Vehicle congestion a topic of discussion

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 9:15am

A suggestion about possibly moving two taxi stand spots in New Harbor turned into a larger discussion about how best to regulate, or at least monitor, vehicle use on Block Island during the summer.

The Town Council, at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 4, considered a letter by taxi driver Linda Pearson to move two taxi cab waiting spaces closer to a spot in front of Dead Eye Dick’s restaurant. Currently, the spots are located down near Payne’s Dock.

The argument for moving the two spaces onto Ocean Avenue was that turning the cabs around would be easier than it is from their current location.

First Warden Ken Lacoste said that the Wronowski family, which owns Dead Eye’s, had some issues with the siting of the new spaces, while the Drapers, who lease The Narragansett Inn, or the Highways Department, had no issues with the move.

“We didn’t see anything that would dissuade us from doing that,” said Town Manager Ed Roberge of the switch, but he said the town needed to reach out to the Wronowskis to hear their specific concerns.

Councilor Sven Risom said he would like to look at all the reserved taxi stands on the island to see if there were other opportunities, rather than do them piecemeal, while also saying he had no problem with this particular move.

Councilor Chris Willi and Second Warden André Boudreau also said they felt they needed to hear more about any concerns, but in general had no issue with the plan.

Lacoste, when finished polling the others, said, “I think it’s a lousy idea.” Lacoste has a business at the Hog Pen, and said he has some “sense of the traffic flow down there and my gut feeling is this will create even more of a hazardous situation.” He said there were people stepping off the curb, bikes crossing, and boats on trailers backing up in that area.

Lacoste suggested creating spaces on the other side of the road, where Ocean Avenue intersects with West Side Road, “so the cabs can turn around and be facing out getting ready to go.” He added he was “very, vehemently opposed to this idea. I don’t mean to be a pail of cold water but that’s where I stand.”

The Councilors then suggested that the Motor Vehicles for Hire commission look at the issue.

It was then that resident David Lewis stood and said “There are more problems down there than just the taxi stands. There are new businesses down there, lots of new businesses, a lot of cars, a lot of taxis,” Lewis said, while also referencing the location of the town boat launch that’s located there.

“I’m appalled we’re talking about expansion,” said resident Naomi Kerest, mentioning the congestion on Weldon’s Way during the summer. “We need to be talking about the quality of life, and not just for the tourists, but for those of us who live here,” she said. “We’re forgetting about the quality of life for the day-to-day.”

Later in the meeting came a discussion, jumpstarted by a letter from the Old Harbor Task Force, to proactively ban the use of electric scooters on Block Island. “Several committee members have seen the rental electric scooters operating in other cities and raised the concern about them operating here on Block Island,” the letter, dated Aug. 11, stated. “The committee felt that the Town Council should study and address this potential problem now so that the town is ahead of the curve and not playing catch-up, as we did with the moped problem. The committee felt that having a lot of rental electric scooters operating here unregulated might be the tipping point for our country lanes and roads since we already have mopeds and many, many bicycles plus lots of cars and trucks. And, then there are all the walkers and joggers who must share the road...”

OHTF member Karen Duale, who attended the council meeting, said she did not want to “regulate them but to ban them. Why can’t we do that here? That’s what we need, not to have bulk rentals.”

There is currently no prohibition on the use of motorized scooters on Block Island. Electric bikes and electric-powered mopeds also do not have to be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Given how little open space we have, I can see a potential problem,” said resident Pat Doyle. “I think we need someone to look into this.”

“Is it worth having Kathy look into this,” asked resident Bill McCombe, referring to town attorney Kathy Merolla.

Roberge said there are many issues related to congestion that needed to be discussed: scooters, mopeds, jaywalking, and others.

“These are big policy issues,” said Roberge. “I think we’re gearing up for a great discussion on this in the winter.”

Cable update

Roberge said the town continues to work with National Grid and Deepwater Wind on finding long-term solutions to covering the sections of two cables that were exposed just off the Fred Benson Town Beach. Roberge said “there is continued action in the short-term” — the exposed sections have been re-covered with sand — “but we continue to work with [National Grid and Deepwater Wind]. We don’t want to keep doing this year after year.” He said both companies have deadlines to deliver long-term solutions by the end of the month. Roberge said the town will be “mindful” of those deadlines.

Ed. note: This article has been updated to correct a mis-attributed quote.