A town of unrepentant jaywalkers
Pole #51, Cucumber Hill Road, Foster
Note: the original version of this article was posted in 2003.
Ever feel like you're just going nowhere? Well, in the rural town of Foster, you can at least arrive there safely.
First, a comparison: Foster contains 51 square miles of woods and farmlands and boasts a population of 4,724 souls (per the 2000 census). That's only about 84 people per square mile. By contrast, Providence has 9,401 people per square mile. Providence also has over 200 intersections with traffic signals and at least four times as many crosswalks on its 370 miles of roads. Foster, with 112 miles of roads, has no traffic lights and no crosswalks.
Correction: Foster has one crosswalk.
But it's not in town. It's not even near a sidewalk.
It's on Cucumber Hill Road, way out near the Connecticut border. And the story of how it came to be is a magnificent tale of bureaucratic ignorance and misguided conscientiousness.
The crosswalk appeared one evening in mid-May, 2003. Neighbors later reported seeing bright lights and hearing sounds that they assumed were that of a road crew dealing with a felled tree or freshening the two-lane stretch of asphalt's yellow stripes. Come morning they were astonished to discover the bright white lines of a crosswalk transecting their country highway.
"I went out to get my mail the next day, and I noticed it," resident Bob Larrivee told a Providence Journal reporter. "It kind of jumps out at you."
The crosswalk doesn't even connect a pair of roadside paths; rather it stretches from a large hedge on one side of the road, to a shallow ditch and low stone boundary wall on the other.
You could scratch your head until you dig a hole through your skull, but you probably wouldn't figure out how this happened. To save your brains leaking out of your head, we'll just tell you: it was the result of a good deed.
Back in the mid-1980s, a parent requested that a pair of "Pedestrian Crossing" signs be posted near telephone pole #51 because her children needed to cross the street to catch the school bus. The request was reasonable enough, and the DOT granted it.
In 2003, in a survey conducted prior to a repaving of the road by the state, the signs were noticed to have faded, so they were replaced. Never mind that the children they were erected to protect had since grown up and their family moved away.
Obviously, the paving wiped out all previous road striping on Cucumber Hill Road. Once the new pavement set sufficiently, the state called in striping contractors to replace the lines.
The contractors did their job, applying yellow or white stripes according to marks that had been left to indicate where the old striping began and ended. Seeing the pair of pedestrian crossing signs, the contractors assumed there had once been a crosswalk between them. Even though a crosswalk was not indicated by the reference marks, they reasoned someone had just forgotten to note them. They decided that they would rather "replace" the crosswalk now than have to come back later. This they conscientiously did.
Wha-la. Foster had its first crosswalk.
When the mistake was first brought to light the state planned to pay another contractor $200 to paint over it with black epoxy, but on second thought, they decided to just let it fade naturally.
Which is lucky for us here at Quahog—a crosswalk to nowhere that you can see with your own eyes is exponentially cooler than one you can't.
The signs, however, are slated to be removed so that a similar mistake doesn't occur again.
So what can you do with a crosswalk to nowhere? Resident Larrivee joked with the Journal that he was ready to take a second job as a crossing guard. After all, if Cranston's guards could make $45 a day plus benefits, he thought he could probably make out pretty well, too.
Another neighbor, Ken Knight, experimented with the crosswalk to see if anyone would slow down to let him cross. It's well known by residents that many people drive much faster than the posted 35-mile-per-hour speed limit on Cucumber Hill Road's tempting straightaways. Knight's initial results indicated that the presence of a crosswalk was not a dampening factor in the speed of drivers on the highway.
We had some vague idea about creating a parody of the cover art of the Beatles Abbey Road album, but there are some things even we don't have time for.
Other than people like us, who just have to see such things with our own eyes, it's unlikely that Foster's lone crosswalk will ever get much foot traffic. Bob Larrivee and Ken Knight jaywalk every time they cross the street, even though there's a perfectly good crosswalk only a few feet from their driveways. Foster police won't be giving out any tickets for such infractions, though, so there's no motivation for the rest of Foster's residents to go out of their way.
But if you go out of your way, bring a chicken. See if she'll cross the street. Then report back to us.
The story of the Foster crosswalk was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers around the country in June 2003. It even showed up in Southwest Airline's in-flight magazine, Spirit, in October.
Update: Foster finally got its first traffic light on September 9, 2010. It's located at the intersection of Route 6 (Danielson Pike/Grand Army Highway) and Route 94 (Mt. Hygeia Road/Foster Center Road). As of November 2010 the intersection has no crosswalks.
Update: As of May 2012, the somewhat faded crosswalk is still visible in Google Street View. Also, a legitimate crosswalk has been added to the Route 6/Route 94 intersection, spanning Danielson Pike.
Update: On a July 2018 visit to the spot, no trace of the Cucumber Hill Road crosswalk could be seen.
Directions: from Route 295 take exit 9 to Route 6 west (toward Hartford). Stay on Route 6 for approximately 15 miles. Turn left on Cucumber Hill Road (if you cross the border into Connecticut, you've gone too far). Traveling south on Cucumber Hill Road for about 2.8 miles will put you in the vicinity of the crosswalk.