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Report: State So-So For Pedestrians

Don Stacom

June 26, 2011

Hartford is one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the Northeast, while New Haven is among America's most progressive cities for encouraging bike- and pedestrian-friendly street designs, according to two recent transit reports.

Overall, Connecticut is far better than most states at ensuring that highway rebuilding and new road construction allows safe, adequate space for bicyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users, the reports say.

But the state ranks only slightly better than average in year-to-year pedestrian safety.

"While Connecticut has made great strides over the past year towards promoting a more pedestrian-friendly environment, much more remains to be done," said Ryan Lynch, Connecticut coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional transportation advocacy organization.

In recent years, a series of nonprofit organizations and coalitions have been aggressively lobbying states and cities to adopt "complete streets" policies that foster more than basic highways.

Their goal is to develop a network of sidewalks, safe bike lanes, trails and well-designed crosswalks that make communities - especially metropolitan areas and suburbs - safe and convenient for travel by non-drivers as well as motorists.

Among the strategies is requiring state transportation departments to spend a set percentage of highway repair budgets on bikeways and sidewalks. Advocates also campaign to get individual cities to take the same approach with municipal roadways.

In its new state-by-state analysis, the National Complete Streets Coalition concluded that Connecticut's complete streets laws are the second strongest in the country, and that New Haven has the strongest street design manual of any city in the country.

State law specifically directs the DOT to design roads that can be used by pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders as well as motorists. Connecticut also presses to require pedestrian-friendly improvements when crews are rebuilding older bridges, ramps, intersections and highways.

The report emphasizes that rankings are based only on policies and laws, and don't measure how well states and cities actually implement and enforce them.

That may partly explain why Connecticut fares poorly in a separate analysis of 47,700 pedestrian fatalities across the United States between 2000 and 2009.

The Transportation for America study ranked Connecticut as the 29th most dangerous state for pedestrians.

The Greater Hartford area pulled the average down: The study concludes that the Hartford-East Hartford-West Hartford metropolitan area was the most dangerous for walkers during those years, and proportionately worse than the Boston, New York or Philadelphia regions. Only the Buffalo, N.Y., metro area scored worse.

Nationally, the report notes that more than 40 percent of walkers were killed where no crosswalk was available.

"Too many arterial roads, even in urban areas, are simply not designed to accommodate pedestrians or lack sidewalks altogether," it concluded.

Senior citizens, children 15 and younger and minorities suffered a disproportionate share of the deaths, the report said.

"With a rapidly aging population, AARP is renewing its call on Congress to pass 'Complete Streets' legislation, which will help ensure that our streets and sidewalks are safe for all Americans regardless of age or ability," said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the AARP.

The report says that federal and state governments need to step up their campaign to reverse 50 years of traditional highway design, which considered pedestrians and bikers little, if at all. The change in fuel prices, growing disenchantment with the auto culture and a stronger national interest in alternative transportation make "complete streets" a mainstream issue, advocates say.

"The majority of deaths occur on roadways that encourage speeding but do not provide the sidewalks, crosswalks, signals and other protections for people who are walking," the report says.

"With high gas prices more people will want to use transit. In many places, unsafe or poor pedestrian accommodations is a barrier to using transit," said Ron Kilcoyne, general manager of Greater Bridgeport Transit.

The pedestrian safety report is at: http://bit.ly/itlHJ1.

The Complete Streets Coalition report is at: http://bit.ly/iW1yhP.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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