NORTH KINGSTOWN – On Monday, the North Kingstown Town Council continued discussion of a particularly dangerous three-way intersection in Wickford Village, this time with a representative from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) in attendance. Because the intersection connects with a state road, any changes in signage have to be made through the State Traffic Commission, though members of the council and public made suggestions during the meeting.
Residents and officials have previously discussed the dangers associated with the intersection, where Brown Street, Phillips Street and Boston Neck Road meet. While there is currently a yield sign at the Boston Neck approach and a stop sign at the Phillips Street approach, there is no signage at the Brown Street approach — raising safety concerns for motorists and pedestrians alike.
At the beginning of September, the traffic commission met and discussed the intersection, with council president Greg Mancini and town manager Ralph Mollis in attendance. Mollis and Mancini requested that a representative from the traffic commission appear before the council to provide some commentary and answer questions about the intersection.
Mancini said that the role of the council was to provide advisory input, though, ultimately, the decision would be up to the traffic commission.
Sean Raymond, a managing engineer at RIDOT, explained to the council on Monday that the traffic commission was currently looking into putting stop signs at all three approaches, which he said would be beneficial for the safety of both motorists and pedestrians.
“One of the things we’re looking at is potentially that all three approaches be stop controlled,” said Raymond, who also serves as the secretary of the traffic commission.
While the traffic commission originally looked into changing the Boston Neck approach from a yield to a stop sign, and leaving the Brown Street approach without signage, Raymond said a uniform, three-way stop sign would be safer for tourists who are unfamiliar with the area and pedestrians crossing the street.
A particularly dangerous area for pedestrians is the crosswalk at Boston Neck Road. Motorists coming down Brown Street and bearing left onto Boston Neck Road are not required to stop, and don’t have clear visibility of possible pedestrians at the crosswalk, leading to concerns that somebody could be hit.
Raymond said that adding stop signs at the Brown and Boston Neck approaches would cut down on these types of concerns around pedestrian safety.
“The benefits of that is that it’s more uniform for people who are unfamiliar,” he said. “It’s also beneficial for pedestrians because everyone has to stop.”
According to a recent traffic study commissioned by RIDOT, there were 14 crashes at the intersection over the course of the last three years. While these crashes tend to be “low severity,” Raymond said they warranted a change in signage.
The issue was also recently discussed by the Wickford Advisory Committee (WAC), with all ten members voting in favor of a three-way stop in all directions.
George Brennan, a member of the WAC, spoke during Monday’s council meeting, outlining why the committee was recommending stop signs at all three approaches.
“This is a very dangerous and very confusing three-way intersection for both drivers and pedestrians,” Brennan said, reading from a letter submitted by the WAC. “Currently, one direction has a stop sign, one has a yield sign, and one has nothing. As a result, we have accidents, frequent near-misses, and many incidents of road rage. With the drivers thus confused, it is also an extremely dangerous situation for pedestrians in the crosswalks.”
The WAC also said that the traffic commission’s original proposal to change the yield sign at the Boston Neck approach to a stop sign would do “little to improve the issue.”
“The same confusion will remain regarding who has the right of way through the town,” Brennan said, adding that the WAC was requesting a three-way stop in all directions using either a stop sign or a traffic light. “This would also enhance pedestrian safety for those crossing in all directions.”
Suzanne Mancini, the owner of The Sew-Op on Phillips Street, said that she has witnessed many pedestrians almost getting hit by motorists because of the intersection.
“I have operated my business for four years and have seen increasing problems at that intersection,” she said. “I teach sewing, I have a lot of middle school and high school students that are walking from the schools, going across that street,and we have way too many near misses.”
While everyone who spoke during the meeting expressed concern about the intersection, some, like Amy Sonder, said they were worried that a three-way stop would result in a build up of traffic.
“I’m concerned about having a three-way stop, people will get confused, it’s going to get backed up,” Sonder said, adding that the “very dangerous” intersection needed to be thoroughly studied before a decision was made.
The North Kingstown Fire Chief, Scott Kettelle, said that, while he recognized something needed to be done about the intersection, he wasn’t in a position on Monday to provide a recommendation about a change in signage, whether it be a three-way stop, a traffic light or another alternative.
“I’m not in a position tonight to support a traffic light versus a three-way stop, I don’t know enough about the advantages or disadvantages to each,” he said.
However, Kettelle said that fire trucks and other vehicles regularly go through Wickford Village, and that a three-way stop or a traffic light would have a “negative impact” on their ability to travel.
Police chief Patrick Flanagan also said that a traffic light or three-way stop could result in a “real problem with traffic through Wickford.”
“You’re going to have backup on Brown Street, especially in the summer months,” Flanagan said. “I think you’re going to have a real problem with the traffic through Wickford with a traffic light, but I need to see a little more information.”
Councilor Richard Welch agreed with Kettelle and Flanagan that a buildup of traffic could be a concern, particularly for emergency vehicles.
“I’m truly concerned about the back up on Brown Street when it comes to emergency vehicles, both fire and police,” Welch said. “It’s a critical path for the rescue, fire and police to go to the south end of town.”
Welch requested that, if a three-way stop results in “continual problems for public safety vehicles,” the town could come back to the state and ask for another change in signage.
Councilor Mary Brimer said that she was in favor of a change in signage, but also said that a three-way stop could create “so much congestion and back up that it would exacerbate the situation.”
Brimer suggested that RIDOT install a blinking yellow light at the Brown Street approach and a stop sign at the Boston Neck approach, allowing for better traffic flow for rescue vehicles and other motorists.
“At least it would keep the flow going,” she said. “It seems to me that the rescue vehicles do go through Wickford.”
Raymond said that the traffic commission was trying to balance safety concerns with possible congestion issues, which could result in backups and delays.
However, councilor Kerry McKay said that the main priority should be the safety of pedestrians, especially at the Boston Neck crosswalk.
“The problem is, people heading down Brown Street onto Boston Neck Road feel an entitlement to whip through that intersection at all kinds of speeds, and not realizing there’s a walkway there for pedestrian use,” McKay said.
McKay also said he didn’t agree entirely with other members of the council regarding possible traffic build up, adding that a three-way stop could “eliminate the congestion pattern.”
“I don’t agree necessarily with everybody in terms of the congestion element,” he said. “I think if we have alternating traffic patterns, we eliminate the congestion pattern, particularly on weekends when the beach traffic comes down that way.”
He also asked whether crosswalks could be elevated to make them more obvious to motorists.
Mancini said he agreed with McKay that pedestrian safety had to be the primary concern, adding that, during the traffic commission’s meeting in September, he “didn’t hear much about pedestrian safety,” though there was much discussion about the 14 accidents.
“I will not use the crosswalk on Boston Neck Road […] because of lack of pedestrian safety. It’s almost a blind spot coming around the corner, going south,” Mancini explained to Raymond. “We would implore you to put a priority on pedestrian safety.”
Though the issue is going to be on the State Traffic Commission’s agenda for its next meeting, Raymond said that it could be continued to November, allowing for more discussion with Mollis and the council before a decision is made.
Mollis said that he would continue discussions with Raymond and report back to the council, with the matter to be taken up again in November.