After seeing a 20% increase in pedestrian fatalities in Connecticut from 2017 to 2018, cities, towns, and the state of Connecticut started thinking hard about how to best address that public safety issue.
Two proposed bills in 2019 would have addressed crosswalk safety and municipal speed limits and both were passed by Connecticut’s House of Representatives. Both bills sat without action in the state Senate for a full month and died on the calendar.
But after a rash of 14 pedestrian fatalities in the first two months of 2020 – putting Connecticut on pace for 84 pedestrian fatalities this year if things continue unabated – the state legislature is again considering the best path forward.
House Bill 5324 is co-sponsored by state Reps. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, Julio Concepcion, D-Hartford, and Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden. There is a public hearing on the bill today (Monday, March 2, at 11 a.m.) in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building.
The proposed bill does not include red-light cameras or school-zone speed cameras, both safety items that have been proposed to increase safety, particularly for pedestrians in cities and town centers. Both New York City and Providence have school-zone speed cameras that were initially implemented as pilot projects.
Here’s what’s in the bill:
Crosswalk Safety Improvement
This change would make it safer to cross the street at crosswalks. Pedestrians would be able to signal their intent to cross while waiting at a crosswalk by waving or pointing, putting their foot out into the crosswalk.
This would be a commonsense safety improvement over having to have to fully step into to crosswalk and hope that traffic yields. If one has been in other cities or countries where this is the norm, it is observable how this approach prioritizes the safety of the more vulnerable pedestrian over speeding traffic.
Local Control Of Lowering Speed Limits
This change would give towns and cities the ability to set lower design speeds and speed limits on their municipal streets with local experts and a public hearing. This would put the local experts in control and reduce duplicate work and frustrating rejections that happen during the current process, which is conducted by the state Department of Transportation and the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA).
The current process is more appropriate for interstates and rural state routes, and does not work well for urban, town center, and neighborhood streets where you are more likely to have people walking, children playing, and people riding bikes. When this proposed bill was voted on in the House in 2019, it passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support.
Increased Fines For Driving While Using A Handheld Mobile Device
The fines for violating the prohibition that “no person shall operate a motor vehicle upon a highway … while using a hand-held mobile telephone to engage in a call or while using a mobile electronic device…” is proposed to increase by about 25% across the board.
Current fines are $150, $300, and $500 for first, second, and third violations. The new fines would be $187, $375, and $625.
Increasing The Fee Returned To Municipalities From Traffic Tickets By $5
Municipalities, particularly Connecticut’s large cities, have had difficulty budgeting for enough officers to implement effective traffic enforcement. Both New Haven and Hartford have around half the state average per capita rate for traffic stops, even though they experience a large amount of regional traffic and commuting on their local roads.
Most of the fines paid from traffic tickets go to the state, which then provides focused enforcement grants back to municipalities. These isolated enforcement campaigns have not been enough for the cities to bring their traffic stop rates in line with the state average.
The proposed bill increases the additional $20 fee that goes to the municipalities to $25. For example, if you received a $150 speeding ticket, the add-on that would have been $20 will now be $25. Your $170 ticket will go to $175, with the extra $5 going to the municipality that issued the ticket.
New Violation For Opening A Car Door Into A Bicyclist’s Path
Connecticut is one of only nine states that does not have a “dooring law” that makes it a violation, with a fine of $90, to open a car door into the path of another moving vehicle in a way that would cause them to crash or swerve into traffic. The language in this proposed segment could be made more general to include both motor vehicles and bicycle riders, as is done in other states.
Greenways Commemorative Account
License plate revenue from CT Greenways plates will be placed in this account and specifically used to fund state and local efforts to preserve, restore, and protect greenways. There was already a Greenways license plate, but this change puts those raised funds into a lockbox. Connecticut voters certainly approve of lockboxes.
Evaluating Bicycle And Pedestrian Impacts For Developments
Large developments with significant traffic impacts would be required to evaluate their impact on “bicycle and pedestrian access and safety,” which isn’t currently required.
The bill says, “The Office of the State Traffic Administration may require improvements to be made by the applicant to the extent that such improvements address impacts to highway safety or bicycle and pedestrian access and safety created by the addition of the applicant’s proposed development or activity.”
Public comment or testimony on HB 5324 can also be emailed to the Transportation Committee at .
Anthony Cherolis is a former aerospace engineer, BiCi Co. founder, a Hartford resident, and the Transport Hartford Coordinator at the Center for Latino Progress. He also writes at All Famous Together
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