Ocean Avenue residents call for traffic calming
Michael Schlesinger’s home was struck by a drunk driver on Oct. 14. Weeks later, his neighbor, Juana Horton, faced the same fate; a tarp and plywood still covers the gaping hole in the foundation of her home. Over the years, Ardys Filippone’s picket fence has been knocked down nearly as often as it has been up.
The stories are similar and surprisingly common. Late at night, drivers fly down Narragansett Boulevard, picking up speed on the hill before taking the hard turn onto Ocean Avenue. Somewhere along the road, they lose control, hitting shrubs, crashing into the island, driving across lawns and even knocking houses off their foundations.
It’s a problem these Edgewood residents have faced for more than a decade, and they say the city isn’t helping. They’re fed up and say it’s time to take matters into their own hands.
On Monday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. concerned neighbors, working in conjunction with the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association (EWPA), will meet at the Rhode Island Yacht Club to discuss what needs to be done to prevent property damage, or worse, in the future.
“The damage and the situations are getting even more severe, but the city is doing nothing to protect the residents in this area,” Horton said. “The situation is getting so dangerous that somebody is going to get hurt.”
Horton was not at home on Nov. 8 when her home was most recently struck by a vehicle around 4:30 in the morning. Her housekeeper called to inform her of the accident, and Horton flew home from out of town to find a cracked foundation and sub-floor. Temporary support beams are fixing the problem for now, but contractors estimate it will cost her nearly $200,000 to repair her home.
“It sustained structural damage; a gaping 10-foot hole in the foundation and it basically destroyed my dining room floor and three walls,” she said. “If somebody had been sitting in the dining room at the time the accident happened, they would have had furniture on top of them and could have gotten seriously hurt.”
In addition to the repairs needed this time around, Horton has purchased 3,000-pound boulders at her own expense to protect her property. Combined, four property owners along the avenue have purchased 22 boulders, not covered by insurance, at a cost of $12,000.
Schlesinger is ready to shell out between $10,000 and $12,000 to move his gas and electric meters out of harm’s way. When his house was struck, the vehicle missed the gas meter by just one foot.
“We have an obvious problem here. We have a dangerous intersection and someone’s going to get killed,” he said.
Moving his meters is just part of the inconvenience that Schlesinger has felt since moving into his new home on July 24. He has been in the neighborhood for less than five months, and he is moving the meters, constructing a wall to protect his home and he is still waiting for insurance reimbursement for the repairs.
When his house was hit, he thought it was a jet flying overhead.
“I had just come back from a trip to Sicily, a business trip, and to make a long story short I was dead tired. At 12:30 I hear a bang and I wake up and say, ‘It must have been a jet that flew overhead.’ I went back to bed and then I hear over a loudspeaker, ‘get out of the car.’ I look out the window and there are cops with guns drawn,” he recalled.
Needless to say, Schlesinger says, “It was a shock to have my house hit.”
The person who hit his home was insured, but not all residents have been so lucky. There have been comparatively minor incidents, Horton said, when properties have been damaged and the responsible party does not come forward.
“My shrubs have been hit numerous times this year and last year by the cars driving into them. Unfortunately, the majority of the times this happened it was late at night and we were sleeping and there was no way of knowing who did it,” she said.
Horton and her neighbors, led by 30-year resident Barbara Rubine, have kept a detailed record of all incidents. Still, they feel the city has not been proactive given the consistent nature of these accidents.
“This has been an ongoing issue, which has been communicated to the council and also to the mayor. We pay taxes; we are involved in our community; we deserve to be protected,” Horton said.
Moreover, Rubine has seen first hand the number of incidents increase.
“It has escalated. Maybe they [the city] haven’t comprehended how serious a problem it is,” she said.
Mayor Allan Fung’s Chief of Staff Carlos Lopez says the administration is aware of the problems and how serious they are. He pointed out that these issues began long before Fung’s tenure, but believes that resolution can be reached in the near future.
“It’s something we’re really looking into because of the nature of the accidents and the outcry of the neighbors. Definitely, it’s something that’s on our radar,” he said. “We’re on the verge of having some results here.”
A traffic study of the Edgewood neighborhood, running from Norwood to Ocean Avenues, was completed in 2010. A public meeting was held, but the project was essentially shelved for the time being. Now, Director of Public Works Ken Mason says the city is ready to take the next step.
Two weeks ago, the Board of Contracts and Purchasing approved a contract with Garofalo & Associates, allowing the engineering company to complete construction blueprints and specifications for potential traffic calming measures. Once specs are complete, the city could go out to bid on construction.
“There is a multitude of items that we may or may not include, including speed tables, signage, reconfiguration of the island, re-striping of the roads and those types of issues,” Mason said.
Mason believes the survey and construction study will begin before Jan. 1, with plans completed hopefully by springtime. There will be a public hearing with Garofalo during that time, but Mason said the engineers will not be at Monday’s meeting. The city does plan on being represented there.
If plans are, in fact, completed by spring, the city could go out to bid for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
“There’s no funding for this fiscal year,” Mason said.
Whether or not money will be laid out in next year’s budget remains to be seen. Director of Administration Gerry Cordy says the city’s ability to spend money will depend in part on the bond rating, which could be impacted by the unfunded pension liability.
“The primary thing to be concerned about when it comes to bonding is what is the city’s bonding rate? The better the city’s bonding rate, the better interest rate we can get on city bonds,” Cordy said. “All of these things are going to be moving parts going into next year’s budget.”
He said there is no “guarantee” that the funding will be available next year.
In previous action, the city installed two warning signs for the intersection and widened the bike path, cutting Narragansett Boulevard to two wider lanes. That helped for a while, and at certain times of day, Rubine says, the area does seem quiet. Nighttime and weekends tell a different story, though, she says, and she believes much more needs to be done to tackle the traffic problems near the intersection.
“I think they have done the minimum required with hope that it would correct the problem, and they have done a few things over the 15 years that I can document. I think we need more than one thing to address this situation,” she said.
Some of the ideas proposed by residents in the area include speed tables and an increased police presence.
Schlesinger went as far as to say a one-way street on a portion of Ocean Avenue would mitigate the problems.
“That would require them to go someplace else,” he said of the drivers using the neighborhood as a cut-through to get to downtown Providence.
Lopez says police have been monitoring the area and presence has been increased, but that will only go so far.
“We’re not going to post a police officer there 24/7,” he said. “I think you have to step back and look at the actual incidents. If you look at the traffic reports and police reports, they seem to follow a pattern. They’re late at night, they usually involve drinking or some kind of impaired driving, and a lot of times it turns out to be people who are not from the neighborhood. When you look at the big picture, it’s not that the area itself is under siege. It seems to be external factors that are contributing to these spectacular accidents.”
Those factors and ideas on how to improve the situation will be discussed next Monday. Most importantly, Rubine and her neighbors want the city to keep residents in the loop and take their concerns into consideration when developing a plan of action.
“It would be a waste of the city’s resources to have someone who is not as familiar as the residents make a lot of suggestions that may have to be revised. We need to be part of the discussion from the get-go,” she said.
In a perfect world, she said, a solution can be worked out amicably and in the near future.
“We’re hoping that we’ll get a pledge from the city that they’re going to work with us to provide a higher level of safety in this area,” she said.