2015-07-23 / Opinion

Of Road Signs, Tourists, and Safe Streets


Of late, the question of safe city streets in Newport, especially during the busy summer tourist season, has focused on speeding motorists and on large trucks and tour buses that often ply this city’s narrow, colonial-era roadways.

First, there were the 20 or so residents who, earlier this month, expressed their concerns about safety on Memorial Boulevard to state officials. Then, there were the unofficial but, it seems, rather effective road signs that say, a bit awkwardly, “Go Slow, Drive Like Your Family Lives Here.”

Good advice, we say, all year long and not just during the busy summer months. We applaud those responsible for the signs for their energy and ingenuity.

Traffic, some argue, could be better managed if visitors parked away from the downtown area and a system of small trolley buses was employed to bring them into town. Not so fast, others say, arguing that such systems require precise organization or are doomed to fail. Tourists, they maintain, will quickly revert to driving straight into town after the first time they are left waiting—even for as little as 15 or 20 minutes—for one of these trolleys to pick them up at a remote location.

Some are quick to point a finger at “tourists” when they see a motorist speeding here. Others say that local residents are just as guilty of fast driving. We suspect that both tourists and local residents are, from time to time, guilty of driving too fast in Newport.

But finger pointing will do nothing to remedy this situation. Rather, the experts say, education and enforcement are the keys to making Newport’s streets a safer place for everyone. Newport police pledge to do everything they can “to make our streets safer for everyone.” We believe them and we exhort everyone else to help out with safe, courteous driving.

Interestingly, there seems to be no agreed-upon definition of the word “tourist”—at least as it pertains to people who enjoy our city but don’t actually live here.

A tourist, no doubt, is someone whose car carries a license plate from a state other than Rhode Island. That seems to make sense. Yet what about Rhode Islanders who live off-island? Are they tourists when in Newport?

Does that make a Jamestown resident a tourist when he or she is in town? How about a Portsmouth resident, right here on Aquidneck Island? Or, for that matter, a Pawtucket resident?

And what of members of the military or the person who lives six months and a day in Florida (thereby avoiding some Rhode Island taxes) and the rest of the time lives in Newport?

Regardless of how one defines “tourist” for these purposes, we urge all who drive motor vehicles–large or small–in Newport to observe posted speed limits and do everything possible to make our streets safe.

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