Designed to improve the flow of traffic and reduce the volume of accidents, Apponaug’s roundabouts so far have failed on both counts. The interruption in the flow of traffic, which has city and state authorities suggesting motorists should seek alternate routes if they are going through the Greenwich Avenue roundabout at Veterans Memorial Drive, should improve in another 10 days. As for the accidents that are triple what they were with the one-way rotary through the village, police are saying it’s a matter of Rhode Island drivers learning how to drive a roundabout.
For the period from Jan. 1 to May 2, the four intersections that make up the roundabouts (Apponaug Four Corners is not included) recorded 46 accidents as compared to 13 for the same period last year, according to police records. By far the worst of the roundabouts for accidents is at Greenwich Avenue and Veterans Memorial Drive, where 30 were recorded this year compared to five last year.
Sgt. John Kelly, director of the traffic division for Warwick Police, knows of no serious roundabout accidents, with most of them being sideswipes where motorists failed to yield on entering a roundabout or abruptly changed lanes while in a roundabout to get out of the system.
Delays in the overall system are related to construction and, in particular, crosswalks at the Greenwich Avenue roundabout that is key to motorists looking to go east and west as well as north and south while avoiding the heart of the village.
With the extension of Veterans Memorial Drive to Centerville and Toll Gate Roads completed, the roundabout became functional late last year. Department of Transportation spokesman Charles St. Martin explains because of colder weather and to let motorists acclimate to the roundabouts, the decision was made to delay the installation of cement crosswalks until now. The cement takes a week to cure before they can be opened to traffic. Hence, the walks are being built in segments with traffic restricted to a single lane. Once one lane is completed and cured for a week, it is reopened and the second lane is closed for a week.
“It’s not fun for anybody,” said Kelly. “Everybody wants it done.”
He suggests motorists looking to get to Route 95 from the east side of the city take Main Avenue until the Greenwich Avenue roundabout is fully reopened. Crosswalk construction resulting in the constriction of lanes has also resulted in delays at the Post Road Extension and Veterans Memorial Drive roundabout with traffic backups beyond the underpass and to West Shore Road.
Kelly has found breaking old habits especially difficult. In an informal survey he found that eight out of 10 motorists looking to get to West Shore Road from Centerville and Toll Gate Roads chose to go through Apponaug Four Corners rather than continuing on Veterans Memorial Drive and cutting across to Williams Corner. Now as crews work on the Apponaug Four Corners roundabout, he’s finding motorists realize it’s to their advantage to stay on Veterans Memorial Drive. That should be true as well with completion of the last piece of the overall $71 million project – the Apponaug Four Corners roundabout and that segment of Post Road in front of City Hall – by this fall.
As St. Martin points out, the village center portion of Post Road, which will remain one-way going east, will include a bicycle lane and include bump outs like those in Pawtuxet designed to slow traffic. The objective is to offer motorists looking to avoid the village a means of doing so and providing a pedestrian-friendly environment in the village that will serve to bring businesses into Apponaug and revitalize the village.
As for educating motorists on driving roundabouts, Kelly said it is taking time.
“We’ve already replaced a ton of yield signs,” he said. There have also been some wrong way and drunk drivers.
“It’s confusing enough for someone who is not drunk,” he said of the overall system.
Yielding to traffic in the roundabout is critical, he said, as is maintaining the flow. He recommended for motorists finding themselves in the inner lane and finding themselves hemmed in as they approach their exit to make a second round.
“Whenever changing lanes make sure it is safe,” he said.
For motorists who find themselves in a game of bumper car and an accident, he said, it’s best for the motorists involved to get out of the roundabout and let police sort it out.
Despite construction delays and the learning curve, Kelly finds the roundabouts efficient and could see them working at Wildes Corners and Oakland Beach Four Corners. He doubts it would work at Hoxsie Four Corners, the city’s busiest intersection with 40,000 vehicles as day. He doesn’t see a roundabout – assuming there was the space to build it – working at the Airport and Post Road intersection either.
Kelly said only a few violations for failure to yield has been issued and those mostly related to accidents. He said enforcement of yielding would be stepped up with completion of construction and as drivers become familiar with the roundabouts.