2017-07-27 / Around Town

A Simple Gesture That Could Save a Life

By Brooke Constance White

Irma Alvarez and Aymar Ccopacatty, Police Officer Merrie Scott, Ruth Thumbtzen, and Kidder Gowen are all on the move, all going places, getting there safely with a wave. (Image by JaiCG) Irma Alvarez and Aymar Ccopacatty, Police Officer Merrie Scott, Ruth Thumbtzen, and Kidder Gowen are all on the move, all going places, getting there safely with a wave. (Image by JaiCG) It’s a simple gesture, just a wave. But it could save a life by acknowledging that drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists have been seen.

Bari Freeman, executive director of Bike Newport, produced the Newport Waves campaign for the City of Newport two years ago following a string of tragic accidents in which pedestrians were killed by cars. The city received a $10,000 federal grant, largely due to its ranking as one of the top two cities in each state with the highest number of deaths involving a motor vehicle with a pedestrian or bicyclist. Although the funding has since run out, the city's Newport Waves campaign has been refreshed.

“It’s not a grant you want to get, but we used it to help promote safety on the streets through the wave campaign,” Freeman said.

“When we received the grant, we’d just had three pedestrians die that winter nearly in rapid succession. It was very scary. Two happened in crosswalks in broad daylight and one of those two was in a wheelchair.”

Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop, who makes an appearance in the Newport Waves video, said that public safety is his number one priority. The city plans to be active in the promotion of the campaign.

“The city is firmly behind anything we can do to support public safety,” he said. “One of the important parts of this campaign is that it’s clear that it’s not just the people driving the cars but it’s also the pedestrians and bicyclists must take responsibility for their own safety. Too often people walk through a crosswalk or cross at a stop sign thinking the cars are going to see them or stop and unfortunately that doesn’t always happen.”

When the first round of the Newport Waves campaign, which was put on by Bike Newport, Newport Police and the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, took hold two years ago, residents and visitors caught on to the concept and could often be seen waving before crossing the street or entering traffic, Freeman said. Based on research at crash sites, the most common thing people say after an accident is “I thought they saw me” or “I didn’t see them.”

“The wave actually acknowledges that you see the person,” she said. “It’s a step beyond eye contact because if you don’t get a wave back, intuitively, you won’t step out.”

Since the first campaign, a pedestrian was hit and killed in a crosswalk a few months ago, down the street from Bike Newport’s Broadway office. Although they had been planning for a second campaign, it became more urgent after the recent tragedy, Freeman said.

“We have a real problem here,” she said. “People are distracted and we need to remind people to pay attention, especially in a busy city where people are on vacation and maybe a little more distracted. They need to stop, look and do the wave.”

The second wave campaign, which kicked off Wednesday, July 26, is brighter and bolder to make sure the message of the “stop, look, wave” is clear. Like last time, a video with recognizable faces and places will bring the campaign to life and make it memorable. In addition to the video, which will be free for anyone to utilize, Freeman said they will be looking for partners who are willing to place jumbo-sized posters in store windows and other prominent places to insure high visibility so the campaign reaches as many people as possible.

Freeman said the initial $10,000 grant was used up long ago, and although they’ve gotten additional funding through the department of health, they are asking interested partners to help pay for the campaign’s promotional materials. Posters can be tailored to feature a message from whoever is hosting the sign.

Although she is confident that relaunching the wave campaign will encourage drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to pay attention, be more safety conscious and do the Newport Wave, Freeman said it’s hard to track and quantify.

“We hear a lot about it and have been asked many times when it’s coming back,” she said. “There’s no level of training or education required. Even the youngest child understands.”

Aside from possibly saving a life, it’s also friendly and is most often accompanied with a smile, which Freeman said represents the personality and culture of Newport.

“We’re taking the bull by the horns because it’s all about being more visible, more predictable and doing the wave,’ she said. “We really believe that if people do this, they will avoid the most dangerous situations.”

Early partners to display and promote the campaign include Jane Pickens Theater, the Newport Visitors Center, RIPTA, the City of Newport, Newport This Week and more. For more information on the campaign and how to be a partner, visit newportwaves.org.

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