Town launches pedestrian safety campaign

Town launches pedestrian safety campaign

Brody and Ryder Laliberte wave next to one of the pedestrian safety campaign signs. Residents are invited to take their own pictures with the signs and post them on social media with the hashtags #riwaves #nswaves.
Residents encouraged to ‘stop, look, wave’

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Police Department in partnership with several community partners has launched a new initiative intended to keep pedestrians and bicycle riders safe.

The North Smithfield Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Education and Enforcement Initiative is designed to educate residents about the importance of safety for those who share the road with drivers. As part of the initiative, residents are encouraged to follow the most important rule around interactions between drivers and pedestrians, to “stop, look and wave” to make sure both sides know when it’s OK to proceed.

The idea originated with Aleksandra Norton, a town resident and co-founder of the group Engage North Smithfield. Norton, a mother of two boys, said her older son is an avid cyclist and she had concerns about his safety while riding his bike on the road.

“We actually reside on School Street, and we wanted to discuss if there was an opportunity for an educational initiative to take place in the community,” she said.

In speaking with other Engage North Smithfield members, she said, she learned many residents had concerns about pedestrian safety, especially involving areas where drivers often speed. She reached out to Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, who put her in touch with the North Smithfield Police Department.

“Everybody was very supportive, then we decided to expand the group to get in touch with the Supt. (Michael St. Jean), (Town Planner) Tom Kravitz and the North Smithfield Library,” she said.

The group began meeting last fall to devise an educational initiative to inform both drivers and bicyclists how to stay safe on the road. They tapped into several existing resources around pedestrian safety, including Rhode Island Waves, a partners campaign between the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration overseen by Bike Newport, and the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition’s safety education program.

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According to Capt. Stephen Riccitelli of the North Smithfield Police Department, “stop, look and wave” is a simple message to hammer home the importance of safety for everyone on the road.

“In addition to ‘stop, look and wave,’ really what it comes down to is courtesy,” he said. “Being respectful of one another. We want to make sure that people that are out there that are walking in the roadway are recognized by motorists, people that are cycling are recognized by motorists.”

In addition to the campaign, Riccitelli said the department plans to increase traffic enforcement in high-traffic areas. The increased enforcement comes after the department saw traffic issues during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, when many residents were out sharing the roads with drivers.

“We noticed for a period of time we had to reduce traffic enforcement as a result of people waiting for (personal protective equipment) to come in, and what we noticed was some people took advantage of that,” he said. “We felt it was really important to get back out there and conduct motor vehicle enforcement.”

Initially, the group planned to launch their campaign through several methods, including a school-based education program run by Donny Green of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition. The group also planned to hold a bicycle rally at Pacheco Park that would include raffles of sports items donated by REI and Walmart and a bicycle ride led by the NSPD.

In light of the pandemic, however, they’ve had to scale back. At the moment, the campaign features four safety awareness signs installed around town and a series of flyers available at the North Smithfield Public Library. The signs, donated by National Marker, include a reminder to “stop, look and wave” and a link to the statewide Rhode Island Waves campaign.

Engage North Smithfield is encouraging residents to share the message on social media by posting photos of themselves or their children with the safety campaign signs. Residents are asked to tag the images with #riwaves #nswaves.

Norton and Riccitelli said they hope to hold the bicycle rally at a later date.

“At least this opens up the dialogue so people can be a little more mindful of the speed and paying attention. With smart phones, everybody’s distracted, everybody’s rushing,” said Norton.

From left, Aleksandra Norton, Police Chief Tim Lafferty, Town Administrator Gary Ezovski and Public Works Director Ray Pendergast are pictured in front of one of the signs for the new North Smithfield pedestrian and bicycle safety campaign. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)