Sunday, May 22, 2016

An Open Letter to Mayor Bronin and City Council: Isn't it time for 20mph streets and Vision Zero in Hartford?

The amount of shattered glass and car wreckage on the streets of the City of Hartford is back up again. It seems to happen every year at this time. 'Tis the season for raging through the city, a practice seemingly shared by everyone in Hartford, including suburbanites driving the streets. Speed is always a factor on Hartford streets, as anyone who lives here can attest.

The aftermath of a Christmas Day 2015 fatal crash near Pope Park West on Hamilton Street.

Car crashes happen all the time, we read about them in the paper or hear about them on the news, but usually we fail to link them and recognize a trend. In fact, we're trained to think about them as unfortunate, disconnected "accidents." If a person is involved in a crash crash or killed in one, it's merely bad luck and we're quite slow to place blame. The penalties for injuring or killing someone with a car are notoriously light.

This spring has been a bloody one on Hartford's roads and in its cars. Here are just a few of the lowlights from this year:

On March 25th of this year multiple people were killed in two separate crashes on the same night. This past Christmas Day, 2015, Luis Fajardo was killed in a grisly multi-car crash on Hamilton Street near Pope Park West.

On May 8th, Luis A. Maldonado was struck and killed by a car at the quiet intersection of Preston and Campfield Streets in the South End. Apparently he was changing a tire on his car in the early AM. The motorist that hit him ran and left him to die in the street.

Driving home from work this afternoon (5/22/16), I saw the aftermath of a daytime crash that sent at least one person to the hospital at Hillside and Flatbush in the Behind the Rocks neighborhood. In 2011, a 10-year old girl was killed after being struck on her bike near this area of Flatbush.

Other cities around the country are starting to wake up to the carnage and treat road violence and the injuries and deaths it causes like the public health issue that it is.

These cities, which include NYC, are starting to question the supposition that road injuries and deaths are a fact of life and something we cannot avoid. The goal of the Vision Zero programs these cities are implementing is the elimination of all traffic injuries and fatalities. This may seem like an impossible goal, but how can doing nothing continue to be possible? They seek to achieve this through new infrastructure, education, and in many cases lowering city street speed limits to 20mph. Cars traveling more than 20mph are much more likely to kill a person that they strike than if they are traveling 20mph or less.

In Hartford our streets are populated, social, and exciting. Why should we default to treating dense, narrow pathways for all people--whether in cars, on bikes, or on foot or wheelchair--as speedways for cars alone? At any public meeting in Hartford the conversation is often dominated by the risks posed by illegal ATVs and dirt bikes. These vehicles are a nuisance and are dangerous. However, it is peculiar that we ignore the risks and very real carnage caused by the much more ubiquitous operation of standard cars and trucks on our streets.

Gun violence is a big problem in our city. Drug overdoses and drug-related violence are big problems too. But so is road violence, and we need to stop thinking of it as just part of the cost of doing business and living our everyday lives. If we can have a shot spotter system, why can't we step up speed traps and move toward enforced, lower speed limits on all of our roadways?

This summer would be a perfect time for Mayor Bronin and the City Council to get serious about a Vision Zero program to reduce the destruction and violence on our roads.

As we continue to improve our roads and make them safer with better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists (along Bushnell Park, on Zion Street, on Albany Ave to name just a few) we have to make sure we address the bigger cultural hurdles as well--driver behavior and driving culture. As long as Hartford's streets continue to feel unsafe and lawless our city's growth and reputation will continue to be held back.

The Mayor's Office and the Council should work with our police department, with DPW, and with nonprofits in the City and State that work to improve the health and safety of residents to implement a program to reduce the carnage on our streets now. We shouldn't have to wait any longer for something so basic.

- Justin Eichenlaub, South West

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hartford to Portland in four photos

Le Grand Depart.
The farm roads out to Ellington were gorgeous this early in the AM.

People at this Whole Foods in NH were really interested in & supportive of what we were doing. This does not happen in CT...I wish our culture was more like NH's or VT's...

On the bridge into Portland. 236 miles in 24 hours. No sleep, lots of food.

You should check out randonneuring. It's pretty rad.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Returning to randonneuring in New England

This weekend will mark my official return to randonneuring, the relatively non-competitive style of long distance cycling that has been around since the end of the nineteenth century, tracing its origins to Italy and France.

I got interested in randonneuring events early in graduate school when my girlfriend at the time had a very odd roommate named Mike who had a passion for the sport and had completed the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris a few years before. Mike was into safety meetings and riding the Marin Headlands on week days. I had way too flexible of a schedule and was often up for ticking off the miles along the Pacific coastline with him while everyone else was at work.

The San Francisco Randonneurs were a wonderful group to ride with and begin to explore California by riding longer and longer distances. I got up to a 300K, about 190 miles. It was a great ride, but also made me question why I wanted to ride such long distances. Why end with sore ankles and a desperate need to get in a hot tub to ease the muscles when we could just stop at 60 miles and have a beer?

I'm a much better cyclist now and ride a more appropriate bike for the work, so I'm looking forward to getting back at it with The New England Randonneurs, a very well-run group based in Boston and Vermont that hosts a variety of rides in both Massachusetts and Vermont, dipping into NY, CT, and NH at various points.

Brevet card. Sometimes it seems that half the fun of randonneuring is receiving actual pieces of paper in the mail that are not a result of failing to turn on e-delivery at my bank.

This Saturday my teammates Hans, Sam, and I will depart Hartford at 6am and aim to make it to downtown Portland, Maine at 6am on Sunday morning--about 226 miles in 24 hours. That's plenty of time to do the ride, but the rules of this event--what randonneurs call a Fleche, modeled after an original, social, Easter ride organized by Velocio in France, requires that you complete the last 20km after hour 22 to discourage rushing to the end and encouraging (requiring really) longer breaks. I really like the idea of riding from the city in which I live to another city, albeit a much hipper one, over the course of a day. I'm lucky that teammates were also up for a Hartford start.

2/3 of our team.

I attempted a Fleche (minimum 360km, must ride it over 24 hrs) in California with three friends, several years ago; we tried to ride from the foothills of the Sierras, through Napa and Sonoma counties, out to the ocean, and home to San Francisco. We didn't make it when one of our team members started to have some knee issues and we were tempted by the prospect of abandoning at Calistoga Hot Springs.

My California Fleche team: Jill, Jade, Kelly, Justin, plus large gold miner (in Auburn, CA)

There are no hot springs between Hartford and Portland, but there are a lot of good places to stop for food and drink. Our first stop will be Chickpea Diner in Worcester for brunch, about 70 miles in, just the first segment of a very big day on the bike. There are five other teams riding different routes to Portland and we'll all get together for some food and a beer on Sunday morning.

Team 'Bash Bish Brothers' will be leaving from the Maple Ave Dunkin' Donuts in the South End this Saturday if you want to come wish us luck and grab a very early donut.

- Justin

I'm riding this VO Pass Hunter I built up this winter. It has been a great bike.

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