The Newport City Council last week approved a resolution that marks a new citywide effort to improve pedestrian safety after two people were killed in crosswalks in two separate January incidents.
The council passed an amended form of a resolution that calls upon the city manager and police department to review existing pedestrian safety and crosswalk laws and consider ways to improve how crossings in Newport can be better marked.
And since the ordinance was first drafted, city officials have had meetings with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and taken other measures to take immediate action to improve pedestrian safety.
“Things are in the works,” said City Councilwoman Naomi L. Neville as the resolution was introduced. “We’re not taking this lightly.”
Changes to the ordinance incorporated three suggestions from Chuck Filippo on behalf of the bike and pedestrian commission that would incorporate a citizen survey to identify all locations where pedestrians the most vulnerable and measures to make pedestrians more visible to drivers. One system he referenced has had success on Main Street in Wakefield, where pedestrians can use orange flags stored in bins on each side of the street to wave and draw drivers’ eyes before entering the crosswalk.
Another adjustment changed the wording of a part of the ordinance that calls upon the Newport Police Department to “strictly” enforce distracted driving laws, especially texting while driving.
Filippo said the wording might “preclude other techniques for dealing with distracted driving” and though he agreed that texting is “of particular concern,” it would be better to recommend that staff, police and the commission review local laws to consider best practices. Things like high visibility crosswalk paints can affect distracted driving in addition to enforcement of existing laws, he said.
Councilman Justin S. McLaughlin said the state as a whole needs to redouble its efforts to address pedestrian safety and increase the burden on drivers to heed more while behind the wheel.
He pledged to bring back a resolution in the future to call upon the General Assembly to consider toughening the law, recalling a time in 1964 when he was in California and was startled to find that cars there would stop when you put your foot into the crosswalk.
“I didn’t know what happened,” he said. “I was used to wandering in and out of cars in Boston. I’m appalled our state law doesn’t create that burden on traffic.”
In Newport, a pedestrian will be standing halfway through a crosswalk waiting for cars to stop driving through often enough. McLaughlin said the problem is often speed. Recently, while walking to the beach, he had to wait for “15 to 20 cars before someone bothered to stop.”
He was standing right at the edge of the road at a marked crosswalk.
“People driving in Newport have gotten too cavalier,” he said. “Go down Broadway any day of the week and watch pedestrians maneuver to get around. We need to strictly enforce that law and other laws to ensure we don’t have more repetitions of this kind of event.”