March 23, 2023

READERS RESPOND RE: PEDESTRIAN DEATHS

Last week’s column on the increase in pedestrian deaths brought us a lot of comments.  Here are a few for you to consider:

 

I have always enjoyed your column.  Today’s was particularly alarming, and perhaps a canary in the coal mine.  There have been more pedestrian deaths in the past twelve months here in West Hartford than I ever recall reading about.   But I’m not surprised.  Driver behavior has deteriorated  from the time I was a Glastonbury police officer in the 1990s.  Since those days, I have spent decades on our highways all over the state, building a business, and I feel like I have some pretty on-point observations at this point:


1) The speed and recklessness of Connecticut drivers is at levels I’ve never witnessed before; approaching almost lawlessness - a real Mad Max vibe.  I’m pretty chill, and I’m alarmed.

2) Everyone is staring at their phones.  People weave in and out of lanes like they are driving to the basket; speeders come up on you so fast that if you are not constantly on vigil you are in real danger.   I can drive by someone at 65 miles an hour and glance over to see them texting or looking at their phone in their lap.  It’s surreal.   So good luck if you if you are a pedestrian or on a bike and have to contend with that (at least on our local roads).

 

3)  I hear and read that police enrollment is down, and their esprit de corps is as well, so work will have to be done with municipal and state leadership to right that ship.  But to that end, and in the meantime, I rarely drive by state troopers engaged in traffic enforcement / intervention, at least anywhere near the levels I used to witness.  They may have statistics that contradict my observations, but I see what I see.  Nine out of ten times when I see a state trooper, they are cruising past me at high speeds in the left lane, without lights and siren.  I’ll often draft ten or so car lengths behind them at the same speed, and they don’t care whatsoever.   So from what I see, the reckless drivers have little to dissuade them from continuing to operate with impunity.

 

4) And because of this, I’m re-thinking my opposition traffic cameras, especially if they can document reckless driving, beyond just the speed itself.  If the police can’t ensure public safety by smacking down all of the aggressive drivers, then I think I’m ready to over-pay a third party to big brother us into safety on our roads, with all the downside that entails.  Because right now…we can’t be in any more danger than we are currently.   

 

I have teenage boys who will soon be driving, and while I’m hopeful they will be respectful drivers, I fear for their lives from the simmering chaos on our roads.  

DOUG RANKIN – West Hartford

 

I appreciate your column pointing out the rising number of pedestrian deaths and how we all need to pay attention and address this problem. I'm troubled, however, by the column's closing point, which is about how pedestrians can keep themselves safe. Your article begins with a woman who was struck while standing in a park. What could she have done or what should she need to do to keep herself safe when she is already in what is presumably a safe place? Isn't the more important point that drivers need to drive safely? Shouldn't we focus first on infrastructure that encourages safe driving and then on driver responsibility?

REBECCA HUSSEY – Bethel

 

What do you think is causing this?  I understand CT ranks like 3rd in DUI stuff.  It appears to me our drivers ed courseware should entail more of the science of why speed, distracted driving, substances, & weather conditions bring us this stuff daily.  Maybe as part of drivers ed they can include simulated model driving complete with a computer screen & the student has to learn to navigate on screen as well.  I think we will see a lot more of this given the cannabis bill & our lazy prosecution.  They should open up the HOV lane to all so as to disperse traffic, not score social credit points. This way we may incur less tractor trailer accidents.  I have recommended to DOT a new type of highway barrier that is designed to disperse momentum.

KIM LIBERA - Cromwell

 

People often cross midblock because they have better visual of cars versus having to contend with drivers blowing a red light or turning right on red.  I don't give a flying F if a pedestrian is looking at their phone while walking - the assumption should be safety when on our sidewalks or in bus shelters. The onus is on the driver in the 2 ton steel box.

KATE ROZEN - Twitter

 

March 17, 2023

PEDESTRIANS VS VEHICLES

She was just walking her dog.  Seconds later she became the latest statistic in a growing list of pedestrians killed or maimed this year in Connecticut by motor vehicles.


