WARWICK, RI — Vehicles traveling on Main Avenue near the intersections of Morse and Greenfield streets on Thursday morning might have noticed several Warwick police officers in the area, but hopefully the drivers were also paying attention to a man, dressed in shorts, a brightly t-shirt and baseball cap, trying to cross the busy four-lane street – a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
Those who did not yield to him were in for a big surprise – flagged down by members of the Warwick Police Department’s traffic division. The pedestrian was actually a decoy, Officer John Curley, a member of the WPD.
Those stopped for failing to yield were given warnings, part of an educational effort held at several different cross-walks around the city. The event was a re-introduction of an education and enforcement program called “Walk Wise Warwick,” launched in 2016.
According to Sgt. John Kelly of the department’s traffic unit, there have been fifty pedestrian deaths statewide so far this year, including at least three in Warwick. The decoy pedestrian crossed at the site of one such death, that of David Bustin. On May 23, the New England Tech student was struck in the crosswalk near his home. His family has erected a sign on a telephone pole under the bright neon crosswalk sign that reads, “Drive Safely, in memory of David Bustin.”
Bustin’s death was the first pedestrian fatality in Warwick this year.
On Thursday warnings were given, but if the offending drivers had “other issues,” citations were also be issued.
“Maybe everybody will yield, but in our history, people don’t yield so we’ll probably be pulling a lot of people over,” said Kelly while setting up just east of the crosswalk. Within minutes, a car failed to yield and was ordered to pull over on the next side street.
The Main Street crosswalk traverses four lanes of heavily traveled roadway, just east of the Greenwood Bridge, and is close to several other intersections; on the north side of the road is Sam’s Food Stores and Gigi’s Pizza, located in a small but busy parking lot. After crossing the bridge and heading east, motorists tend to accelerate away from the traffic light located at the corner of Post Road.
The decoy pedestrian was careful to watch approaching traffic, waiting to step off before vehicles got closer than 250 feet. “About 200 feet is the perception/reaction time, so we’re giving [motorists] plenty of time,” Kelly said of the distance. Once the pedestrian steps off the curb into the crosswalk, motorists in the closest two lanes of traffic are required to stop. Motorists heading the opposite way have until the pedestrian reaches the center line to stop.
“The Warwick Police Department, over 2017 year to date, has investigated 13 accidents that have involved our crash-reconstruction team. Those numbers are higher than what our normal annual statistic is – we usually average about 10 per year. That’s an alarming rate, specifically as it relates to pedestrian enforcement. We’ve had four reconstruction accidents that resulted in a car vs pedestrian, three of those were fatalities. Over the past weekend, we had consecutive evenings when a pedestrian was struck, one of those resulted in a fatality,” said Major Rick Rathbun.
“Part of what they’ll do post-accident and post-reconstruction is to look to see if there’s an education or enforcement facet that they can follow up on in the community to try to prevent future accidents of a similar nature. It’s unprecedented for us to have consecutive evenings of accidents, particularly involving pedestrians.”
The “Walk Wise Warwick” enforcement program is subsidized with grant funding from the Department of Transportation Office of Highway Safety. It allows the department to devote resources specifically for enforcement of pedestrian traffic laws.
A statute describes the motorists’ responsibility of when the driver has to stop. “The key thing here, when a motorist sees someone in the crosswalk, he needs to yield the right of way to that person and make sure they give them the capability to cross the roadway,” said Rathbun.
“We want to remind motorists that the laws apply 24 hours a day,” Rathbun said, noting that two of the fatalities occurred after dark. “For pedestrians themselves, we want to remind them to avoid distractions, we’ve had incidents where pedestrians are texting, using their cell phone, looking down as they cross the roadway. They need to try to make eye contact with the operator. If you see the car, don’t assume they see you,” he added.
He was not surprised at the number of cars stopped within the first half hour.
“Unfortunately, that’s why we saw the need last year to develop this program. It’s not a specific problem to Warwick, it’s not a specific problem to State of Rhode Island – the National Highway Transportation Safety Board has identified pedestrian safety, pedestrian accidents as something they want to devote attention to,” he said of the organization which offers funding for educational programs at the State level.
He mentioned other crosswalks of a similar nature across the City – four lane state roads: Post Road, Warwick Avenue, Route 2. “Basically, the majority of our roads are set up on State highways. We’re dealing with traffic congestion, increased capabilities of vehicles that go faster than people realize. It’s a matter of everyone cooperating on the roadways.”
The speeds tend to be faster, the speed limits higher, on two lane roads than one-lane roads. But are there fewer accidents on one-lane roads?
“We still see the same type of violations but the speeds tend to be higher on the two lane roads. The width of the road is not so much a factor as the speed limit, and whether people are exceeding the speed limit,” Rathbun said, citing enforcement conducted in the past at West Shore Road at a crosswalk near the Conimicut Post Office.
“We will continue to keep doing this. We do focus on the fall, kids are back in school, students are back in college,” said Rathbun of the timing of Thursday’s event.
“The focus is on education. Enforcement is not made to generate revenue, it’s made to save lives,” he added.
Warwick Police issued 25 warnings for Failure to Yield For a Pedestrian in a Crosswalk 31-18-3 and six citations were issued for various offenses, including speeding, related to pedestrian safety.
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