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West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan Draft Released

Members of the public review aspects of West Hartford's Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A final public input session on West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan was held Wednesday, Dec. 6, and comments are being accepted through Dec. 18, 2023.

A large group attended a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

It’s been almost a year since West Hartford experienced one of the most tragic weeks in the town’s history – when in a period of eight days in December 2022 five people died in town and another was seriously injured as a result of motor vehicle-related incidents – and implementation of the Vision Zero initiative that was launched in the immediate aftermath is about to begin.

The Vision Zero Action Plan, Town Manager Rick Ledwith told a packed audience in a meeting room at the Noah Webster Library on Dec. 6, is “our commitment to a plan that will ensure that we have zero deaths and zero serious injuries as a result of traffic crashes within 10 years.” The town is ready to take action on what will be the community’s own action plan, he said.

Those attending were not only able to hear highlights of the action plan that has been developed to help West Hartford achieve its “Vision Zero” goal by 2033, but also were able to provide input to members of the Vision Zero Task Force – which includes town staff and members of the community – as well as consultants from FHI Studio and Toole Design who have helped craft the action plan.

Public information session on the draft of West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Ledwith credited the leadership and vision of Mayor Shari Cantor, who after three people died in two-car crash on Christmas Day crash on Simsbury Road suggested the concept of Vision Zero – a program that has proven effective in many European cities and is in the process of being implemented in U.S. communities as well – for prompting the town to undertake immediate action to effect change to make West Hartford’s roadways safe for all users.

Town Manager Rick Ledwith speaks at a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“It was a very, very tragic end of the year last year,” Cantor said, noting the impact of the tragedy on first responders as well as the rest of the community. “We all know that road safety is a primary concern, she said, with town leaders regularly getting calls with concerns about speeding and from residents not feeling safe walking through town or crossing the street.

“We’re not looking for just a quick fix here, a quick fix there,” Cantor said, but to get to a better place. West Hartford is a busy community, with town and state roads, and multimodal transportation, she said. “Vision Zero has a proven record.”

Mayor Shari Cantor speaks at a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

While Stamford is also working on a Vision Zero initiative, West Hartford is the first community in the state to have an action plan. Cantor noted that the plan reviewed Wednesday night is a draft. Additional public input will be incorporated as the plan is finalized, and the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) committee will further analyze it at its Jan. 17 meeting, before bringing the plan to the full Council for adoption in February or March.

The task force will become an advisory group, she added, to continue to provide guidance during the process.

“This will be your plan,” Cantor said. “We will be adopting it, it will be our community plan. We’re really going to need buy-in and commitment from all of you. Some of these things are going to be easy, low-hanging fruit. Many of them won’t be and some of them will be expensive, so we’re really going to need a community commitment to making our roads better and safer for all users.”

The consultants highlighted the elements of the plan and at Wednesday night’s meeting shared the methodology and data that had been collected, but as Parker Sorenson, who is a West Hartford resident as well as the project manager from FHI said, “We want to hear from you directly.”

Public information session on the draft of West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The data shows that in West Hartford, the number of crashes has more than doubled since 2018, Sorensen said, and their analysis has led to identification of a High Injury Network (HIN) because data shows that 56% of the fatal or serious injury crashes have occurred on 9% of West Hartford’s roadways.

“Why are we here today? It has been proven to work,” Sorenson said.

Consultant Parker Sorenson speaks at a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Public information session on the draft of West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Another important component of adopting the action plan, Sorenson said, is that is a step toward unlocking federal grant funding that can help the town take important steps in making its roads safer.

Because the town was already working on its Vision Zero Action plan, and with the support of the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), 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. That program will be an 18-month pilot, Director of Community Services Duane Martin explained Wednesday night, and should begin in early 2024.

The High Injury Network (HIN) which has been developed through the work of the Vision Zero Task Force and its consultants, will help guide the choice for the 15 locations where speed enforcement cameras can become installed, Martin said.

Boards placed around the room invite comment on West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The town will also be looking into installing red light-running cameras, but that is separate from the scope of the speed management program, and those cameras will be placed at intersections, as opposed to the speed management cameras which are generally placed in areas where motorists feel it is comfortable to speed, Martin said in a previous conversation. Both require human intervention with review of video by police before tickets are issued.

