I was unable to attend the Wednesday, Feb. 20, discussion meeting in the Westerly Council chambers concerning the beach traffic and trash problems and did want to share some possible ideas to try and solve these issues. Further, I support the increase of fees, but only for the sole purpose of funding the cost of staffing and equipment to improve the operation of the beach and help correct the traffic issue.
The present situation is pretty much like this. In the summer, I go to the Westerly Town Beach between 7 and 7:30 most every day. I go clamming or fishing before the crowds arrive. During those summer months, I see vehicles, mainly from Connecticut and Massachusetts, start arriving at the entrance to the parking lot of the state beach around 7:30 a.m. The lot opens at 8:30 a.m. on weekends and 9 a.m. on weekdays. The cars cue up in line on Atlantic Avenue and wait for the parking lot to open. As the line gets longer and backs to the intersection of Winnapaug Road, the cars are now blocking the flow of traffic on Atlantic Avenue.
Now, with traffic stopped on Atlantic Avenue, the traffic on Winnapaug Road is effectively stopped and backs up to the Shore Road intersection and beyond, continuing to back up Winnapaug Road to Route 78 and back to the Watch Hill Road. This slogging traffic jam goes on virtually every day in the summer months. On holiday weekends it is worse. Both Langworthy Road and all of Atlantic Avenue are jammed.
Making this traffic jam worse is the fact that the state beach entrance has just two pay booths to service all vehicles trying to enter the beach, regardless of whether they are holding season tickets or buying day passes.
My suggestion to eliminate this traffic jam is to reconfigure the entrance of the state beach parking lot. Why not move the entrance to the west end of the lot and have three cue lines inside the guard rails of the parking lot and off of Atlantic Avenue? Two of the lines can be for day-pass tickets and purchase of season passes. One cue line can be for season passes only. Two half-mile-long cue lines for day passes would accommodate a lot of traffic. Additional staff would be required to process the visitors. The “Fast Lane” entrance for season ticketholders would eliminate even more congestion, and would promote even more season-pass purchases. Once the initial morning mass of cars is processed, the flow would improve.
The cue barriers could be made to be moveable and set up to accommodate traffic conditions. By removing the bumper to bumper, stopped vehicles on Atlantic Avenue and Winnapaug Road that are waiting to get in to the state beach, other cars that are trying to get to other beaches and private addresses could move along.
Granted, additional staff would be required to direct and control traffic in the parking lot, but the overall improvement of moving traffic and helping people better enjoy the day would be tremendously worth it.
The “carry in, carry out” program does not work. Sadly, as many visitors leave bags of trash in the parking lot, the seagulls rip them to pieces, and our beach area turns in to a littered mess. Luckily, we have many wonderful volunteers that try to clean our beaches. They shouldn’t have to do this.
I would recommend the state privatize the trash removal and request waste-haulers to quote for contracting the full scope of providing trash receptacles (totally seagull-proof), daily trash removal, and full entrance, parking lot and beach cleanup services. This also would be funded by additional beach fees. After all, this is a user-based fee. Remember, two years ago, beach fees were cut 50 percent, even though the state beach was full to overflowing. Now attendance is up even more and staffing levels have been cut. This has led to a worse scenario as far as the trash issue and backed up traffic. DEM officers could also increase patrols and ticket litterers.
Another remedy to improve traffic flow on Atlantic Avenue is for the town to require all private parking lot operators to move their pay booths well within their parking lots so that when the cars pull in to pay and stop, they don’t block through traffic on Atlantic Avenue.
I sincerely hope these ideas can be researched and possibly tested to see if enacting them would improve our beach season.