Toppled caution sign
A toppled caution sign outside the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. Credit: Kerri Ana Provost / CTNewsJunkie / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Kerri Ana Provost

Traffic violence is something that elected leaders have the power to address through the budgets they create and the laws they pass. CTNewsJunkie published a voting guide in which candidates were asked how to make Connecticut’s streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Half showed their ignorance of the ongoing issue in their responses. Regardless of who gets hired on November 8th, residents should familiarize themselves with which representatives are clueless about this issue and educate them at every opportunity. 

There is a running joke about how cities will toss construction cones down to alert people about a pothole, but never send out a crew to fix the issue. They’re “awareness cones”. This is often where awareness campaigns flail: the assumption that knowledge is enough to change behavior.

So, when someone – in this case, Jillian Gilchrest (D) – suggests raising awareness about a problem, I have to ask where this incumbent has been. Among safety advocates, among professionals in the field, we all know the primary drivers of street violence and we know what ingredients are needed for fixing it. We have brought these issues up statewide, before lawmakers. Distracted driving awareness campaigns have existed for years. 

To be clear, awareness, when paired with proven strategies, is perfectly fine. Gilchrest did not articulate anything more than talking about the problem. We are well past the point where billboards, bus wraps, and radio spots are enough. We cannot use the argument of individual responsibility as our way out of the problem, whether by promoting awareness campaigns or proposing an increase of police. Traffic deaths will not be solved by doing what we have asked dangerous road users (drivers), or vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists), to do since safety campaigns arose in the 1920s. Humans make bad choices, or if you prefer to hear this in a softer tone, we make mistakes.

You don’t have to be an abolitionist to understand that more police enforcement, or even the same level of police enforcement, is not the answer. What is it called when you do the same thing again and again but expect different results? For the first century of cars dominating our roadways, we have almost entirely relied on law enforcement as a way of dealing with traffic violence, yet there is no evidence that police have significantly reduced serious and fatal car crashes. Why would we continue to fund what does not work? You would have to ask Cynthia Mangini (D), David Michel (D), John Rasimas (R), Tammy Nuccio (R), and John Carlson (R) why they would waste taxpayers’ money on a losing proposition.

There are a multitude of reasons for why this is ineffective. When Hartford installed more speed humps – something that residents overwhelmingly favor – the occasional opponent would complain, suggesting we station police on streets instead. For that to work, we would need to have multiple officers on nearly every street, 24/7, and we would have to vet them to ensure we were employing officers committed to consistently making traffic stops when motorists drive fast and recklessly. From a financially conservative perspective, this is a ludicrous use of public dollars.

A less extreme version of this does not work either. Except for in places that have regular speed traps, we are not going to see the possibility of a speeding ticket deterring drivers from acting irresponsibly because the nature of enforcement is a gamble. This is why, along with reducing face-to-face interactions between officers and civilians, enforcement via camera is preferable. When the cameras are on, driving improves; data shows that red-light cameras reduce severe crashes. That’s the goal. It’s not to eliminate every type of crash, like fender benders. It’s not to generate revenue. It’s to help fewer Connecticut residents lose their lives.

At this point, any candidate or sitting politician favoring more police – or worse: less police accountability – is putting politics ahead of reason. They’re simply not interested in saving human lives. What they’re after is vengeance, or justice, if you prefer that term. But inconsistent punishment does not prevent the types of crashes that kill or cause life-altering injuries. They don’t help Connecticut residents avoid the pain of medical bills or lost work time. If politicians say they are dedicated to protecting the middle class, why do their actions not reflect this more often?

As of publication, at least 57 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed on Connecticut’s roads this year. We know, overwhelmingly, the type of streets that enable fatal collisions: arterials lacking meaningful pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, curb extensions, medians, protected bike lanes, and frequent, safe crosswalks. Self-enforcing streets are preferable to punitive tactics that do not prevent motorists from driving fast and recklessly in the first place.

Fortunately, there are a few candidates with a grasp on what is common knowledge and readily available information about best approaches to reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Robert Hotaling (I), Christine Palm (D), Frank Smith (D), Nick Gauthier (D), Anne Hughes (D), Kara Rochelle (D), and Ed Vargas (D) are the most in touch with effective ways to address traffic violence, understanding the work that is already happening, like the existence of the Vision Zero Council. MD Rahman (D) has room for education on the issue, but had the humility to say that he would work with experts. Jonathan Steinberg (D) has opportunity to improve when it comes to who wields responsibility for pedestrian/cyclist safety, but to his credit, has served on the Transportation Committee and is not oblivious as to the need for traffic calming.

Regardless of who is hired on Tuesday, elected officials need to pay much more attention to engineering, as that is where we will see the most bang for our buck – that bang being the prevention of deaths and serious injuries on Connecticut’s streets.

