Bishops Corner Opinion Schools The Center

Op-Ed: The Dangers of Being a Pedestrian in West Hartford – How Can We Make Being a Pedestrian Safe Again?

With the current layout of Bishops Corner intersection of North Main Street and Albany Avenue, pedestrians must cross the channelized right turn lane to reach the button to request a walk signal. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Sadie Leibin, a rising junior at Hall High School, submitted this article as her final project in her AP US Government and Politics class. 

By Sadie Leibin

In 2023, there were 35 pedestrian-related accidents in West Hartford alone. That’s 35 people struck and who knows how many people affected by it. West Hartford is a nice town, there’s much to do here and there’s plenty of places to walk around, but when people are being hit left and right, it makes one wonder why we have yet to do anything to stop it. One reason could be the fear of worsening the already congested traffic in this town. Another reason could be the need for businesses to have access to the roads. In the end, it comes down to one simple question: what will West Hartford do about their increasingly dangerous pedestrian situation. 

There is constantly talk of ideas to increase pedestrian safety. One of these ideas includes redoing the intersection at Bishops Corner. Bishops Corner has four separated right turn ways with their own signals. Pedestrians must cross the 20-foot walkway onto a little island before they can cross the actual street. There is no pedestrian button leading to the island meaning the walkers must rely on a car’s ability to stop for them to cross safely. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and has resulted in injuries before. [See https://we-ha.com/public-input-invited-for-5-6-million-bishops-corner-intersection-improvement-plan/]

“The proposed improvements include eliminating all channelized right-turn lanes and islands at the intersection (Hartford Courant 2023)”  eliminating one, although minor, danger to pedestrians. In addition to eliminating the curved right turns, there has also been talk of shortening the walkways to accommodate for walkers. By doing so, it allows walkers to cross safely without having to worry about running out of time in the crosswalk without having fully crossed.

Moving on from Bishops to The Center, there has always been talk about what to do in order to increase the safety of pedestrians. Blue Black Square has eliminated large intersections and has several one way only zones. On the other hand, The Center has dangerous intersections and no space on the roads due to parked cars. To subside this issue, “a pedestrian-only plaza or one-way street (Hartford Courant 2024)” were seen throughout a list of possibilities. The benefit of a pedestrian only plaza is that walkers would no longer feel the pressure of having to look out for cars every 50 steps they take. Walkers would actually be able to take their time going throughout The Center rather than feeling the pressure of moving every which way because of traffic. In addition to a plaza, one way streets would help to allow for easier management of traffic flow, thereby leading to easier access of walkways for pedestrians. All in all, West Hartford is doing their best to come up with plans to build a safer community. 

Everyone wants pedestrians to be safe, but how far is the town willing to go? In response to the possibility of “a pedestrian-only plaza or one-way street”, “businesses … were concerned about losing on-street parking because diagonal parking accommodates more cars than parallel parking. Businesses also are concerned about maintaining space for commercial deliveries (Hartford Courant 2024)”. If West Hartford were to actually go through with the design changes, specifically for The Center, traffic would pile up more than it already does. Along with that, local businesses would have a harder time receiving deliveries or even a loss of on-street parking which would lead to a dramatic decrease in customer availability. Of course pedestrian safety is important, but by committing to these dramatic changes, the town would basically be running all of the small shops out of business. Not only this, but the amount of construction it would take for this plan to go into action would take months, maybe even years to complete. 

West Hartford is in desperate need of change. I have lived here for all 16 years of my life and the accidents just continue to get worse. My parents have always cautioned me about walking around anywhere in this town because of the dangers that come with being a pedestrian.

After reading some articles detailing different plans of action and why they would be best, my opinion has come to be that they should continue on with the plans at Bishops but also widen sidewalks and increase the crossing time at intersections. There is no need for people to have  only 10 seconds to cross any street in all of West Hartford. As for the Center, although it might increase congestion, they should continue on with the idea of one way only roads. My dream, although unrealistic at its core, would be to eliminate street parking. There are so many parking lots/garages placed throughout the center that it seems silly to park on the road just to be a bit closer to where someone wanted to go. By doing this, restaurants can continue with their outdoor dining and pedestrians can walk around without fear of being hit by a hidden car. 

As much as the previously stated ideas for The Center would be the best possible solutions, they are simply unrealistic. If the town were to create pedestrian-only plazas, traffic would pile up until the town is blocked because of traffic congestion. In addition, as nice as no on-street parking would be, too many businesses would lose too much business. People would also most likely not go to The Center as much if they had to park in garages or parking lots. If it were possible, taking away the parking fees would help to increase the implementation of these already offered amenities.

Instead of these ideas based on hopes and possibilities, the town has come up with viable solutions to the issues in The Center and Bishops. For The Center “the new plan addresses [the possible loss of on-street parking as well as maintaining space for commercial deliveries] while still providing shorter crosswalks, safer parking and better signage for drivers to find underused parking lots in the center. The plan includes more trees along with new and slightly wider sidewalks (Hartford Courant 2024).”

By implementing these less extreme solutions, traffic is still allowed its usual flow and businesses are able to keep their flow of customers, all the while making The Center a safer and better place to be.

As for Bishops Corner, the plans for removing curved right turn lanes and shortening the crosswalks are supposed to be implemented by the start of 2025. In the end, it’s down to what the town officials believe is best for our town, but by using our voices, we can let them know what we know to be best. 

We-Ha.com will accept Op-Ed submissions from members of the community. We reserve the right to edit all submitted content.

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Hartford Courant. n.d. “DOT looks to make Bishops Corner safer $5.6M initiative would redesign intersection after recent uptick in pedestrian deaths in West Hartford.” Wikipedia. Accessed June 4, 2024. https://www.proquest.com/docview/2834398936/5C63D2EC62BD46B1PQ/1?accountid=39138&sourcetype=Newspapers.

Hartford Courant. n.d. “Parking plans scaled back Businesses resist the more pedestrian- and bike-friendly effort West Hartford.” Wikipedia. Accessed June 4, 2024. https://www.proquest.com/docview/3041737428/5C63D2EC62BD46B1PQ/2?accountid=39138&sourcetype=Newspapers.

Johnson, Philip, and John Burgee. n.d. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed June 4, 2024. https://www.ctinsider.com/westhartford/article/west-hartford-ct-pedestrian-cyclist-car-crash-data-18610487.php.

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1 Comment

  • I appreciate this thoughtful review of improvement planning and culture of West Hartford. As plans evolve, I forget that making LaSalle fully pedestrianized was even on the table. With what is vs what will be, I’d only add that the future is uncertain but congestion is guaranteed. And congestion is not the death sentence of an area. As I ride my bike places I avoid the most congested areas, either by taking alternate routes or avoiding peak hours. Drivers have learned to do this as well – when I first moved here, I had a co-worker who drives to work amazed by his discovery of Boulevard as being a more pleasant route to work than Farmington Ave. There is also an underutilized bus network that runs through West Hartford – full in the Hartford area but buses become much less crowded as they move into and through West Hartford. I understand culture is a hard thing to change and that any major changes will shock the local ecosystem – often, however, in ways people would not have anticipated.

    Thanks again for the op-ed, it’s great to hear from the local crowd that is actively growing up in this town.

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