State Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven

The Transportation Committee gave the green light Wednesday to an omnibus pedestrian safety bill including a pilot program allowing towns and cities to install automatic speed enforcement cameras.

The panel held votes open until after 6 p.m. Wednesday, but lawmakers present voted 25 to 4 in support of sending the wide-ranging bill to the broader legislature for consideration.

“I think we have before this committee a robust traffic safety piece of legislation that accomplishes so much of what the committee has worked on over the years,” said Rep. Roland Lemar, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the committee.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

Lemar said the bill had been tailored since a public hearing in January. Among its provisions are  pilot programs letting municipalities install speed enforcement cameras around schools, hospitals and work zones. It would give towns and cities flexibility to set their own speed limits. Under the bill, drivers could be cited for “dooring,” or opening a car door to impede a cyclist. Pedestrians could signal their intent to use a crosswalk by raising their hand, rather than stepping into the road. The bill would also hike penalties for distracted driving and other traffic violations. 

Proponents hope the proposals will curb the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed by distracted and speeding motorists. 

“As I tell my teenage driver, your vehicle is essentially a weapon,” said Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield. “We need to, as drivers, be incredibly conscious of those vulnerable users.” 

Much of the discussion Wednesday centered around the legislation’s enforcement camera provisions. Lemar said the pilot programs would be limited in scope. Up to 10 municipalities would be permitted to install the cameras in a total of 12 zones statewide, he said. 

“So we don’t see these all over the state. We won’t see them every intersection.” he said.

The plan for revenue generated by camera-related fines would fund traffic safety improvements and a public awareness campaign aimed at slowing down motorists. Lemar said he wanted to see the program fund facility improvements for pedestrians and cyclists in the municipalities running the pilot programs. 

“To me, that is what a successful program looks like. Not dollars for the general fund — though our towns need it — dollars for improving traffic safety and pedestrian safety for vulnerable users,” he said. 

While supporting the bill through the committee, Republicans signalled they were likely to oppose the enforcement camera provisions if the legislation is raised on the floor of the House or the Senate. Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R-East Granby, said there was a lot to like about the bill. 

“There’s a lot of things that will certainly help pedestrian safety. But as always, I look through the lens of unintended consequences,” she said. “I have some real issues with the speed cameras because I think it does open the door to red light cameras, other types of speed cameras, other types of surveillance. I’m extremely uncomfortable with that.”

Lawmakers also debated the bill’s changes to how a pedestrian can indicate to motorists they intend to enter a crosswalk. Under current law, a pedestrian must physically step into the road in order for a motorist to be required to stop. Lemar called the standard “absurd.” As it is currently written, the bill would require pedestrians to raise their hands to drivers in order to signal they plan to cross the road. 

As the committee moved to briefly recess before convening a public hearing, Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, asked Lemar to demonstrate. 

“Do you think you could show us the proper way to — intent to cross? Can you show us that before we leave?” Martin said. 

Lemar obliged, raising his hand to the camera.

“Look if you approach a crosswalk right now, what you can do is you can physically run into the middle of the road and that will trigger the car to stop or, moving forward, you can just step to the cross walk at the curb, raise your hand and you’ve signalized your intent to cross,” Lemar said.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Coverage of the 2020 Multimodal and Transit Summit, as well as a follow-up series on related transportation issues, is being partially underwritten by the Transport Hartford Academy at the Center for Latino Progress.

Underwriting is funding for journalism that will be reported and produced independently, without prior review by the funder before publication.