Opinion divided on benefit of Post Road lane reductions
NORTH KINGSTOWN—On Monday evening, the town council listened to representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) outline their plans for a new look to Post Road, giving the town’s main thoroughfare what is called a ‘road diet.’
At the March 5 Planning Commission meeting, RIDOT spoke at length regarding their preliminary plans to restructure sections of Post Road from Camp Avenue to West Main Street into two lanes with a center lane for turning placed at intersections. The goal is to widen the shoulders for safer pedestrian access, as well as reduce the number of yearly crashes along the current roadway.
“The town has been trying to re-plan Post Road for longer than I have worked here, and all of it has been looking at how to make the road a better area, more walkable and likeable,” said Planning Director Jon Reiner at the March 5 meeting. “This is a chance to improve some of those safety issues we have on Post Road.”
“When you are crossing a four lane road as it is now, you have four conflict points to get from one side to another,” said RIDOT spokesperson Stephen Bursala, who presented the council with the preliminary plans. “Four lane roads are very difficult for pedestrian safety, and crosswalks aren’t the solution.”
“Crosswalks tend to give pedestrians a false sense of security, and they think everyone will stop for them,” he continued. “By doing a road diet, you eliminate those two conflict points and there will be lower vehicular speeds, as well as a more uniform [traffic] flow.”
According to data gathered over the past number of years by RIDOT, the annual average daily traffic (AADT) count from Maxwell Drive to Oakdale Road, for example, is 21,800 cars. Bursala stated that, although that number is below the 23,000 limit which RIDOT recommends for AADT totals, crashes from 2009 to 2011 totaled at 118, a number which could be brought down with a road diet.
“The travel lanes now are undesirable because they don’t allow travel side-to-side within the lane itself,” said Bursala earlier this month. “When we do construction jobs and are maintaining traffic, we see these old roads that have four 10 foot lanes, and ideally we would like them to be larger.”
Town council members expressed their concern about reducing the four-lane set up on Post Road, stating that current and potential businesses could be hindered, particularly in the summer months, by increased traffic congestion, turning customers away to shop elsewhere.
“We already do have a number of problem areas, such as at Boston Neck Road coming into Wickford,” said Councilman Kerry McKay. “My biggest concern here is if you take the later morning or early afternoon and put that amount of traffic on there with single element lights [because of the lane reduction], now you have all that traffic backed up to each of the other lights.”
“Then the summer comes in and you are looking at some trouble out there,” he continued.
Councilman Richard Welch, who attended the March 5 Planning Commission meeting, also expressed his concern Monday evening about the potential congestion in neighborhood streets surrounding Post Road as motorists seek alternate routes to avoid traffic.
“We all want to be in this together and [RIDOT] is not trying to force this on the town at all,” said Bursala in response. “This came to us through our planning department to take a look at and see if it is feasible. The safety benefit I think is strong, but the downside is the loss of a passing lane and potential congestion.”
The public was also invited to speak about the preliminary plans for lane reductions on Post Road. One resident stated that the town didn’t need to make lane changes, but enforce more effectively the 35 mile per hour speed limit currently held on Post Road.
Martha Pughe, Executive Director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, also stated that among businesses on Post Road with which she has spoken, 100 percent were for lane reductions because it would slow traffic down and allow passers-by to survey stores and signage better.
Among other business, the town council approved unanimously a series of resolutions, including requests to the Rhode Island General Assembly to oppose recent legislation that would give teachers an opportunity to resort to binding arbitration when contract negotiations with their school department stall.
Currently, there is no state requirement that teachers use binding arbitration. In February, Town Manager Michael Embury wrote a formal letter to sent to the House Committee of Labor opposing such legislation.
“Arbitration has not proven to be a ‘responsible contract resolution’ process for most any community that has gone through this process,” read Embury’s letter. “When one analyzes the fiscal condition of many Rhode Island communities, the results of many arbitration decisions have placed communities in difficult financial positions.”
“The provisions contained in this proposed legislation, in fact, place local governments and school departments in further fiscal jeopardy,” it continued.
At the Feb. 11 regular meeting, all council members were in opposition to the binding arbitration legislation, stating that it would take all negotiating power away from the town council and put residents at risk to steep taxes to cover the litigation costs that would be associated with a third-party, binding arbitrator.
Town Council President Elizabeth Dolan also criticized potential legislation at the time, for which a resolution was also approved Monday evening, that would allow town employee contracts to continue on an issue-by-issue basis, even if a new agreement has not been reached. “If that slipped through, it will be a huge concession because it could apply to everyone else,” said Dolan in February.
Embury also updated the council about the most recent credit rating reports issued by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s credit services.
According to both firms, the town’s current financial state is considered favorable, as well as its long-term outlook. Moody’s gave the town a grade of Aa2, while Standard & Poor’s issued a AA/Stable grade.