Although there was much less driving in Connecticut in the first half of 2020, there was an unexpected 13% increase in statewide crash fatalities over the same period in 2019. As a data nerd I was compelled to dig further into the local City of Hartford crash data to determine if there were patterns. Are there high crash streets or intersections that need special attention, either via redesign or targeted traffic enforcement?
Ilya Ilyankou at Picturedigits put his data visualization skills to work and created an interactive heatmap for the last 5½ years of crashes in Hartford using publicly available data from the University of Connecticut Crash Data Repository.
The control panel allows anyone to adjust the heatmap to look specifically at certain time periods and types of crashes. For example, interstates and local roads have different traffic enforcement and design control, and therefore we can look at them separately. If the user zooms all the way in they will see the discrete crash datapoints. Clicking on a datapoint will pull up an info box with the crash ID number, the severity of the crash, and if available, the crash report diagram.
One might be surprised to learn that over the full 5½ years there were only 6 fatal crashes on Hartford’s interstates, but a whopping 72 fatal crashes on local roads. The highest price is paid too often on our streets.
Of those fatal crashes on local roads, 19 were people walking and just one involved a bicycle rider. Overall for local streets, there were 38,110 total crashes and 21.5% of those (8,200) recorded either an injury or fatality. The surfeit of carnage is visible when one selects “Local Roads” and plots all crashes with an injury or fatality. Several of Hartford’s arterial roads bleed solid red on the heatmap. Corridors that stand out for crashes all along their length are Albany Avenue (state Route 44), Main Street, and Park Street.
Why aren’t there green/yellow/red hot streaks on the neighborhood roads? First, they have lower traffic loads. Second, they usually have lower-speed traffic, especially the neighborhood streets that have one or several traffic calming speed humps. As shown in another analysis, speed humps are effective at reducing both speeding and crashes, and there are 180 installed across Hartford. Designing for lower speeds and fewer crashes on those neighborhood streets is especially important. That’s where kids play.
Other cities have successfully pursued Vision Zero campaigns to reduce traffic violence on their streets. These campaigns usually focus on reducing crashes with serious injuries to those on foot and biking. Reducing risk and harm to the city’s most vulnerable road users simultaneously reduces the severity of crashes for those traveling in cars. There is an important equity and social justice benefit to improving safety for those walking, biking, and getting to the bus stop in a city like Hartford where over 30% of households don’t have a car.
A Hartford heatmap focused on pedestrian and bicycle crashes with injuries or fatalities gives planners and transportation engineers a guide for where to focus safety improvements for vulnerable road users.
The heatmap of crashes where someone walking or riding a bicycle was injured or killed is less overwhelming than the map of “all crashes.” A city on a tight budget, like Hartford, would be well served by implementing proven safety improvements to address these known hot spots for vulnerable user crashes. There are relatively low cost changes that can be quickly applied.
• City wide 25 mph speed limit, and for the highest risk locations 20 mph – The speed of the involved motor vehicle is critically important to the severity of the pedestrian or bicycle rider injuries. An average pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 20 mph has 7% likelihood of fatality. The likelihood of fatality goes up to 45% at 40 mph. New Haven has a compelling 20 is Plenty campaign, and there is a proposed bill before the Connecticut legislature that would give cities and towns more control over setting local speed limits.
• Implement easy intersection safety improvements, first as low cost demonstration projects to slow car turns, provide center refuge medians for people on foot, increase pedestrian crossing visibility, and shorten pedestrian crossing distance. Hartford implemented two of these quick build projects in 2019, but sadly removed them before winter as there was no plan for winter maintenance. There is helpful a Quick Build Guide with recommendations for the Hartford metro area.
• Switch from the 4-way stop scramble pedestrian walk signal to a Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) – Walk signals are adjusted to give pedestrians a few seconds to get out into the crosswalk, so that they are more visible to cars and therefore less likely to get clipped by a turning vehicle. The change also makes the wait time shorter for pedestrians, so they are less likely to cross without a signal when it is less safe.
More speed humps on neighborhood streets – Speed humps are low cost, low maintenance, and long lasting. There is need for 100 more speed humps on neighborhoods streets in Hartford. Kids and families deserve slow streets for outdoor activities and play.
• School zone speed camera pilot project in Hartford – NYC had very good safety outcomes from their 3-year school zone speed camera pilot, and has expanded that pilot with significant public support.
• Focus traffic stops and enforcement on safety issues – Speeding, reckless driving, running lights, distracted driving, and driving while intoxicated are issues that lead to high consequence crashes. When safety focused traffic enforcement campaigns happen on high traffic corridors, they are less likely to disproportionately impact residents.
Those interested in this topic can join Danny Rodriguez’s family members and residents on Sept 13th for a march, ride, and slow drive calling for the City of Hartford to take action and adopt a Vision Zero approach to reducing traffic violence.
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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