SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Despite some recent traffic calming measures along Middlebridge Road, speeding continues to be a major safety issue, according to residents.
These concerns have come front and center once more after a recent single-car crash, that claimed the life of a young driver. On Monday, Sept. 21, Joshua Martin, 18, of Narragansett, was transported via helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased, after crashing his vehicle in the area of 989 Middlebridge Road.
Although the accident is still under investigation, Town Manager Robert Zarnetske said speed is believed to have been the primary contributing factor. According to Zarnetske, prior to the accident, the driver had been clocked on Route 1 traveling at speeds in excess of 90 mph.
For those who live along Middlebridge Road and play witness to the speeding issues each and every day, like Caroline and James Vogel, it’s evident that something has to be done.
“I think we need to be diligent about this, because it’s clear that the road just lends itself to people naturally traveling fast,” James Vogel said. “We need to do something to stop that.”
Currently, there are 32 signs along Middlebridge Road, including those painted onto the roadway, according to Vogel, but it’s clear they’re not doing enough. He said he appreciates the new signs coming thanks to the council’s vote in May, but hopes there might be some room into the budget for additional signage.
Another possibility, according to Vogel, is the addition of speed tables along the roadway.
Councilman Joe Viele recently took a drive down Flagg Road, where the University of Rhode Island has recently added multiple speed tables in an effort to calm traffic on campus. As someone who lives in a neighborhood with actual speed bumps, Viele said the difference is abundantly clear and thinks the speed tables are a big improvement.
This will be something Zarnetske and Town Engineer Richard Bourbonnais will be looking at later this week. Although speed tables are much gentler than bumps, there are some complaints that the tables may pitch bicyclists and motorcyclists, and are difficult or impossible for cars with low clearance to navigate.
Zarnetske said the town will explore the viability of this option, and that Bourbonnais is open to all possibilities.
Town Council President Abel Collins said the physical layout of the road makes it very hard to stop speeding on, and unless the town is able to prevent Middlebridge from becoming a thru-way into Narragansett, signs alone might not be enough to slow drivers down.
“I think we’re going to need to think creatively,” Collins said, “but I think it will require something big.”
When this meeting with the town engineer does take place, community member Karen Humes said she hopes someone who actually lives in the neighborhood can be there to attest to how bad the speeding issue continues to be.
“We’re telling you, the speeds down here are awful,” Humes said. “I understand that we’ve done these studies, but I don’t understand how they’re not telling you the speeds are awful.”
This is not the first time Humes has expressed these concerns publicly to the council. In April, Humes addressed speeding issues on Middlebridge a few weeks after her neighbor, Alan Albergaria, 54, was struck and killed by a driver while out walking his dog.
“When I spoke after the first person was killed — who lives here — I said another one’s going to happen,” Humes said. “Six months later, here we are again.”
“I understand this was a speeding accident, but that’s the speeds people go all the time down this road,” she added. “Nobody wants to listen.”
Zarnetske said the town is listening and they’re working to find solutions, but the solutions they propose need to be “scalable and applicable, or modifiably have to be appropriate to the local conditions on the road.”
It also needs to be something that the town is ready to deploy elsewhere.
Zarnetske said speeding is an issue on other roads in South Kingstown as well, and the town needs to gather more data to understand the major contributing factors of each accident.
He also pointed out that the pedestrian fatality that occurred earlier this year wasn’t because of speeding, but a drunk driver.
Humes wants to see action taken more quickly, and worries about what the next “data point.”
“Is the data going to be another child dying, or myself dying on Middlebridge Road before you’ll do something?’
“I think we really need to come up with something, because someone else is going to get killed pretty fast,” she added.
Zarnetske said the town will continue to look into viable solutions and are open to more suggestions. Suggestions made so far, like the addition of more stop signs and visually narrowing the road by painting lines on the side of the road, have already been adopted.
“We’ve made many efforts to improve conditions on Middlebridge Road, and we have not yet gotten to a point where it’s good enough — I get that,” Zarnetske said. “What the answer is, I don’t get. I don’t know.”