2014-01-31 / Opinion

Look Out for Safety

Two pedestrians died this week in Newport in two separate incidents. Both were hit by cars while crossing in a marked crosswalk. Robert Silvia, 56, was in his wheelchair crossing Memorial Boulevard. Sharon Gerlach, 58, was crossing Bellevue Avenue in front of the shop she has co-owned with her sister for 32 years. Our hearts and prayers are with their loved ones.

While total traffic deaths nationwide are decreasing, the numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths are increasing. This statistic can be attributed to many factors combined – more people walking and cycling, momentary conditions, and increasingly distracted behaviors by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. We are off-season at the moment, but it is highly relevant that in Newport we experience the added complications of high-season tourism - visitors on holiday, excited, confused, distracted, and unaware of local ordinances.

Newport's pain is felt in cities across the country - 2013 saw recordbreaking numbers of pedestrian fatalities in Tucson and San Jose, while in NYC there were seven pedestrian deaths in the first 12 days of 2014.

The most important thing we can do in the wake of these tragedies is to be aware and pay attention – in our cars, on our feet, and on our bicycles. As drivers, we need to keep our eyes on the road. As cyclists and pedestrians, we must pay attention, and we must not assume that we are seen. We must be in the habit of making eye contact before trusting a stop sign or crosswalk to protect us.

Please pledge to follow, model and teach these common sense rules of the road – regardless of circumstance, mood, or condition. Review these practices with the young people in your life. In this way, we can prevent more tragedies. Motorists: • Expect and respect cyclists on the road and give them room. • Leave plenty of room when passing cyclists and pedestrians – at least three feet. • Approach crosswalks with extra caution. Expect pedestrians to use crosswalks. Pedestrians: Pay attention. Make eye contact. Do not assume that cars will stop even when you are in the crosswalk. Enter the street only when you are certain that the car is stopping. Cyclists: • Follow the rules of the road. Always ride in the same direction as traffic. • Ride single file when on narrow, curvy, and busy roads. • Be as visible as possible to traffic – wear reflective gear and proper lighting in the dark.

Bike Newport is working with all stakeholders to make every effort to improve the safety and education of all road users. Both Deanna Casey (Board Chair) and I sit on the newly formed Newport Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. Additionally, Bike Newport works closely with the Highway Safety Program of the R.I. Department of Transportation on the statewide Vulnerable Road User Safety Action Plan currently in progress. This statewide project uses Newport as the model and pilot for statewide recommendations.

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