On the morning of October 11, 2023, Kayla Watson tragically lost her life while riding her bicycle to work on Admiral Kalbfus Road at Hillside Avenue. Kayla was 34 years old, a resident of Middletown, RI.
The intersection where she died is well-known for unsafe traffic conditions. It is circled by homes, a church, and a beautiful historic park. Newport’s public elementary school is nearby. Dozens of children and families cross every morning and afternoon to and from school and play areas. It is the primary access point to Miantonomi Park and all the activity that takes place there. It is the route for people pedaling to Bike Newport’s Big Blue Bike Barn and Traffic Garden, Florence Gray Center, the MET School, the Boys and Girls Club, FabNewport, and more. And it is arguably the most dangerous intersection in Newport.
For years, the residents have asked for traffic calming measures. The reality is that road activity has instead evolved to higher speeds, more congestion, and more reckless driving.
The numerous safety measures at the site include “no turn on red”, “yield to pedestrians”, and four-way stoplights when pedestrians are crossing – but driver infractions are rampant, and enforcement is rare. On the day of the fatal crash, this writer was present at the site when the road re-opened to traffic. Within the first five minutes, three vehicles ran the very red light where the crash took place, including two large trucks.
A traffic study of the intersection performed by the City of Newport in December 2022 reported general neglect for traffic safety laws, including the speed limit. The situation is now further aggravated by frequent large construction trucks from the nearby Pell Bridge Ramp Realignment Project.
We have to respond to these worsening and frightening conditions, more urgently now in the wake of a fatality at the intersection. Together with the City, the Police, and RIDOT we are committed to creating safer conditions for people biking, walking and driving.
Bike Newport will advocate for these immediate action steps:
- Install traffic cameras that record and generate tickets for excess speed and red light running. It is well-documented that when these cameras are present, the rates of speeding and running red lights significantly decreases. (Note: Traffic cameras bring safety; they also bring privacy concerns. As these will be the first traffic cameras in Newport, we will also need open discussion to assure the community that the information collected is not used for any purpose beyond traffic control and enforcement.)
- Reroute the trucks away from Admiral Kalbfus. Work with the RI Department of Transportation to establish, inform, and enforce weight and size limits that direct these vehicles to JT Connell / Coddington Highway.
- Place button-triggered warning/stop lights at the crosswalk at Sagamore Street. This crosswalk provides a needed crossing, but it lacks urgent visibility to stop vehicles and allow safe passage.
- Continue the separated bike path from Girard Avenue to West Main Road. The limits of the Pell Bridge project end at Girard Avenue, while the urgent need for this separation continues the full length of Admiral Kalbfus.
While we all work toward safer road infrastructure at this and many other intersections, we remind everyone to please slow down, be alert, patient, courteous, and cautious on our roads – whether walking, biking, or driving. We know too well that impatience and distraction result in tragedy.
We join the entire community in expressing our heartfelt condolences to Kayla’s loving family and friends and express our determination to make our roads safer for all.