SOUTH KINGSTOWN – After hearing new information from the town engineer and continued concerns from community members on Monday night, the town council voted in favor of adding new stop signs to Middlebridge Road.
Although traffic and speeding along Middlebridge Road have long been an issue in South Kingstown, the problem was propelled into the center of public discussion after a pedestrian was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver in March.
Shortly following Alan Albergaria’s death, several of his neighbors wrote to the council with pleas for improvements along Middlebridge Road, personally attesting to how dangerous the conditions have become in recent years. His neighbors made numerous suggestions to the council last month as to how the town might deter speeding along the popular cut-thru route – including stop signs.
The traffic study that followed this discussion looked at the numbers of cars coming down Torry Road and traveling along Middlebridge Road, and according to Town Engineer Richard Bourbonnais, was able to meet the necessary standards for the new traffic pattern.
“Simply put, the warrant is there for stop signs as a three-way stop,” he said.
Though multiple traffic studies have been conducted in recent years, according to Bourbonnais, “those studies did not indicate that the warrant was there.” This latest study shows that the traffic issue on Middlebridge Road is becoming progressively worse, he said, and the warmer months will only bring more thru-traffic to the residential area.
Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz was happy to learn the results of the study warranted a three-way stop, but said this should “just one of the steps in trying to calm traffic on Middlebridge.”
While the town is “obviously taking major steps in the right direction” and the neighborhood is “super appreciative that people are looking into it,” according to community member Karen Humes, the three-way stop will not help slow down divers down enough near the park where speeding conditions are at their worst.
“If you watch people turn from Bridgetown and they take the right onto Middlebridge, they hit the gas pedal,” Humes said, advocating for another three-way stop at the intersection of Middlebridge Road and Riverside Drive.
“That’s the dangerous area,” she said. “The number of kids that walk to a public park, Treaty Park, they’re crossing the road all the time. That crosswalk was proven deadly – recently. Our kids are in major danger trying to walk to a public park, and that’s where a lot of our concern comes from.”
Since the council last discussed improving safety conditions along Middlebridge Road, Councilman Joe Viele said he’s had the chance to drive through the area himself. The short trip along the cut-thru road reminded of shortcuts he’d taken when he first moved to South Kingstown – traveling for Rodman Street and Willard Avenue on his way to Old Post Road.
Over time, the additions of stop signs along these roads became a deterrent.
“That was a road that I used pretty frequently because I lived over near the hospital, I worked in Peace Dale,” Viele said. “As those stop signs started to appear, I used that less. High Street wasn’t such a pain in the neck to me.”
Viele is hopeful that this disruption to normal traffic flow will deter other drivers, though he also expressed an interest in the recommendations from neighbors to designate Middlebridge Road as a “no thru-traffic” street – ensuring that Google Maps and other navigation apps won’t suggest it as an alternative route.
The option wouldn’t only be effective, but affordable, he said.
Community member Kate Macinanti, whose used Middlebridge Road as a cut-thru for many years, believes the issue is less about volume and more about people ignoring the posted speed limits. She voiced support of flashing signs that will show drivers exactly how fast they’re going.
“As someone who over the course of my life has been known to have a heavy foot, those are a deterrent,” she said. Though it’s easy for drivers to get used to the flashing signs, “if you see that number, regardless of how often you go on that road, when you see the number telling you how fast you’re going, you’re going to lighten up.”
According to Bourbonnais, a bid package has already been put together and this would include two of those signs on Middlebridge Road, there’s a broad need for such signs all across town.
In other business, the council also discussed revisiting its unruly gathering ordinance, which after it initially passed, received a good deal of public criticism and concern. Frustration expressed from members of the public moved the council to push back the ordianice’s effective date back by several months. At the time, the council hoped to revisit and amend several pieces of the ordinance that have caused community members concern and alarm.
Now, Town Manager Robert Zaretske believes the town has language that will appease everyone – community members who felt the law wasn’t strong enough to protect them, and community members who save initial drafts as too far reaching and overbearing.
This time around, “it’s the excessive noise and unlawful conduct that matter,” Zarnetske said.
“It’s the noise plus obstructing traffic or illegal parking, the public drunkeness,” he went on. “It’s the noise plus these other things that give rise to the offense. It’s not just noise.”
The sanctions are the same as before, but several changes and exemptions have been made. Community members who are subjected to a fine for breaking the ordinance will be able to apply for an administrative appeal. Exemptions for persons and businesses with entertainment licenses will be in place, according to Zarnetske, and the order will not be enforced on major holidays like 4th of July and New Year’s Eve, when it’s considered socially acceptable to be loud.
The next public hearing on the issue is expected to take place before June 1, when the initial ordinance is set to become effective.