New Haven is looking for ways to keep the roads safe for pedestrians and cyclists.
On Tuesday, the Board of Alders Public Safety Committee voted in support of a measure to decrease pedestrian accidents, presented by sergeant Pedro Colon of the New Haven Police Department. The program, designed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, aims to reduce minor traffic infractions. The program consists of two stages — education then enforcement — and runs from Dec. 12, 2019 to Jan. 17, 2020 with $15,000 grant funding from the state.
The education portion consists of television ads, flyers or handing out pamphlets modeling ticket prices to those who have committed an infraction, like jaywalking. During the subsequent enforcement period, there will be a police officer stationed at preselected intersections to give tickets. According to Colon, the main focus of the NHPD will be densely populated downtown intersections like Chapel and College or Chapel and High.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of accidents, and many of the accidents do involve pedestrians,” Colon told the safety committee. “To make matters worse, there are a lot of pedestrian fatalities. [With the program], people will know what the laws are, what to follow and what we’re looking for.”
Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94 pointed out that the program is set to run during a period when most of the students of New Haven will not be in the city.
Still, Roth said she recognizes the potential benefits of the initiative and ultimately voted in its favor.
“I think it’s great to have an educational component,” Roth said. “With speeding and red-light-running being so prominent in our city, if some of the messaging could be around that, I think that would be great.”
The grant is intended to fund overtime salaries of officers who will work for the initiative, though Ward 12 Alder and committee chairman Gerald Antunes hoped to see the money used for the local education campaign as well. The program would be open to any officer who wishes to participate, Colon said, but is expected to run on one intersection per day, two days per week, throughout the allotted time.
Under Connecticut law, jaywalking violations warrant a fine between $35 and $55, while vehicle stoplight infractions cost violators $146. Still, Antunes was more interested in how to quantify data of the effectiveness of the education portion.
“With something like this, you want to see if it’s effective,” Antunes said. “You want to see how many interactions there are. It doesn’t mean you have to arrest everybody or give them tickets, but how many you stop or have interactions with? That’s one of the things I’d be looking for in the report.”
In order to enforce red-light or stoplight infractions, the program would feature what Colon called “decoy officers.” Police officers dressed in civilian attire would wait at an intersection or attempt to cross the street and monitor the behavior of nearby vehicles.
Enforcement of cycling laws would also be covered by the program, specifically through distribution of state-provided pamphlets describing signals to be used and laws to be followed.
“Many complaints I hear, especially regarding downtown,” Antunes said, “are that bicyclists are in the street. The state statutes clearly say bicyclists have to ride on the right, but you’ll see people riding on the left.”
According to Colon, the primary purpose of this short-lived program is to collect data that can be applied to future pedestrian safety initiatives. The program would act as a pilot program to inform a more intensive version in the future. The evaluation process would include a report that would be issued in a post-campaign press release and a meeting with the traffic unit to determine the successes and failures of the program. With this information the NHPD would modify the plan and develop solutions to improve the campaign for the future.
“It is a step in the right direction,” Ward 16 Alder Jose Crespo said, recognizing that the plan was not intended to be a comprehensive solution to traffic accidents in the Elm City.
165 pedestrians were hit in New Haven in 2018.
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