3 Cities, 3 Towns from CT Take Up National Challenge on Pedestrian, Bicyclist Safety to Launch Thursday

Six Connecticut towns and cities are among the first 150 in the nation to respond to a challenge issued by U.S. Secretary of Transportation (USDOT) Anthony Foxx aimed at promoting bicyclist and pedestrian safety.  The year-long nationwide initiative will officially kick-off this Thursday. The chief elected officials of the cities of Hartford, Stamford, and Bridgeport, and the towns of Glastonbury, Simsbury, and South Windsor have signed on to the Mayor’s Challenge, announced earlier this year at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  The Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets is a call to action by Secretary Foxx for mayors and local elected officials  to take significant action to improve safety for bicycle riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities over the next year.mayors

The challenge is based on the 2010 USDOT Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. In the policy statements, USDOT recognizes the many benefits walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life.

The challenge calls on Mayors, First Selectmen and other chief elected officials to:sign_ped-bike-share

  • Issue a public statement about the importance of bicycle and pedestrian safety
  • Form a local action team to advance safety and accessibility goals
  • Take local action through seven Challenge activities (listed below)

In Connecticut, the advocacy organization Bike Walk Connecticut is urging Connecticut's chief elected officials to participate in the challenge and engage their residents in carrying out the initiative’s objectives. They applauded Foxx, a former Mayor of Charlotte, N.C., for making “bicycle and pedestrian safety is his signature issue as the head of USDOT.”

The challenge activities, as outlined by USDOT, include:

  • Take a Complete Streets approach
  • Identify and address barriers to make streets safe and convenient for all road users, including people of all ages and abilities and those using assistive mobility devices
  • Gather and track biking and walking data
  • Use designs that are appropriate to the context of the street and its uses
  • Take advantage of opportunities to create and complete ped-bike networks through maintenance
  • Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations
  • Educate and enforce proper road use behavior by all

A total of 154 cities nationwide have signed on as of March 6, with the official kick-off later this week in Washington, D.C.  Additional municipalities in Connecticut and across the country are expected to add their names to the list of participating cities.  USDOT has invited Mayors' Challenge participants to attend the Mayors' Challenge Summit kick-off event at USDOT’s Headquarters’ office in the nation's capital on Thursday, March 12. The Summit will bring together participating cities to network and learn more about the Challenge activities, and USDOT staff members will share the resources and tools available to help cities with Challenge activities.

Federal officials note that the lack of systematic data collection related to walking and bicycling transportation, such as count data, travel survey data, and injury data, creates challenges for improving non-Cycling to Workmotorized transportation networks and safety. Communities that routinely collect walking and biking data, they point out, are better positioned to track trends and prioritize investments.

In advocating a “complete streets” approach, USDOT emphasizes that complete streets “make it safe and convenient for people of all ages and abilities to reach their destination whether by car, train, bike, or foot” and they call for “a policy commitment to prioritize and integrate all road users into every transportation project.”

Bike Walk Connecticut has reported that there were 49 bicycle or pedestrian fatalities in Connecticut in 2012, the most recent data available.  There were an additional 1,226 injuries to bicyclists or pedestrians.  In total, from 2006 to 2012, there were more than 10,000 injuries and nearly 300 fatalities from crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists, according to the organization, based on federal and state data.

Fifth Time A Charm? Vulnerable User Bill Back Before Legislature

“Study after study reveals that more people would be willing to make more trips by bike or on foot if they felt they could do so without taking their lives in their hands.”  That comment at a legislative hearing by Kelly Kennedy, Executive Director of Bike Walk Connecticut, highlights the reason behind proposed legislation that would “help hold accountable careless drives who injure or kill non-motorized users of the road.”

Dubbed the “don’t hit me” bill, it is baambulance_ck for a fifth consecutive year at the State Capitol, endorsed by an array of 23 organizations.  In each of the past two years, it passed the Senate but was not considered by the House.  It recognizes that “vulnerable road users,” such as pedestrians, bicyclists, first responders, and highway workers need additional legal protections, and provides enhanced penalties for careless driving resulting in injury or death of a vulnerable road user.

The "Vulnerable User" bill:

  • Provides for a fine of up to $1,000 for injuring or killing a vulnerable user due to careless driving; and
  • Defines a vulnerable user as a pedestrian; cyclist; animal rider or driver; highway worker; farm tractor driver; user of a skateboard, roller or inline skates; user of a wheelchair or motorized chair; or blind person and his or her service animal.

The statistics behind the effort are clear:

  • Careless drivers injure hundreds of people every year in Connecticut--130 pedestrians and cyclists were killed between 2010 and 2012 and approximately 1,400 pedestrians and cyclists are injured every year, according to Bike Walk Connecticut.  Between 2006 and 2012, there were more than 10,000 deaths or injuries.
  • The League of American Bicyclists' top recommendation for Connecticut in its Bike Friendly State Report Card calls for Connecticut to "Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for a motorist that injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian."  (CT's Bike Friendly State ranking was #18 in 2013.)

Nora Duncan, State Director of the Connecticut AARP, testified in support of the bill, noting that “an older pedestrian is 61 percent more likely to die from a crash than a younger pedestrian.”  The bill, she said, “could improve pedestrian safety by deterring negligent behavior that puts vulnerable uses at risk of injury or death.”  In a survey, 47 percent of people over age 50 in Connecticut said they felt they could not safely cross main roads close to their home.

share the roadThe proposal was also supported by the State Department of Transportation, which suggested that the definition “be all encompassing to include all users such as persons on a legal non-motorized device” such as scooters and skateboards.  Transit for Connecticut, a statewide coalition of 33 business, social service, environmental, planning and civic organizations advocating the benefits of mass transit, supported a vulnerable user law indicating that “with emphasis on energy conversation and healthy lifestyles, the number of walkers and bicyclists is growing.  These residents, along with residents living in close proximity to bus stops and transit services need proper access if they want to use public transit.”

Kirsten Bechtel of the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, called for individuals who commit an infraction under the proposed law to “attend driver retraining and perform community service.”  In written testimony, she said that “vulnerable user laws in Oregon, Washington and Delaware include these requirements to ensure that drivers are held accountable and operate their vehicles safely in the future.”  Others, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, supported that idea.

Clinton resident Debbie Lundgren, in an email to the Transportation Committee, said succinctly, “pass the Vulnerable User Bill this year.  We have waited long enough!”

The  Committee is expected to consider SB 336 later this month.  If approved there, it would go on to the Senate for consideration.  A road well traveled.