West Hartford’s Vision Zero Task Force Begins Work

West Harford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The first meeting of West Hartford’s Vision Zero Task force was held on Feb. 13.

By Ronni Newton

The Town of West Hartford has officially launched the efforts of its Vision Zero Task Force, and the 17-member group that will be working to make the town’s roadways safer for all users held its first meeting on Feb. 13.

“We are pleased to report that we have convened the first meeting of the West Hartford Vision Zero Task Force on Feb. 13,” Town Manager Rick Ledwith said. “This committee will work together over the next year to produce West Hartford’s Vision Zero Action Plan which will provide a roadmap to achieving the elimination of all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2033.”

The Vision Zero Task Force – a key element of the Vision Zero Initiative adopted by the Town Council on Jan. 10 –  includes nine members who are employed by the Town of West Hartford, including leadership from the police and fire departments, public works, community development, and equity. There are also eight members from the community, many of whom have expertise in urban planning or another discipline critical to the project. They will be meeting at least once a month with the goal of submitting an action plan to the Town Council by January 2024.

Although some of the work was already in progress, town leaders announced specific plans to launch Vision Zero in response to a string of tragic events that took place in late 2022. In a period of eight days in December, five people died in West Hartford as a result of motor vehicle-related incidents, and overall there were six traffic-related deaths in 2022.

Courtesy of Town of West Hartford

“Our community has seen far too many accidents and near accidents. We all are broken-hearted for the loss of life and injuries,” Mayor Shari Cantor said in January when she introduced a resolution to establish the Vision Zero Initiative. The town has adopted “complete streets” and taken other steps to improve roadway safety, she said, “but it’s not working.”

According to West Hartford’s Public Relations Specialist Renée McCue, who is a member of the Task Force, actual work will take place even before the plan is finalized. The group will be looking at problem areas and solutions that do not require major structural changes, and will be doing a walking audit of certain areas, she said.

According to Cantor, Vision Zero is a holistic approach that relies heavily on data and is data driven – collecting data on where crashes happen and examining related demographics and enforcement, and also emphasizes sharing of that data “in order to facilitate transparency and accountability, and assist the public in monitoring progress toward zero.”

Courtesy of Town of West Hartford

Ledwith said that by the next time the group meets, on Monday March 20, the town will have engaged a consultant through a process that was already underway even before the adoption of the Vision Zero Initiative.

The Town Council had previously 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. That RFP was issued several weeks ago, and according to Ledwith the consultant’s work will include an in-depth review of crash data, public engagement, and implementation of recommendations.

“We will have a full community engagement process,” Ledwith said.

Ledwith said the consultant will be launching an interactive map, similar to what Stantec – the consultant working on the West Hartford Center Infrastructure Master Plan – created for that project. Members of the public will be able to identify problem areas directly on the map, and there will also be a dedicated email account established. In the meantime, Ledwith said any comments or concerns can be sent to him via email at [email protected].

A webpage for Vision Zero is being finalized and will be launched on the town’s website. Included will be an outline of the principles of the initiative:

  • “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.”

According to a draft of the webpage, “Vision Zero is bold, aspirational and reinforces that we need shifts in thinking, planning, prioritizing and taking action. Our residents and visitors deserve to be safe as they move about town, whether walking, bicycling, driving or taking public transit, and it is our responsibility to ensure conditions for such safety.”

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