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Councilor: Bike crossing masks danger

September 26, 2013

PAWTUCKET — The Ten Mile River Greenway, a paved two-mile bike path that connects Slater Park in Pawtucket to the Kimberly Ann Rock Athletic Fields in East Providence, is a boon to local walkers, bicyclists and inline skaters. But one City Council member is expressing concerns about the safety of a new crosswalk on Armistice Boulevard that utilizes a solar-powered traffic signal.

The Ten Mile River Greenway was built by the R.I. Department of Transportation in 2004. According to RIDOT, it is one of the few bike paths in Rhode Island that was not built along a former rail corridor. As such, it follows the natural contour of the land and provides a scenic ride along rolling terrain on the banks of the James Turner Reservoir.

A new one-mile extension was recently completed that connects Slater Park at the Armistice Boulevard entrance to the Daggett Athletic Fields. A crosswalk, with a solar-powered signal featuring flashing “warning lights” to motorists, was also installed near the Armistice Boulevard entrance, not far from the Pawtucket Country Club.

While not disputing the positive recreational benefits of the bike path extension, Councilor Thomas Hodge has raised concerns about motorists on the busy street being warned soon enough of pedestrians and bicyclists preparing to cross. Also known as Route 15, Armistice Boulevard is a state roadway. Its name changes to Brook Street when it crosses the state line into Seekonk, Mass.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Hodge called the location of the crosswalk “Death Valley,” referring to what he says is a low spot in the roadway just after the entrance to the country club, coming from Seekonk into Pawtucket. Noting that he lives nearby, he said the speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but most motorists travel above the posted limit. He added that there is also a curve to the road, and a RIPTA bus stop near the crosswalk, adding to the hazardous conditions.

Hodge said RIDOT did install signage to warn motorists of the crosswalk ahead, but said it is only about 200 feet away. “If you’re coming from Seekonk into Pawtucket, you really can’t see someone in the crosswalk until you cross over that rise,” he stated. He said he worries about young children on bicycles, as well as serious runners and cyclists who might not be paying attention as they should be.

“Exercise can put you in a different zone, a ‘runner’s high,’ if you will, and some people might not be as attentive as they would normally be when crossing a street,” said Hodge, a longtime runner himself.
Hodge also said that from a visit he made to the scene himself on Thursday morning, it didn’t appear that the lights were working.

However, when a reporter visited the crosswalk later that morning, several runners passed by and the flashing lights designed to warn motorists did come on as the pedestrians approached. The lights flashed until the runner was safely across, and then shut off again.

Rose Amoros, a spokeswoman for RIDOT, said a motion detector aimed at the bike path senses people approaching the intersection and turns the light on. The solar-powered signal only activates when there is someone waiting, allowing traffic to flow freely when there is no one on the path. She said the lights can also be activated by a button if the sensor does not pick up the movement.

Amoros said that RIDOT has used these types of signal lights on other bike paths, including the Coventry Greenway. She said RIDOT will also consider using them as part of future bike path projects as an additional safety measure for pedestrians and cyclists.

Councilor Albert Vitali, who also lives near the bike path, said he had raised an issue several weeks ago about the warning lights not working. He had asked the city’s Highway Department to install orange barrels at the crosswalk to catch the eye of motorists, and to place signs at intervals in advance of the crosswalk.

Since his request, Vitali said that RIDOT engineers had fixed the non-working traffic signal, which uses a battery that is charged by the solar panels to operate.

He said that RIDOT also installed several signs about 150 feet or so from the crosswalk telling motorists to be aware.

“I think that’s more than adequate now,” said Vitali. “People have been crossing that street all the time, for years. People are taught not to run out into oncoming traffic.” He also said that the warning lights at the crosswalk are not meant to be flashing all the time, but only when someone is actually crossing.

Hodge said he would still like to see additional signs warning of the crosswalk, particularly for motorists coming from Seekonk into Pawtucket. He said signage should begin on the Seekonk line and perhaps near Hastings Avenue on the Pawtucket side.

“You can’t see those lights until you’re on top of them,” Hodge said. “And living near there, I can assure you that nobody is going 20 miles per hour.”


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