Right turns are usually easy, even at a crowded intersection and when the light is red. But try a right turn from heading west on Airport Road onto Evergreen Avenue between 7 and 9 a.m. and you could be greeted by as many as five patrol cars and a squad of officers ready to slap you with an $85 fine.
That was the scene last Wednesday in front of Affordable Auto Body. The police were back again Thursday and Friday, albeit in not such numbers and just in case you missed the “no right turn” sign, there was a lit mobile sign 100 feet before arriving at the intersection.
The turn is a favorite cut through to Route 37 for motorists looking to beat the congestion at the Airport and Post Road intersection and the morning coffee crowd coming in and out of Dunkin’ Donuts. But it also puts traffic in a largely residential neighborhood of well-manicured lawns and over-arching shade trees with an occasional glimpse of Confreda Farm fields.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson says the level of residential complaints has increased in recent weeks and she’s been working with Warwick Police Lt. Michael Gilbert to address the problem.
But, in addressing residential complaints, businesses in the area are being impacted and Michael Gemma Sr. of Affordable fears it could result in the loss of one of his largest customers, Geico Insurance.
He explained that many people schedule to leave off their car for repairs early in the morning, on their way to work. If they had to wait until after 9 a.m., they might choose another auto body repair shop. In addition, Gemma’s own employees run the risk of being ticketed, unless, as Michael Gemma Jr. pointed out, they circle back through the neighborhood from the other direction.
“That means I’m cutting through the neighborhood – the very thing they’re looking to reduce,” said the younger Gemma.
With the Wednesday crackdown, some of Affordable’s 14 employees parked in a nearby lot on Airport Road and walked the short distance.
The cut through has been a problem for years and prior efforts to deter it have had officers stationed near Weismann Roofing on Pavilion Avenue to catch those looking to avoid Airport and Post Roads and police let local traffic through. The senior Gemma thought this was a good arrangement. He said he asked police on Wednesday why they couldn’t do that. He said he was told the ordinance specifies no right turn for the two-hour period. It doesn’t say anything about cut through traffic.
“We have to enforce the sign. We can’t arbitrarily say it applies to you and not to you,” Captain Joseph Coffey, uniform patrol officer in charge, said yesterday.
Coffey said he was briefed on the situation and that a study taken recently found about 100 vehicles were using the cut through during the morning commute.
Lt. Gilbert, officer in charge of community services, said about 10 motorists were issued violations and a far greater number were issued warnings.
Gilbert called the ordinance “well intentioned,” but that it leaves police in an awkward position as, “We’re certainly not trying to hurt anyone’s business.”
Gilbert said police are looking to respond to neighborhood complaints, which he said have increased in recent weeks, yet at the same time use discretion.
He estimated that if police were to strictly enforce the ordinance by staying on site for the full two hours, they could write 50 to 60 violations a day.
“We run a legal, nice business and they’re busting our ---,” said Gemma.
Ironically, Affordable also repairs police cruisers, and one of those was in the shop when the crackdown came.
Gemma thinks the greater danger is the “Hendricken kids” who use the stretch of road to the intersection with Pavilion as a “drag strip.” He’s seen cars side-by-side racing down the road and has called police.
How does he know the kids are from Hendricken? Because it’s after school gets out and “they have ties on,” said Gemma.
Gilbert said police responded to Gemma’s complaint about drag racing and police visited the school as well as issued warnings.
Affordable is not the only business in the neighborhood. Bow Chika Wow Town, a dog day care and boarding business is around the corner, as is Weismann Roofing, Confreda Farm and several other businesses.