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To the Editor:
On one of the last warm days of fall, my family and I decided to put the kids on scooters and head to a nearby playground. And even though we traveled less than a mile and stuck to the sidewalks, we felt as if we were putting our lives on the line at every intersection. There’s just one crosswalk between our house and the park, and even there, a car turned right on red, nearly hitting my family as we were halfway across the road. At other intersections, dozens of cars soared past us, seemingly without a thought to the parents with young children trying their best to safely cross the road.
I wish I could say that this was just one isolated incident – just one day when everything seemed to go wrong – but unfortunately this is the reality for families in West Hartford.
We are so fortunate to live in a vibrant and growing community, with great schools, ample parks and leisure services, and welcoming and caring neighbors. We love our town and are thankful everyday that we chose to make this our home. But if we really want to make West Hartford a great place for families we need – desperately – to rethink the ways we design our roads and streets.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in pedestrian safety. I’m a mom who cares about my own children, along with all of the other kids in our town. But I know from visiting friends and family across New England that other towns and cities have managed to raise crosswalks and add blinking lights and speed tables so that cars slow for crossing pedestrians. Other towns have added truly protected bike lanes so that all riders, even those less comfortable on a bike (like my 5-year-old, or, frankly, me) can safely and comfortably ride. I know that other towns have lengthened the time allocated to cross at a crosswalk so that people with little legs (or creaky joints) can safely walk across the street with time to spare.
It always strikes me as darkly humorous that we have crossing guards in place on certain intersections for certain times Monday to Friday – as if the only time we expect kids and families to need to walk around safely is to and from school. As if we don’t think it’s important for families and kids to safely cross the road while walking to a farmers’ market, or ice cream shop, or even a playground. As if we believe that the only time it’s possible for a child to get hit by a car is from 8 a.m.-8:30 a.m. on weekday mornings.
he irony is that by designing our roads so that they are unsafe for pedestrians, we are pushing families like mine to forgo walking or biking for short trips in the name of safety. Instead, we’ll get in our cars to drive a half mile or so to parks or restaurants or libraries. And we too will add to the traffic, add to the pollution, add to the fights for parking, and add to the lines of rushed drivers who forget to stop for pedestrians and make our roads less safe. It’s a cycle that won’t stop unless our town officials and senior staff members take real responsibility and action for fixing our infrastructure and making our town safe for all pedestrians.
I was encouraged earlier this year when the town started a Vision Zero Council in response to car crashes that killed members of our town. The Council was billed as a way to make “immediate” improvements to West Hartford’s road safety, by implementing quick and cheap trial solutions that – if successful – could later become permanent. It’s now November and there has been little, if any, progress. I fear our officials will not make this a true priority until there is another pedestrian death. I hope I am wrong.