A fatal motor vehicle-pedestrian accident last Thursday has sparked discussion over pedestrian safety in New Haven.
Last Thursday, an 81-year-old woman was killed crossing the intersection of Olive and Greene Streets in the Wooster Square neighborhood. The New Haven Independent reported on the incident, and commenters on the eventual article debated whether a lack of proper traffic safety regulations in the Wooster Square neighborhood influenced the accident. Commenters argued that there are inappropriate street designs, a lack of pedestrian protection initiatives and inadequate police enforcement in New Haven. Aaron Goode ’04, a member of the Wooster Square Community Management Team, said that while the investigation into the driver’s role is significant, he hopes the accident will also provoke discussion about pedestrian safety.
“Watching the reaction in the news and social media to this terrible tragedy that happened on Olive Street, there’s been a lot of focus on whether or not the driver who struck her was texting while driving,” said Goode. “That’s certainly a very legitimate thing that should be investigated, but I think that ignores the larger issue of our environment about the nature of our streets and whether they’re designed to accommodate vulnerable users.”
One of the most pressing concerns is that police officers could do more to enforce traffic violations, according to everyone interviewed. Rob Rocke MUS ’96, a board member of Elm City Cycling, said he regularly sees drivers disobeying the rules of the road. If they were regularly penalized for talking on their cell phones or ignoring red lights, they would have a greater incentive to follow traffic laws, he said.
The design of the streets in Wooster Square could also play a major role in the pedestrian safety. Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of the advocacy organization New Haven Urban Design League, said Wooster Square is particularly dangerous because many commuters are able to speed through the wide State and Grove Streets intersection, a central part of daily commute, located just four blocks away from where the accident happened. The intersection immediately narrows and enters dense residential areas with many pedestrians, where speeding could easily jeopardize pedestrian safety.
“The intersection creates an anti-urban feeling,” Farwell said. “It doesn’t signal to the driver immediately that they’re going through a truly dense urban neighborhood.”
Connecticut lawmakers recently tried to pass a bill in the state legislature for the third time that would have allowed cities to add cameras to capture the license plates of cars that run red lights. However, the bill faced heavy opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, which felt that it could be an infringement on privacy.
But, the state did pass the Vulnerable Users Bill this year, which places a $1,000 fine on drivers who, acting with improper care and caution, injure or kill vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
Beyond state legislation, there are other widely accepted methods of increasing pedestrian safety that can be implemented in New Haven, including reducing traffic speeds, adding speed bumps and even better educating pedestrians and drivers, said Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94. Although there are currently no official plans to change traffic laws and the street design, pedestrian safety in New Haven could soon enter the forefront of City Hall’s agenda, as the construction of two new apartment complexes in Wooster Square will increase pedestrian density. Furthermore, the city will soon extend the Farmington Canal trail down Olive Street, which will add even more pedestrians and cyclists.
Roth said that although she would like to see improvements in pedestrian safety, she hopes that changes may occur without more tragic accidents such as the one last Thursday.
“You don’t want a tragedy to have to happen in order for there to be improvement,” she said. “People can just think and just improve.”