Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:30pm

The following was submitted to the members of the Town Council, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford and The Block Island Times:

To the Editor:

I would like to offer the following comment into the record about island traffic safety in general, and on Cooneymus Road and West Side Road specifically.

How fortunate we were to have the dramatic help of a major State Police presence on the island in late August and early September. I didn’t spend much time in town this year but the anecdotal evidence is strong that they made a major impact in public behavior, attitude, respect, and perhaps most importantly, traffic safety. I join the rest of the Block Island community in offering my thanks to the State Police for answering the community’s call for help, and to the local police for their hard work, at what is almost a thankless task.

One has to be mindful of the reality that such a substantial and targeted State Police enforcement effort is not to be assumed in 2021 and beyond, leaving the obvious question on the table:

What are the Town Council and Town Manager going to do differently to sustain what has been accomplished, and bring about substantive change in 2021?

Please note that I have not mentioned mopeds, and will only mention them tangentially because they are only part of the problem we have with traffic safety on the island.

While I spent little time in town this year, I have spent 45 minutes daily since March on my walks, mostly from home to Isaac’s Corner and back, sometimes from home to West Side Church and back. I have had plenty of observational experience. Please let me tell you that we have a traffic safety problem on these roads.

Simply put, the problem is excessive speed; speed above the 25 mph limit; excessive speed by automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and mopeds both rental and private; and yes, some mopeds can go faster than 25 mph. And the drivers are not just mainland folks. Many island folks contribute, and also mainland homeowners, summer house renters, and other summer vacationers. Every age bracket contributes; seniors, oldsters, and youngsters. Every demographic is represented.

Bikers? — they are mostly all behaving well.

Put any combination of one or more automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, or bikes going in opposite directions on curvy, narrow Cooneymus Road, or alternately automobiles or trucks passing mopeds or bikes in the same direction, and speed becomes the real safety issue. At speeds 25 mph or below, motor vehicle operators appear to have adequate time and distance to react to the unexpected on the narrow roads, hill crests, and blind curves. At speeds above 25 mph, reaction time and distance are reduced, and circumstances become quite scary and dangerous!

My observations were and are similar across the period before the State Police arrived in force, while they were here, and now in September and October. It is a structural year round problem. And I think it is reasonable to assume that 2020 has not been an outlier but rather is typical of recent years and likely to be repeated in future years without direct intervention. All I would ask is that speed limits be enforced on all island roads for automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and rental and private mopeds, regardless of operator or time of year. Who could argue with that?

Which brings me to my last point.

I confess to being taken aback in August (2020) when I read that we don’t have a Traffic Division in our Police Department. I took that to mean that we are inadequately structured to enforce traffic safety, not only in summer but presumably on a 12-month basis. Am I the only one who didn’t know this?

In my recollection of the public budget discussions of the past two years, I don’t recall that there has been mention of the presence or absence of a Traffic Division. I have always assumed that the town funds the Police Department to cover the breadth of basic police protection, which includes traffic safety and traffic enforcement.

Regardless of whether we have a Traffic Division or not, my hope going forward is that the Council and Town Manager will place a higher priority and provide more direction on 12-month traffic safety and enforcement, and provide the necessary funds to do better.

Thank you,
David Lewis
Lewis Farm