Donna Joy Berry, age 63, wasn’t on the road or even the sidewalk as she walked her dog in the Glenville neighborhood of Greenwich.  She was on a grassy area away from the road.  Second later a Lexus traveling north on Weaver Street crossed the yellow line, jumped the curb and struck her.  Days later she died.  Neither the dog, nor the driver (who remained on the scene), was injured.

In another case a Greenwich man may now face manslaughter charges after striking and killing two restaurant workers walking in Stamford.  He was driving a 2022 Mercedes at 86 mph when the December accident happened at 2 am.  Arrested in Florida and extradited to Connecticut, 24-year-old Michael Talbot could get 20 years in jail.

Last year 75 pedestrians in this state died when struck by vehicles, a 50% increase from just five years ago.  But why the sudden increase in such fatalities?

Source:  CT Bicycle & Ped Advisory Bd

One reason is that people are walking more.  But more importantly, both drivers and pedestrians are increasingly distracted, listening to their phones or texting.  And motorists are driving faster.

Our vehicles are also getting bigger and more lethal.  If you get hit by a car you might just roll up and off of the hood.  But trucks and SUV’s strike pedestrians chest-high, causing much more trauma.  And those larger vehicles often block their drivers’ view, especially when making a turn, because of their roof pillars.

In many Connecticut neighborhoods there are no sidewalks, reducing the distance between pedestrians and vehicles.  Our roads seem only designed for those vehicles, hence the call by many for what are known as “complete streets”.

“We have a great partnership with CDOT (in redesigning our roads),” says Sandy Fry, chair of the Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Board, an advocacy group established in 2009 by the legislature.  But when one of their members walked the entire distance of Route 1, it was clear there’s much work to be done.

In many cases there are no marked crosswalks or if there are they aren’t well signed or lit.  Fry says pedestrians and bikers need to be physically separated from traffic.

Frequently these collisions happen mid-block, often when pedestrians are jaywalking.  Sometimes they’re crossing a busy roadway to get to or from a bus stop mid-block.

As of last year, pedestrians at crosswalks (even if unmarked) have the right of way.  All they have to do is wave their hand or point, indicating they want to cross, and vehicles must stop.  Drivers who don’t stop face a $500 fine.

But there are other common sense things pedestrians can do to stay safe:  always walk facing the traffic, cross only at crosswalks, wear light colored clothing or carry a light at night, obey traffic signals and constantly be aware of your surroundings… especially cars turning right on red.

March 11, 2023

YET ANOTHER TRAFFIC STUDY OF I-95

 

Why do we keep “studying” problems instead of fixing them?  Why do we still pay consultants millions of dollars, over and over again, to look at the same issues while we avoid spending that money to change the conditions that create them?

Because we keep hoping there’s an easy solution… that some savvy consultant will find the missing link, shout “Ahah… we’ve found the answer!”, and then we can fix it.   But we should know that’s not going to happen.  If the solutions were easy, we’d have found them long ago.

The latest example of wasting money:  a $7 million, three-year traffic study on I-95, the fifth such study in 20 years.  This time the focus is just a three-mile stretch in downtown Stamford ranked as one of the worst bottlenecks in the nation.


The road sees 200,000 vehicles a day with 40+% of that traffic entering or leaving the highway in Stamford, “The City That Works” (but can’t seem to move its own street traffic). Anybody driving that stretch of I-95 knows what a mess it is most hours of the day.

This new study is looking slightly beyond I-95 itself to include 50 intersections in downtown Stamford as well as the 1500+ daily pedestrians who dodge cars trying to cross under I-95.

Visit the consultant’s beautiful website, I95Stamford.com, and you are greeted by a background video that immediately makes one skeptical.  The video shows traffic freely flowing on I-95, as if on a Sunday morning, not the typical 15 mph bumper-to-bumper flow that greets daily commuters.  Do these consultants even understand the problem?

Dig further into the website and you get a sense of why this project is costing $7 million.  In the cause of “environmental justice” and social equity all of the documentation is available in English, Spanish and Creole.  There are facts sheets, brochures, newsletters and even a telephone hotline.  And there are fascinating video archives of their first efforts at community outreach.

