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


Tony C said...

Justin - These are timely and important points to be made in a city with 36% of households not owning a car and one of the highest walking mode shares (8.2%) nationally for a mid-sized city. Streets (and the speed limits) designed for speed and flow that sacrifice the safety, walkability, and bike-ability of our community are a physical assault on Hartford's residents.

A 20 mph city wide speed limit in Hartford was brought up at May's Hartford Complete Streets Challenge Team meeting. Boston's Vision Zero efforts were discussed as an example of a forward thinking city's actions. Boston's City Council just voted to lower their city speed limit to 20 mph - although they still have to figure out the state level stuff.

Boston Speed Limit Reduction Effort

The speed of vehicular crashes with vulnerable users (walking, cycling, wheelchair) has a very strong correlation to the severity of injuries and likelihood of fatality. A crash with a pedestrian at 30 mph has a 37% to 45% likelihood of fatality. That is a whopping 6 to 9 times the 5% likelihood of fatality at 20 mph (Source ). That is strong medicine to reduce risk of serious injury and road fatalities in a city with the highest rate of bicycle and pedestrian crash rates (per capita) in the region.

Along with the decrease in the posted and maximum speed limit, Hartford police would need to step up enforcement of speeding violations. Speeding tickets on our arterial roadways (twice daily flooded by suburban commuters) would serve as a good reminder of the lowered, safer speeds while putting some money into the HPD budget.

You should ask your council person to see what they can do to support a smart, safe maximum 20 mph speed limit in Hartford.

Contact City Council

dario said...

Thanks Justin and Tony for your post and comment. I agree completely with your points.

There is another component to this, one that is very insidious because we aren't as conscious about it as with, let's say, gun violence. Driving a car fast, around vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists, is an act of violence. Period. We just don't see it that way. Even the smallest, lightest of cars is a ballistic threat. And violence begets violence. As you both point out, driving below the threshold of 20 mph reduces the potential for harm. So, it just makes sense. Reduce the speed in urban areas and you will have a different city, socially and culturally.

Bill Katz said...

Just last evening on Linnmore St down the street from my house a car racing through intersection of Monroe and Linnmore while taking a right lost control and demolished the front porch on the opposite side of the road and this is the 2nd time in three years this porch has been destroyed. The driver is 17.bumps and lumps will not stop an ignorant pig who should not have a license to drive. There is a more sociological problem to consider to lengthy for this blog. But I stopped riding on the streets of Hartford in 2007 when I caused my own accident when I feared an ATV that was gunning his engine and I thought he would hit me so a slammed on both calipers. Lucky me. I only shattered d my right elbow. But ai have my life.

Bill Katz said...

And I forgot to mention that there have been three other accidents on my street within the past month or so. Besides other factors, heroin is the new alcohol. A woman who slamm d head-on into a car coming up Linnmoore was incoherent at the time of the accident at 7 AM. That's right, 7 AM.

bikeculturetheory said...

As Bill knows, I live right off Linmoore on Cheshire St. It's truly terrifying how bad Linmoore is. Saw that woman's porch yesterday. So awful. Even so, I don't think we can cede the streets to aggressive, violent drivers. I'm still riding and walking.