The Vision Zero Action Plan has identified “Vision Zero Focus Areas” as a way to prioritize action. Those are roads or segments of roads that are part of the HIN, were identified by the public as being particularly unsafe “based on their lived experience,” the draft plan states, or are in areas identified as having a high concentration of vulnerable users (Transportation Equity Zones).

Consultant Shawna Kitzman speaks at a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“You did not disappoint,” consultant Shawna Kitzman said regarding public input about road safety. There were about 800 responses to a digital survey that was part of the data collection process, with nearly 1,800 pins placed on a webmap.

“We wanted to understand what your major safety concerns are when you’re on the road,” Kitzman said, noting that in addition to driving, roughly 75% of survey respondents said they walk a lot in West Hartford. The comments were segregated into 15 different themes, she said, with speeding, design of intersections and signals, and walking/crossing roadways identified as the most prevalent concerns.

“The commitment the town has shown is really reflective in this action plan,” Adam Tecza of FHI Studio said, and its rooted in the realities of West Hartford. He added that other existing programs the town has such as complete streets and bicycle facilities, have been considered as part of the Vision Zero Action Plan.

Adam Tecza of FHI Studio speaks at a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Tecza emphasized that public input has made and will continue to make the plan stronger.

Culture is also an important component. “What does a culture of safety look like?” he asked.

Looking at broad strategies and specific action steps (who will complete them, when and how often, obstacles, measurement of effectiveness), and consideration of the most vulnerable community members is part of the framework the consulting team and task force has created.

Most urgent to address, he said, are areas identified as urgent from a safety and equity standpoint, as well as by the public.

Public information session on the draft of West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A road safety audit, which took about three hours, was recently done by town staff and some task force members on Park Road, from South Quaker Lane to Prospect Avenue. An audit or assessment, he said, is a great tool because it provides a different perspective. Feedback from the audit included concerns about the lack of bike lanes on Park Road, too few crosswalks, and sidewalk ramps needing improvement.

Participating in future audits will be one way the public can get involved, Martin said.

Director of Community Development Duane Martin speaks at a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Following the presentation those attending had a chance to review boards placed around the room with elements of the draft Vision Zero Action Plan, and to speak with task force members and the consultants.

Tod Robberson, who lives on South Main Street just south of Park and Sedgwick roads, near where a vehicle crashed into and severed a utility pole early Saturday morning, attended the public information session on Wednesday.

“It would have been better if they had opened up the floor,” he said, noting that he would have liked to hear specific comments from other attendees and was frustrated that was not able to happen.

Robberson also said he expected the action plan to include more specific steps identifying tangible measures.

While he is happy to see that South Main Street is highlighted in red as part of the HIN, he’s dismayed that it’s not on the urgent list.

“What I want to see out of this is not more stripes [marking the roadways], but something tangible, something visible that reminds people this is a residential neighborhood, the speed limit is 30 mph, and it’s not a crime to observe the speed limit.”

Draft Vision Zero Action Plan. Town of West Hartford website

Resident Jason Wang said he is very supportive of the Vision Zero Action Plan, which he had already reviewed, but also would have liked to see more specific measures identified and when it can be expected that they will be implemented, such as repainting roadways, adding bollards.

“It’s nice that the whole town says something needs to be done,” said Wang and has the mindset that this is important. “I’m very proud that we’ve made that shift already.”

The draft of the Vision Zero Action Plan can be found on the Vision Zero webpage on the town’s website.

Comments can be emailed to [email protected] and must be received by Monday, Dec. 18.

Attendees review boards placed around the room at West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A large group attended a public input session for West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Attendees review boards placed around the room at West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan on Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Public information session on the draft of West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Dec. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

 

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1 Comment

  • Speed? How about the fact that no one follows the laws any longer. Directional for lane change is the law in all 50 states. Because of the dumb 2 mile rule, I have to drive my Son to Hall every day. Due to terrible traffic, I cut through the neighborhood across from Big Y. Hardly anyone stops at the Stop signs or even slows down. Our street lights need to be coordinated. I live near St. Joes and it takes 15 minutes to get to the Park Rd 84 entrance. Traffic laws need to be enforced.

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