Vision Zero Task Force Holding Final Public Input Session in December

The intersection of Farmington Avenue and North/South Main Streets in West Hartford Center on Jan. 5, 2023. Just out of the shot in the crosswalk at the left, a man was crossing against the light and stopped in the middle of the road while traffic passed. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The community is invited to provide input and comment on the Vision Zero Action Plan.

By Ronni Newton 

The Vision Zero Task Force had its most recent meeting on Nov. 13, and before finalizing its action plan for presentation to the Town Council early next year will hold another public forum in December.

That public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 6, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., in the meeting room (next to the Children’s Room) of the Noah Webster Library at 20 South Main Street.

On Dec. 6, a presentation by the project management team will begin at 6 p.m. Attendees will have the opportunity to speak with and ask questions of staff and Task Force members, and share thoughts on the draft Vision Zero Action Plan.

The draft Vision Zero Action Plan will be posted and available for viewing on the Vision Zero website by Dec. 4. Comments will be accepted until Dec. 18. Those who are not able to attend the public meeting can still share thoughts and questions by emailing [email protected].

Town Manager Rick Ledwith told the Town Council at its Nov. 14 meeting that feedback obtained on Dec. 6 and via email will be incorporated into the draft plan that will be discussed by the Vision Zero Task Force at its Jan. 8 meeting, and the plan will then be presented to the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) Committee on Jan. 17.

The Action Plan, Ledwith said, will be “essentially our road map to zero deaths and zero serious crashes in 10 years.” It will be up to the town and the task force to use the recommended action steps to implement changes that will make the roadways safer. Annual reports to the Town Council will highlight successes and progress toward the goal, and Ledwith said there have been discussions with the Task Force about establishing a Vision Zero Advisory Committee to facilitate future work including compliance with goals.

Consultant Shawna Kitzman of FHI Studio said there are 15 “core themes” developed from analysis of public response on a webmap. Concerns include children being able to get safely to and from school and safety for older adults. The most comments centered around design of roadways, intersections, and signals, Kitzman said.

Walking and safe crossing, and speed had the second and third most comments. “I think speed continues to be a top concern among stakeholders and for good reason,” she said.

Screenshot from Vision Zero Task Force meeting on Nov. 13, 2023

Screenshot from Vision Zero Task Force meeting on Nov. 13, 2023

Heatmaps were developed for all of the themes, said Kitzman, and they reflect the quantity of comments for each theme, and those were then overlaid with the high injury network (HIN) which have been identified through the task force as the most dangerous roadways in town. They include portions of Farmington Avenue, North Main Street, South Main Street, Park Road, New Park Avenue, New Britain Avenue, Boulevard, and Albany Avenue.

Screenshot from Vision Zero Task Force meeting on Nov. 13, 2023

Adam Tecza of FHI Studio said actions as well as strategies have been prioritized in the draft action plan. He noted that there were “15 pretty big design actions,” including reviewing mid-block crossings, pedestrian wait times, parking prohibitions, and road diets.

“What we are proposing … is that we look at safety audit or assessments,” Tecza said. The recommendation is that the town do those audits or assessments of the roads identified as the Vision Zero focus areas, and while doing that look at the issues identified as concerns. He also recommended tying them to potential safety countermeasures – for example creating new sidewalks where existing gaps have been cited as a concern. Some solutions will be short-term while others may take six or more years to implement.

Roughly eight miles of the Vision Zero focus area is in the HIN, have high survey response numbers, and are in transportation equity zones – and those sections of roadway have been identified as “urgent” on the priority scale, Tecza said. Grants are often available for road safety audits, he added.

The Vision Zero Task Force had its first meeting on Feb. 13. The Town Council unanimously adopted a Vision Zero Initiative in January 2023 as as a proactive commitment to make roadways safer for all users. The action was a direct reaction to a tragic string of incident during a period of eight days in late 2022, when five people died in West Hartford as a result of motor vehicle-related incidents.

The Vision Zero Task Force and its consulting team held a public forum on Sept. 19, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The Vision Zero Task Force, which has been working with the consulting team of FHI Studio and Toole Design Group, is on track to meet the goal of producing a roadmap within a year. “I’m very proud of the work that this task force has accomplished since we started in February,” Ledwith said.

According to the Vision Zero webpage on the town website, West Hartford’s Vision Zero Initiative states that “residents and visitors deserve to be safe as they move about town, whether walking, bicycling, driving or taking public transit,” and in it is pivotal role in achieving those goals Vision Zero supports the following five principles:

  • Deaths and serious injuries caused by traffic crashes are preventable;
  • Human life and health should be prioritized in all transportation systems and in all aspects of transportation planning and design;
  • Human error is inevitable and transportation systems should be forgiving;
  • Transportation planning should focus on system-level changes to influence all individual’s behavior; and
  • Speed is a highly important factor in crash severity

The Vision Zero Task Force and its consulting team held a public forum on Sept. 19, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Related to the ongoing work with Vision Zero, the Town of West Hartford recently learned that it had been awarded a nearly $700,000 grant through the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) federal program to implement a speed enforcement camera program.

Vision Zero is the reason the town applied for the grant, and the town’s progress on the Vision Zero Action Plan has put West Hartford ahead of virtually every other municipality in the state. “We were already putting together the draft plan for Vision Zero,” Director of Community Development Duane Martin said, when the opportunity arose to apply for the SS4A grant, which dovetails well with that work.

The Vision Zero Action Plan itself, by design, does not get as granular as to recommend locations for the speed enforcement cameras, but the town can use the HIN then dive deeper into the data to determine where speed is a major concern. The HIN identifies 9% of the town’s roadways where 56% of the most serious crashes have occurred.

Presentation from the Vision Zero Task force regarding West Hartford’s High Injury Network (HIN)

The SS4A program supports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities, which have risen to the highest level in decades – with more than 9,000 people dying in traffic crashes in the first three months of 2023 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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