by Adina Gianelli
We have a problem in the state of Connecticut, a problem as stunning as it is abhorrent, as urgent as it is fixable. That problem is one of road safety.
According to the Connecticut Crash Data Repository, an estimated 311 car crash-related fatalities occurred throughout our state in 2016, a four year high. These crashes disproportionately affect people who are walking or biking. This is cause for alarm and a call to action.
Some may think: “I don’t ride a bike, and I don’t really walk anywhere, either. Why should this matter to me?”
Streets are the most fundamental of public spaces. And whether you think of yourself as a pedestrian or cyclist, we all require safe access to our streets.
Complete streets benefit cyclists and walkers, a broad and diverse category that includes, among many others, children who bike to school and seniors who walk for exercise, commuter cyclists and those who travel via public transportation, triathletes and people with mobility limitations (and triathletes with mobility limitations). It benefits people when they get out of the car, as motorists inevitably do. And yes, complete streets benefit drivers, as well. When it comes to street safety, policies that improve conditions for walkers and cyclists benefit us all.
Humans are not invincible. We remain especially vulnerable to the dangers of cars, as the 311 vehicular crash-related deaths in Connecticut in 2016 reveal. But even one death to a cause wholly preventable is one too many. This is why Vision Zero, which strives to end all traffic-related death and injury, is so important, and has been implemented in NYC and a growing number of cities nationwide.
I wish I could devote this piece to highlighting the joys and pleasures of biking, which confers myriad benefits to well-being and community health. I’d love to tell you about the advantages of walking, which Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), describes as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug”.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to tell you that there were 32,166 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2015, resulting in 35,092 deaths. I wish I didn’t feel compelled to tell you that traffic fatalities represent the leading cause of death for teenagers nationwide, or that 4500 people are killed crossing the street in the United States each year, a disproportionate number of whom are children, seniors, and people of color. But as a matter of conscience, it is imperative to share this data. These statistics are harrowing and reveal necessary truths about the critical need for action on the part of the Connecticut General Assembly.
How might we move forward to improve road safety for all of Connecticut, and our most vulnerable users in particular? The problem is massive, but the solutions are all but laid out before us. We simply need to implement them.
Complete streets—and the resource allocation necessary to implement this infrastructure—are essential. Education represents another cornerstone, and a critical component of lasting cultural change. By adopting and implementing a statewide, evidence-based cycling education program—such as the one developed by Bike Walk Connecticut—in our public schools, we can keep our children healthy and safe.
Connecticut must strengthen its crosswalk legislation to align with best practices for public health and safety. As a state, we would be well served to revisit our vulnerable user laws, increasing penalties for motorists who injure or kill walkers or cyclists. Ours is one of only 10 states that doesn’t require motorists to refrain from opening a vehicle door until conditions are safe; this, too, must change. Boston, Massachusetts recently implemented a 25 MPH default speed limit; there is no reason that Hartford—and other Connecticut municipalities—shouldn’t do the same. Adopting Vision Zero is an imperative. The work has never been more urgent, and the need has never been more clear.
Arudhati Roy once wrote that “[a] new world is not only possible, but she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” On a quiet day, I can see her biking and walking, safe on beautiful and complete streets.
Adina Gianelli is Executive Director of Bike Walk Connecticut, a member-supported non-profit organization changing the culture of transportation through advocacy and education to make bicycling and walking safe, feasible, and attractive for a healthier, cleaner Connecticut.