Several months after our council deliberated at multiple Town Council meetings, I recently received two inquiries about the proposed roundabout at the intersection of Boston Neck, Philips, and Brown streets. In light of the questions posed by these citizens I thought I would write to our community to explain the process, what has transpired, and the current status of the proposed roundabout.
This intersection is on a state road and therefore the state traffic commission (“STC”) is the legislative body that has jurisdiction and control over this matter. That body is composed of representatives from the state police, the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission and the Governor’s office. There is no representation from the town of North Kingstown.
For the past several years several residents have complained about how dangerous the intersection is for both pedestrians and vehicles. Because of these concerns the town requested that the STC, the state department of transportation (DOT) and local public safety officials analyze the intersection and see what, if anything, can be done to make it safer.
DOT consultants reviewed the intersection’s history over a thee year period. During this time there were 14 crashes, eight were “rear ends,” five angle crashes, one off the road, and one head-on accident. They reviewed and analyzed these crashes, speeds traveled, site distance, and other relevant factors. Local businesses and observers will tell you that there were also numerous close calls for both vehicles and pedestrians. Consequently, these public safety officials unanimously concluded that this is a very dangerous intersection, and something needed to be done before someone gets seriously hurt.
At our Sept. 28, 2020 town council meeting the DOT presented their findings and the possibility of a three-way stop sign as a solution. We asked for public input. Five residents spoke as did our public safety officials. Several residents endorsed the three-way stop sign. However, one resident believed this proposed solution would result in back-ups on Brown and Philips streets that would lead to drivers using Elam Street as a cut through street to avoid the intersection. The local public safety officials that spoke expressed significant concerns due to safety.
The fire department said they were concerned “a three way [stop sign] or traffic light will have a negative effect on their ability to get through that intersection during heavy traffic times.” Representatives of the police department said that there is no safe place for a stop sign on Brown Street and they too thought the stop sign and traffic lights “would result in major back ups in Wickford.” These back-ups would result in adverse public safety implications. See, Minutes of the Sept. 28, 2020 meeting.
After receiving this input, the DOT and STC researched alternative options. The DOT thereafter conferred with their national consultants and made a presentation at our Jan. 25, 2021 meeting where they recommended a mini roundabout for that intersection that is smaller than a conventional roundabout but can fit into the right-of-way, and is traversable by large and emergency vehicles. The proposed roundabout would fit into the existing area with only taking one or two parking spaces away from the road. The benefits of a mini roundabout include:
The same yield control in each direction
Calming effect on traffic
Requiring approaching vehicles to slow down
Recessed crosswalks with small islands in the middle of the road to make the crosswalks shorter and safer for pedestrians, and
Keeping vehicles moving through the intersection alleviating back-ups on Boston Neck and Brown Street (a major concern of our public safety officials).
They noted that roundabouts have been successfully utilized in Providence and other jurisdictions outside our state. Local citizens and merchants, the Wickford Advisory Committee, and town public safety officials all spoke in support of the DOT recommended roundabout option. In fact, no one testified against it. The Town Council then deliberated the issue and unanimously voted to endorse this recommended option that had no opposition.
Several months after this transpired, communications from two citizens were received that objected to our unanimous decision. While input from citizens is always appreciated, disposition of this matter is now in the hands of the STC and the DOT. The project itself is now scheduled for advertisement and construction in fiscal 2024 (Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2024), however, we asked them to start sooner. And, we hope that the new federal infrastructure legislation will allow that to occur. In the interim we also asked DOT to provide us with temporary safety measures forthwith.
The process we used to come to our conclusion is how this council operates. When an issue is identified, we listen to our own municipal employee experts, listen to additional independent experts if need be (here the STC, DOT, and their outside national consultants), then we listen to the public, debate the matter, and then make an informed decision that is based on the record. This is not only what we have done in this case instance, but previous instances also. And it is what we will do in the future because that is what the citizens of our community have elected us to do—make informed decisions that are in the best interests of our community.
Gregory A. Mancini