The people of Newport, use an everyday friendly gesture to address a very serious problem, according to Bike Newport. It’s called the Newport Wave and it’s designed to save lives.

The Newport Wave was introduced in 2015 after three pedestrians lost their lives on the city’s streets in the course of just a few months. Two of the deaths were in crosswalks, and one of the victims was in a wheelchair. Concerned citizens and agencies gathered to figure out what to do to make the city’s streets safer.

They learned that people in crashes most often report not seeing the other person, or that the other person didn’t see them. How then could the city encourage all road users – people driving, biking and walking – to communicate with one another on the roads? One effort was a public awareness campaign – featuring the Newport Wave.

The proposition is that the wordless but intentional wave between people communicates an agreement – “Do you see me?” and “Yes, I see you.” The smile that often comes with the wave is an added bonus!

“There is no higher priority in Newport than public safety,” said Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop, “and we are all responsible for our own safety as well. The Newport Waves campaign raises the awareness of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, as to the importance of paying attention while crossing the street and avoiding distractions that can contribute to accidents.”

The Newport campaign features friendly faces and familiar places – from state reps and senators, to the Superintendent of Schools, to kids waving from bikes and strollers, and adults waving from cars and scooters. Around town, street banners, posters, stickers on cash registers and mirrors, and event giant movie screens remind people to “Stop. Look. Wave.” The Spanish-version declares “Pare. Mira. Saluda.”

Community-minded businesses are helping to spread the campaign citywide. The Jane Pickens Theater runs the video before every movie. The Preservation Society sponsored street banners up and down Broadway. RIPTA runs digital posters on bus interiors. The Visitors Center, supermarkets, schools, and community centers host giant oversized posters. More local businesses continue to join the effort, underwriting messages in highly visible locations. Most recently, the Newport Restaurant Group, the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Gustave White Sotheby’s International Realty became campaign sponsors.

Gustave White owner broker Paul Leys sees the impact of the program from his office on busy Bellevue Avenue; he’s concerned that motorists frequently don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. “The wave is definitely catching on and it’s a good thing. First, it’s a chance to check if the car is stopping, and then it’s a nice ‘thank you’. Safety and friendliness are a fine combination.”

Originally funded by the national Safe States Alliance, the RI Department of Health, and numerous city agencies and businesses, now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the RI Department of Transportation (RIDOT) have asked the campaign’s coordinators to take it statewide.

Get ready for Rhode Island Waves.

Gabrielle Abbate is Chief of RIDOT’s Highway Safety Division, where looking out for vulnerable road users is paramount. “As we continue to focus on a goal of zero fatalities statewide, we are identifying best opportunities to improve road user behaviors – so we’re the taking the Newport Wave to the next level.”

Newport Waves and Rhode Island Waves are spearheaded by Bike Newport – a local advocacy agency that works to improve and encourage biking with a focus on all road users. Executive Director, Bari Freeman, also sits on the Newport Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and the state’s Transportation Advisory Committee. She explains, “The ‘Rhode Island Waves’ campaign will include multiple video versions, print and outdoor components, organizing materials, and also educational tools for our schools and community agencies.” The campaigns are supported by production partners Jai Communications Group and Reynolds deWalt.

A three-question survey is posted online for Rhode Island residents and visitors to share recommendations for the people and places that should be featured in the statewide road safety campaign. Please watch the Newport Waves video and share your ideas for Rhode Island Waves at www.newportwaves.org/RIWavessurvey

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).