Let’s just say that local folks are skeptical.  We’ve seen this political posturing, these listening sessions and stakeholder engagement before and know they lead to nothing.

During the Q&A with the consultants in the first public session there were the usual calls for bike lanes, pedestrian crossing and yes, one old timer said we need to replace the highway with a monorail. The consultants listened politely, nodded and said they appreciate “big ideas”.

But the first caller, Zach, really said it best: “This seems like a waste of money. You can’t take three years to study this”.  Then he made the best observation of all: “The problem with I-95 is that the trains run too slow.  Let’s get more people on the train and out of cars.”  Exactly. 

So why isn’t CDOT studying Metro-North and the Stamford Transportation Center (which they own) right next to the highway?  Why aren’t they figuring out why people are driving instead of taking the train?  Answer those questions and the traffic problems will be solved.

March 06, 2023

MONORAILS IN CONNECTICUT

 

What is this fascination that people have with monorails?  I can’t tell you how often people suggest them as “the answer” to our state’s clogged roads.

“Why don’t we build a monorail down the middle of The Merritt Parkway?,” asked an architect at a recent meeting.  To my astonishment, such an idea was once studied!

As lore has it, back in the mid-1980’s local tech giant Sikorsky was asked by CDOT if a monorail could be built and a plan was submitted.  Sure, such a system could be built, they concluded, but where would you put the stations and the necessary parking? 

Since hearing of this white-whale of a tale, shared by Merritt Parkway Conservancy Executive Director Wes Haynes, I have been on a relentless search for details of the proposal, but I’ve come up empty.  Sikorsky has no record of the plan.  CDOT said “Huh?”

Digging through the archives of the Stamford Advocate I found 
articles from 1985 discussing the idea:  a $700 million monorail down the median of the Merritt Parkway from Greenwich to Trumbull as an alternative to Bridgeport developer Francis D’Addario’s idea of widening the parkway to eight lanes… or double-decking I-95.

Chinese monorail

Motorists were surveyed and CDOT apparently spent $250,000 for a study.

The amazing research librarians at the State Library dug through their dusty files and came up with a CDOT report from 1987 pooh-poohing the idea, not only on grounds of impracticality but because it would compete with existing rail service.  Heavens no!

In 1998 a monorail was once proposed for Hartford, connecting downtown to Rentschler Field in East Hartford.  It was to cost only $33 million and the cost was supposedly to be paid by the Feds.  It never happened.  The idea was revived again in 2006 when the Adriaen’s Landing convention complex was opened, but again, nothing.

A pseudo-monorail “People Mover” system was built at Hartford’s Bradley Airport in 1976 connecting the remote parking to the main terminal, all of seven-tenths of a mile away.  The fixed-guideway system, with cars designed by Ford Motor Company, cost $4 million but never operated because the $250,000 annual operating was cost was deemed impractical.  In 1984 it was dismantled, though you can still see one of the original cars at the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor.

Whatever your fantasies are about space-age travel by monorail, let me dispel your dreams with some facts.

Monorails are not fast.  The Disneyworld monorail, built by a Japanese company, has a top speed of 55 mph but usually just averages 40 mph.  Even on a bad day Metro-North can better that.  The 3.9 mile long Las Vegas monorail does about 50 mph shuttling losers from casino to casino.

Monorails are expensive.  The Vegas system, opened in 2004, cost $654 million.  That’s why existing monorails like Disney’s have never been extended.

Monorails are not Maglevs.  Don’t confuse the single-track, rubber-tired monorails with the magnetic-levitation technology in use in Shanghai and being tested for passenger trains in Japan.  The Shanghai maglev can travel over 250 mph, the Japanese test trains have hit 374 mph.

No, monorails are not in Connecticut’s future and are not the answer to our woes.

YOU ARE THE TRAFFIC

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic the other day on I-95 I grumbled to myself “Where is all this traffic coming from?”   And then I remembere...