2009-09-17 / Front Page

Cyclist collision shines spotlight on need for sidewalk safety

By Eileen M. Daly

Dee Hellewell Dee Hellewell What do you get when you add bicyclists, skateboarders and other wheeled vehicles to a busy main street packed with parked cars on both sides and sidewalks crowded with pedestrians?

The answer: A recipe for disaster. Just ask Dee Hellewell.

On Sept. 1, Hellewell was standing on the sidewalk in front of Town Hall on Narragansett Avenue when she suddenly found herself crashing toward the sidewalk.

“I don’t even know what happened. The next thing I knew I was heading to the ground. I don’t even remember feeling the impact,” she said. “The next thing I remember is Janet McGinnity asking, ‘Are you okay?’ I know I must have been in shock.”

In fact, a young bicyclist riding on the sidewalk had rammed into Hellewell.

“I did see a young boy standing by with a bicycle, but I had no idea that he had run into me,” she said.

Bleeding profusely from a gash near her eye and in severe pain from what later turned out to be two broken bones in her face – and a broken rib – Hellewell waited with bystanders for the rescue to arrive.

“The rescue workers asked me questions to see if I was okay,” she said, referring to the standard questions EMS technicians ask when an individual has sustained a head injury.

Once at the hospital, Hellewell said she was given four stitches to close the cut near her eye, x-rays and a CAT scan. She was also advised to see a facial surgeon, she said.

“We did go and see a facial surgeon, but he said it should heal on its own,” she said, adding, “I look a lot better already.”

Hellewell said that she was eventually told that a young boy riding a bicycle caused the accident.

“I didn’t hear from them right away because it took some time for the family to be notified by the police,” she said. “Once the police called the family, the boy’s father called me right away to apologize.”

The boy’s father also brought his son by to apologize in person, she said.

“The father and the little boy arrived with blueberry muffins and we chatted for a bit,” she said. “I also received a very nice note from the boy saying how very sorry he was.”

Hellewell feels no animosity toward the boy or his family, she said, but she would like to see some measures taken to avoid such calamities in the future.

“I don’t know if there are any ordinances about this or not, but it is a major problem,” she said.

Where can the kids go?

Hellewell acknowledged the difficulty inherent in cars, pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the main roads of Jamestown.

“The problem is: Where can the kids go? Merchants want parking so there are cars parked on both sides of the road and the sidewalks are crowded. I have had a number of people tell me that they’ve had kids race around them on skateboards or bicycles,” she said.

She also wondered whether bike safety is being taught in the schools.

“Maybe if the police come and talk to the kids about it, that would help,” she said. She also suggested the possibility of signs warning about shared traffic areas and/or adding a requirement that bicycles be equipped with bells or horns to alert pedestrians to their presence.

A difficult issue

Officer Scott Sullivan of the Jamestown Police Department said measures are being taken by local police to reduce such incidents.

“We are putting together a program right now to go into the schools and talk with all of the kids about the rules of the road and safety,” he said. “I’m not sure when these talks are going to take place because we are in the process of making sure that we have programs that are relevant to children from kindergarten through age 14,” he said. “But I can tell you that this is absolutely going to be done.”

Sullivan also mentioned the difficulties associated with shared travel on the island – especially on busy streets like Narragansett Avenue.

“This is a very difficult issue to address. Bicyclists ought to be traveling on the street and not on sidewalks unless there are conditions that are unsafe for the cyclist. Narragansett Avenue is a perfect example of this. There is really no room for a bicyclist to travel safely in the street, especially if we are talking about young children,” he said.

Sullivan said common sense and basic safety rules should be practiced so that everyone can be safe.

School Committee member Julie Kallfelz is a member of an advocacy group that was formed to address just such concerns. According to Kallfelz, the group, called Rolling Agenda, is working toward providing safer and more accessible walking and biking paths throughout the island.

“Construction has already begun on a network of paths around the schools,” she said.

Kallfelz also said that the problem is not unique to Jamestown and that a solution is everyone’s responsibility.

“This is a problem in a lot of communities. The message for all of us is to practice mutual respect and common courtesy so that vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists can safely share our roads and sidewalks,” she said.

Return to top