Accidents waiting to happen: Johnston Market Basket traffic frustrates neighbors


As residents prepared to leave their Hargreaves Street homes for the Jan. 8 Town Council meeting, they heard the familiar crunch of metal, plastic and reflector glass. Then, the sirens got louder until the early evening sunset was replaced by flashing police and fire gumballs.

A vehicle turning left onto Hartford Avenue from Hargreaves Street was struck on the driver’s side by a vehicle traveling west on Hartford Avenue, according to Johnston Chief Police Mark A. Vieira.

Residents have been begging for changes at the intersection for more than a year, since the bustling Market Basket replaced a former BJ’s warehouse. When the building was a BJ’s, a swinging gate kept line-cutters from making a westbound left-hand turn, behind the building, into the parking lot.

That entrance is clearly marked with “do not enter” signs, but the lines on the road are confusing, and busy shoppers can’t seem to resist heading off the line at the traffic signal ahead, where they’re supposed to enter.

The rear entrance was meant for truck traffic making deliveries to the supermarket.

Problem is, entrances to both a small strip mall and Hargreaves Street are located adjacent to the back entrance. And when residents try to legally enter or exit their street, they often meet angry Market Basket customers making an illegal turn behind the store.

Sometimes the near-collisions escalate into screaming matches.

Deb and Mike Keough have been collecting photo and video evidence. They say they’re worried a tragedy’s just waiting to happen, while the store chain tries to work out a few traffic design alternatives with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT).

The residents attend every Town Council meeting. The Keoughs are often joined by neighbors Alex Psznowsky and Lisa Iafrate, co-owner of nearby business Lighting and Design by J & K Electric.

“We are all concerned for everyone’s safety on Hartford Avenue,” said Iafrate. “It is nearly impossible to get in and out if our parking lot because the turn lane is being used by Market Basket customers going into a service entry only entrance. I am aware that it was suggested to cut through our parking lot to avoid the center lane confusion and that’s unacceptable to our business. We also rent to a daycare and this puts the children at risk.”

Market Basket has been responsive, sending traffic engineers to Johnston Town Council meetings twice over the past year. The engineers say they’re willing to consider several options — though they’ve been reluctant to replace the gate that kept short-cutters out when BJ’s operated on the Hartford Avenue property.

Public Safety Jeopardized?

Police are monitoring the situation.

“It’s my understanding that Market Basket, through the RI DOT, intends to permit and install modifications to this section of the roadway consisting of a left-turn lane for Hargreaves Street and a raised rumble strip at the market’s service entrance,” Johnston Police Chief Mark A. Vieira said recently when asked for an update on the situation.

Vieira has pushed back on several options proposed by Market Basket. Residents have asked police why they don’t just watch the area from a fixed post and change motorist behavior via enforcement.

“The potential future installation of a special left-turn lane, as proposed by Market Basket, and the subsequent motor vehicle enforcement by police of such a turn lane would certainly help mitigate this issue,” the chief argues. “However, the signs located on Market Basket’s property at the entrance in question that state, ‘DO NOT ENTER, DELIVERY & SERVICE VEHICLES ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT’ are not enforceable by police. The state traffic code only pertains to motor vehicle violations that occur on public roadways and do not pertain to private property or signs posted on private property. As a result, I believe a more viable and permanent solution would be to prevent customers from being able to access the parking lot through the delivery/service vehicle entrance by way of a barrier, possibly a fence.”

Psznowsky addressed Town Council that night, Jan. 8, a couple hours after the crash.

“This evening, there was another accident,” he said. “Someone was pulling out of Hargreaves Street … A white … transit van was in the middle lane. My neighbor witnessed this as he was trying to turn in — waiting to make a left-hand turn into Hargreaves Street … then realized that he was making a left-hand turn, he cut back into the travel lane, going westbound, and struck the vehicle that was pulling out of Hargreaves Street. No injuries. Police were there. Fire was there. Both vehicles had to be towed from the scene.”

Close Calls Daily

The crashes are common, but the near-collisions are constant.

“This I believe is number three or four now, that’s happened since Market Basket began servicing in August of 2022,” Psznowsky argued. “You can paint all the lines you want … but you all know this is what will happen and continue to happen. I think if DOT got involved in this, and changed that curb cut, there would be no need to change the lines and the striping, because people will drive right over that.”

The residents’ frustrations tend to revolve back to DOT. They’ve been reaching out

“I’m sure DOT has money to do that,” Psznowsky said. “If they can spend $50,000 a day to run a ferry, I’m sure they can spend a few thousand dollars to put in a curb cut.” (The Jan. 8 meeting closely followed the start of the ongoing Washington Bridge fiasco in Providence, when ferries were utilized to help cut down on commuter traffic.)

Future Fatality Feared

Hargreaves Street is east of the Market Basket entrance, by only a few feet. There’s a strip mall adjacent to the entrance.

Market Basket’s traffic engineers say that a “raised mountable delta island” would prevent westbound left turns and “allow left and right out, but only a right in.”

Anything that alters Hartford Avenue (state Route 6), however must filter through DOT.

“We are not in favor of the latest proposal,” Deb and Mike Keough wrote via email. “If the gate does not block traffic coming in off the street, it will not be beneficial because the middle turn lane will still be backed up.”

Last month, Christina Arsenis, an employee of J & K Electric, made an urgent plea for help.

“The current situation poses a significant risk to public safety, as vehicles are consistently entering the area designated for trucks only and leading to accidents, and potentially severe injuries,” she wrote via email. “I have personally experienced that hazardous conditions caused by the layout and lack of affective signage. Despite the presence of signs indicating that only trucks should enter, many drivers are either unaware of those signs or choose to disregard them. This has resulted in dangerous situations where vehicles are coming head on towards each other, putting the lives of individuals, including myself, a great risk.”

She has urged Market Basket and the state to consider implementing three measures to fix the situation —installation of a gate system, improve signage visibility and install traffic flow indicators (clear and prominent arrows to help drivers navigate the area safely and reduce the risk of head-on collisions).

Deb Keough’s mother also lives on the street. Deb’s sister, Lisa Acciardo, visits often.

“My family, myself and residents of Hargreaves Street deal with these stressful, scary incidents just trying to get home,” she said recently. “We are worried about our 80-year-old mother. It is very dangerous. If something isn’t done soon, there could be a fatal accident.”

Editor’s Note: As of publication Thursday morning, a RI DOT spokesman said he was struggling to find anyone at the state department who was familiar with Market Basket’s permitting attempts and impending work at the site. Look to future editions of the Johnston Sun Rise for updates on this story.


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