Bike West Hartford organized Wednesday morning’s rally, which was attended by 20 residents, and town leaders spoke about action that is being taken to improve safety of the town’s roads.
By Ronni Newton
A pedestrian was struck and killed by a driver of a vehicle who fled the scene on Boulevard at the intersection with Whiting Lane on Tuesday evening, and first thing Wednesday morning a group of 20 residents gathered at a rally organized by Bike West Hartford to call for action to make the town’s streets safer.
Tuesday’s tragedy – the second pedestrian fatality this year – comes on the heels of a major incident on Saturday involving a vehicle and a pedestrian. On Saturday afternoon, a pedestrian was transported to a local hospital with serious injuries after being hit by a vehicle on South Main Street near Memorial Road.
Later on the same day the rally was held, another tragic pedestrian-related incident – the third in five days – occurred in West Hartford. On Wednesday evening, shortly after 5 p.m. – nearly the same time as Tuesday’s collision – a pedestrian was struck by a motor vehicle on Mohegan Drive. The victim from the Wednesday incident is currently in critical conditions with life-threatening injuries, police said.
Jack Dougherty, a member of Bike West Hartford said while good decisions are needed to effect change, “you also need better engineering.”
While most roads were originally engineered to handle traffic volume, Dougherty believes it’s time for a different approach. “That’s a great value for the 1950s. We actually value something more than that today: safety of humans who actually live here.”
He said with today’s larger vehicles, collisions are more likely to be deadly. Dougherty said the person who was struck on South Main Street on Saturday was one of his neighbors, and has a long road to recovery ahead.
“It’s brought out the mayor and the police department,” he said Wednesday. “Why did it take this long?”
Town Manager Rick Ledwith said the town is taking action, and has joined with other municipalities applying for a “Safe Streets and Roads for All” federal grant through the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG). The first part of the grant, which will be awarded in early 2023, is for a safety study and an action plan. A second phase that will involve implementation of improvements will be the subject of a second grant application in 2023.
In addition to applying for federal funding, Ledwith said the Town Council has appropriated $100,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to hire a consultant to do a town-wide public roadway safety study – an overall assessment and evaluation of the town’s roads and intersections. The RFP is going out in January, and the work will include an in-depth review of crash data, public engagement, and implementation of recommendations.
“In September we applied for the $5 billion federal grant that’s going to communities – Safe Streets for All,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. “We hope that the grant process moves along but it’s governed by the federal government. It’s a huge amount of resources. We hope that we are awarded the first part of the grant – that’s a plan.”
Many of the town’s main roads are state roads, and that makes it more difficult for the town to implement traffic calming measures. Boulevard is not a state road, she said, and since the town installed a semi-diverter at Whiting Lane and Boulevard the number of crashes at that location have been minimal.
“This is just such a tragedy,” Cantor said, noting that the investigation is not yet complete.
“I will say I have witnessed too many reckless drivers, people going through red lights,” said Cantor. “You could add a light but if people run a red light that doesn’t help. It’s really important for people to change their behavior, drive more safely, respect and give pedestrians and bicyclists right of way. I don’t think people drive in a way that is courteous and safe to people who are more vulnerable.”
The $100,000 in funds that will include a review of crashes will look at how change on one roadway may impact others, she said. The North Main Street Road Diet has already made that street safer.
“It’s an investment in resources and time but it’s a priority,” Cantor said.
“I also think we have to re-look at cameras. We can’t be everywhere,” Cantor said. “Cameras would allow us to help to be able to investigate accidents, but also to enforce if someone is going through a red light. I think the state should re-look at that.”
Dougherty noted that New Haven just got its first raised crosswalk installed on a state road. The crosswalk, in front of Nathan Hale School, was celebrated at a ribbon cutting with the state Department of Transportation in October. He questioned why West Hartford can’t also install raised crosswalks.
Cantor said adding speed tables like what was done in New Haven requires action at the state level.
“I hope the state is doing the same work that we’re doing in analyzing all of the accidents, what caused them, how we can make our streets safer,” she said. “That’s the hope, that the $5 billion grant can help support that effort.”
West Hartford Police have doubled the number of motor vehicle stops for traffic violations over the past year. As of October, there were 3,758 stops year-to-date, Ledwith confirmed, some of which of resulted in multiple infractions.
Assistant Chief Rob Riccobon said police continue to investigate Tuesday evening’s incident and are talking with area residents and hope to find witnesses who may have seen the vehicle that fled the scene, which police believe may have been a white sedan. “There’s a lot of people on this street. Hopefully somebody saw something and they can follow up with the PD,” he said.
Police have not yet released the name of the person who was killed, or further details about the incident.
“What I’ve learned is the following: If you change the infrastructure, you change the culture. If you change the culture at the same time you can change the infrastructure, too,” Dougherty said. “I think today was a day we were trying to do something with the culture to get the decision makers to change the infrastructure. The two things gotta go together.”
Doug Hardy contributed to this report.
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