2015-07-23 / Front Page

Unofficial Signs Urge Safe Streets

By Tom Walsh

Residents along Coggeshall Avenue send the message loud and clear for motorists to drive slowly. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Residents along Coggeshall Avenue send the message loud and clear for motorists to drive slowly. (Photo by Jack Kelly) With their bright yellow backgrounds and sharp black lettering, the street signs sprouting up in a few Newport neighborhoods almost appear to be official city admonitions and are difficult to ignore.

“Go Slow, Drive Like Your Family Lives Here,” command the signs, a brainchild of Lee Dipietro of Coggeshall Avenue.

“I think the signs have made a little bit of a difference,” he said. “Some people have slowed down. We just want to keep Newport a nice place, and not let it get to be run-down with tourists running the place. They’ve got to do something.”

“The cars have just been zooming through there,” said City Councilor Kathryn E. Leonard. She said someone called her to complain of the “sign graffiti.” However, Leonard said, “I’ve gotten lots of positive responses. And others have told me they were going to put one up. I think it’s good.”

As in past years, the summer influx of cars and buses has brought in motorists who often exceed the 25 miles per hour limit on residential streets.

“The police can’t enforce [these limits],” Leonard said. “There are not enough police to keep track of them all.”

Dipietro agreed. “I understand that the police department has multiple issues to deal with,” he said. “But the biggest problem is that we need enforcement.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to make our streets safer for everyone,” Newport Police Sgt. Jonathan Cortes said in June at a Bike Newport event.

Besides speeding cars, large tour buses and trucks also pose problems in an old, colonial-era city such as Newport.

Leonard said that this year, “There seems to be a huge infiltration of tour buses going through residential neighborhoods. On some of these old, skinny streets where these buses are trying to back up, if they’re not careful they’re going to kill someone.”

“I can attest to this unbridled behavior,” said Lisette Prince, who lives at 2 Rovensky Ave. She said drivers of large tour buses and trucks routinely ignore signs that restrict them. With grandchildren living nearby and no sidewalks on Coggeshall Avenue, Prince said, “If you’ve ever walked there you know that in some places there’s no room to get out of the way.”

Prince said that requiring the largest tour buses to “pay something” to use the city’s residential streets might at least partially address the problem.

Bari Freeman, executive director of Bike Newport, said her organization’s “Newport Waves” campaign— which urges all road users, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, skateboarders and others to acknowledge each other with a simple, friendly wave—can help ease the situation.

“It is dangerous out there,” Freeman said. “We want to make sure that drivers and vulnerable road users communicate with each other. We hope to make people in the streets more aware of each other and more courteous.”

Leonard said that historic colonial cities such as Charleston, S.C. and Williamsburg, Va., use a trolley system to get tourists off the huge buses and into the center of town. Freeman concurred, saying “We have to find better ways to enter the city.”

“If you take a look at this, there are a lot of benefits that come from rethinking the transportation part of it,” Freeman continued. “We can improve on the flow of people into and out of the city with more appropriate transportation. Rather than using large diesel-driven buses, we’d like to see more appropriate, gentler transportation modes. Newport was not built for large diesel buses.”

Evan Smith, Discover Newport president and CEO, said education— especially effective signage— can help address these issues. “How do you define a tourist as opposed to a local resident?” he asked. “Is it someone from out of state? Or is it someone from Wakefield or Narragansett?”

Smith maintained that collectively, more large beer and food trucks, construction trucks, and heavy equipment vehicles crowd Newport streets than do tour buses.

“Summer traffic is hard,” Smith said. “Any place that is a summer destination is a nightmare. It’s not a problem unique to Newport.” And, he declared, “It’s up to everyone to respect local laws.”

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