Commissioner Kurt Schwanfelder said the child would have died, as he recalled a recent event on Block Island Road near the parking lot of . “I witnessed a young mother,” he recalled to the Board of Police Commissioners last week, “taking her children and one got away from her.” Schwanfelder continued, “There was a service van coming from [ in excess of 40 miles per hour and it missed the child by an inch and ended up hitting a few of the things the child was carrying.”
The incident was scary for witnesses and though PONS Director Judy Hall said she did not see it happen, it was not the first time the issue has been at the forefront of her mind. “It’s something we try hard to impress onto parents; to hang on to their kids when they come through the gate.”
PONS is located at the intersection of South Montowese Street and Block Island Road where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour.
Parents come and go about four times a day, Hall explained, to drop-off and pick-up students of the pre-school. Four days a week the school hosts two sessions: 8:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and noon to 3 p.m.; Friday the school lets out at noon. Parents pull in and out of the 10- to 11-car parking lot along Block Island Road during those time periods Hall detailed. With a maximum capacity of 18 students at any one given time, the parking can be tight and sometimes parents park across the street on the opposite side of Block Island Road on a small strip of grass belonging to the resident of 143 South Montowese St.
During last Friday’s noon pick-up time, Patch witnessed more than 24 cars passing down the roadway in addition to the parents of PONS students who came and left. Some vehicles approached slowly while others seemed to be traveling fast and took no notice of the students.
Both Schwanfelder and Hall would like to see a reduction in speed limit on the street but Hall was quick to add that she understands the perception of speed and actual speed might be two different things. “It’s easy to judge that a car is going fast when you’re standing still and it goes by you but they may not be going that fast.” This is a sentiment that Branford Police Chief Kevin Halloran echos.
During the Commissioner’s meeting, Halloran said Branford Police and Police Commissioner Robert Gott, chair of the Traffic Committee, would be headed down to Block Island Road to conduct a situational crime prevention analysis to see if speed is an issue in the area. “If people are parking on both sides of the street,” stated Halloran, “and this kid is bumper-high and this kid comes out between two parked cars, the driver could be going 10 miles per hour and if that kid darts out between cars… you need to look at the root of the issue.” Halloran added, “What you need is reaction time for the driver to respond if a kid does get a way from a parent.”
Hall said she’d also like to see the use of the traffic trailer as speed deterrent.
There are several destination points along Block Island Road in addition the marina so Hall is quick to note that she does not think that their traffic is the only cause of her concern. Of the key offenders making the area feel dangerous, Hall said, “We can’t make a judgment about who is driving down this street but know there’s a lot of them.”
The Marina, with offices open year-round is busy April to September; PONS closes in June; the located at 145 Block Island Rd., is open March to October and brings additional traffic to the area during those months as well. There is an elderly and federally-funded housing community, Parkside Village Two, which is also located off Block Island Road and is used year-round. Another year-round facility along the road is Branford’s , which sees traffic from town service trucks as well as commercial trucks from various places in the area.
Bruce & Johnson’s Marina Officer Manager Tom Raiola who also lives in the area and uses Block Island Road for passive recreation, feels that traffic to and from the waste water treatment plant is the real issue with speed on the road. On several occasions, he said he and his wife have had to jump off the roadway to avoid being hit by a speeder headed to the plant. “Some of the increase in traffic and speed is attributed to our customers,” said Raiola, “but personally, it’s the commercial traffic in and out of the treatment plant.”
The speed limit and speed of drivers traveling on Block Island Road has and continues to be of concern to Raiola and the marina staff who note that many customers, who are also pedestrians, frequent the area in the summer months. Many boaters live on their vessels, said Raiola, and walk up Block Island Road to grocery shop or dine at the nearby restaurants. “It’s defiantly a big concern of ours,” he said.
Raiola said he comes and goes from the marina several times a day on errands, and always worries when he passes by the school. “I always shiver,” he said, “when I have to go by there at lunchtime. You’re always hoping someone doesn’t dart out between cars.”
Sharing similar feelings about Block Island Road, both Hall and Raiola are hopeful that Branford Police will take the necessary measures to address the issues along the roadway. “I would like to see more signage,” Raiola said, “It certainly wouldn’t hurt for [Captain] Geoff Morgan’s traffic control squad to look into this area.”
Hall stated, “I want people to be aware that there’s a school here and there can be children… and if they would just drive slowly past it.”
Although the state controls the authority to set speed limits on all roadways, local or state, Branford's Traffic Committee maintains control of addressing issues locally. Captain Geoffrey Morgan said, "We will look for ways to reduce the risk and remidate the problem locally before going to the state."
What do you think should be done to make Block Island Road safer?