. “It’s no better there. They don’t stop and they don’t care,” she said.

The Newport City Council voted 5-2 at their July 11 meeting to allow the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to move forward with various safety improvements along Memorial Boulevard by 2020.

The improvements, still being finalized, would include what RIDOT labeled “enhanced pedestrian signalization” at Chapel Street, Edgar Court and Old Beach Road, along Memorial Boulevard, removing the mid-block crossing at the Chapel Street and Edgar Court crosswalk. Electronic signs illuminating a driver’s speed would also be placed at “strategic locations,” according to a recent RIDOT letter to the city.

“We’re talking about an intersection where someone has already been killed,” Mayor Harry Winthrop said at the meeting. “I have an aunt who lived at Chapel Terrace, and she was legally blind, and every time she crossed the street she took her life in her hands. It would be irresponsible for this council to do nothing about it.”

Vice Chair Lynn Ceglie, council liaison to RIDOT on the Memorial Boulevard project, said the issue has caused her to lose sleep. “It keeps me up at night thinking about the people who can’t get to Stop & Shop, the Edward King Senior Center, or even the Dunkin’ Donuts because of the danger,” she said.

The council is now waiting for RIDOT to respond to City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr.’s letter alerting them that the safety improvements have been approved. Ceglie told Newport This Week that she is pushing for work at other sites sooner than 2020.

“We still want them [RIDOT] to look at the crosswalk near Cliff Avenue and we want to accelerate the timeline on HAWK crosswalks at Chapel Street,” she said.

HAWK stands for high-intensity activated crosswalk, which is a traffic control device used to stop road traffic and allow pedestrians to cross safely. Its purpose is to stop road traffic as needed, allowing protected pedestrian crossings. It is an alternative to the standard three-color traffic signals.

There is currently an electronic sign at the Chapel/Memorial intersection that warns cars to check their speed and slow down. The RIDOT proposal also calls for such a sign, apparently with different messages. Councilor Kate Leonard who wanted more detailed information before voting for what she called “unspecified improvements.”

Newport This Week spoke with several residents who walk in the area daily. None were aware of any progress being made to improve the safety of the intersection.

“I would have a problem if those sidewalks were not there,” said Barbara Lewis, 71, a resident of Edgar Court since October. “I’m slow and walk with a cane. As long as those sidewalks and buttons and lights are there, I’m O.K.”

“It’s hard for people in wheelchairs,” said Donovan Manor resident Lee Matthew, adding that about five residents ride down Chapel Street in wheelchairs to Memorial. “I walk down all the time, but I wait. It’s not bad for walkers. It’s bad for drivers.”

“People do get killed there,” added Donovan Manor resident Louis Kampmeyer. “A couple of fatalities. It is potentially dangerous. I see it every day in summer,” he added. “People park in the crosswalk and block the intersection. There really should be signs.”

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