Pedestrian deaths spiked a few years ago and remain high, and it’s fairly clear that driver behavior, such as distracted driving, is only getting worse despite significant efforts by law enforcement to stop it. How can Connecticut’s streets be made safe for pedestrians and bicyclists?

Cynthia Mangini | Participating Election

Stronger fines and better enforcement along with safety zones marked strictly for pedestrians and bicyclists should help.

John Rasimas | Participating Election

As victims of a serious hit-and-run accident that involved a juvenile offender, my wife and I became very aware of the minimal consequences that are imposed. We need to create stricter laws and support law enforcement officers so that they can enforce such laws.

Nick Gauthier | Participating Election

With investment in pedestrian friendly infrastructure, including protected walking and bike lanes while also taking cars off the road by providing viable mass-transit options.

Tammy Nuccio | Participating Election

If we want to control crime in any fashion, juvenile crime, distracted driving, wrong way drivers, violent crime, etc, we have to give the police the power to arrest people and our judicial system has to enforce the laws in a way where people consider the consequence before committing a crime. This is not to say we should “lock everyone up” or anything as draconian as that, but the punishment for the crime has to be seen as a deterrent. Programing – rehabilitation – restorative justice, early intervention, community involvement with law enforcement, all of these things need to be considered. If there is no consequence, there is no reason to stop the behavior.

Jonathan Steinberg | Participating Election

There have been a number of good “safe streets” initiatives coming out of the Transportation Committee, on which I’ve served for twelve years. Traffic calming measures are helpful, but pedestrians and bicyclists also need to be aware of the rules of the road, and remain aware and vigilant for their own protection. Many communities don’t have roads wide enough for separate bike lanes and struggle to fund more sidewalks. The state can be helpful in pursuing those ends with additional funding.

Anne Hughes | Participating Election

We need to mobilize community will to make more pedestrian/bike friendly towns, invest in bike paths, traffic calming measures, slow down commuting, invest/support more multi-modal transportation, extend fare-free buses, etc.

Laura A. Fucci | Participating Election

I think that public awareness campaigns could help. Additionally, I would explore placing cameras on traffic lights and heavily used crosswalks that track violations and automatically send tickets to violators to try to deter dangerous behaviors.

John Carlson | Participating Election

“Significant efforts by law enforcement”? The PAB has made it difficult for officers to do their jobs. Let’s give officers the tools, resources, training and numbers of officers they need to enforce the law. Allowing officers to do their jobs will make CT safer for EVERYONE. In addition, you increase funding for lights, speed humps and raised walkways to be installed, especially in areas where there is a higher risk. I’ve had speed humps installed in my neighborhood and they’ve greatly reduced speeding.

Kara Rochelle | Participating Election

I believe we need to create more bike lanes, more lights and signaling around cross walks, and harsher penalties for distracted driving, particularly cell phone use while driving, which is far too often the cause of fatal accidents.

Edwin Vargas | Participating Election

I will continue to support traffic calming initiatives as well as safe driving and pedestrian safety education.

MD Masudur Rahman | Participating Election

Enforcement of the laws we have on the books is clearly needed, but we also need to examine traffic mitigation options. I look forward to working with those experts to address the crisis of bad driver behavior.

David Michel | Participating Election

Each municipality should have their own paper with an analysis of where the areas of concern are and ensure enforcement is done in those areas. We have had conversations in Stamford about cameras in school zones. I do not mind yellow strips and apparatus that monitors the speed and even equipment that will issue tickets for those speeding, but I do not believe that in a school zone you can beat safety with police on location. I am open to the discussion on cameras but not confident that it’s an actual proper or necessary expense when we have a police force to protect & serve.

Christine Palm | Participating Election

Infrastructure repair must make a priority of pedestrian and bike routes. I support the recommendations of the Center for Latino Progress, to name one group. While I would be in favor of raising penalties for distracted driving, walking, etc., without enforcement it’s a shallow gesture.

Julie Kushner | Participating Election

To create good outcomes for all students in Connecticut, we need to make sure that kids in every community are given the resources and high-quality instruction they deserve. This means reducing class size, increasing salaries and providing packages that will attract the best teachers. In some districts it means providing funds to recruit minority teachers, especially bilingual teachers in my district. To do this, we must ensure that we have an equitable state funding formula for school districts across the state that takes into account the varying economic circumstances and available resources of different school districts and communities.

Robert Hotaling | Participating Election

I am a technology expert who has noted that Connecticut lags behind many other states in best use of technology to create a safer environment. This applies not only for pedestrians and cyclists, but other at-risk groups as well. Better use of modern sensors and network technologies can be both affordable and effective. City planning and road design needs to be improved to maximize safety, not speed, including more pedestrian walkways and dedicated bicycle lanes. Additionally, red light cameras can be expanded to fine motor vehicle owners for moving violations.

Jillian Gilchrest | Participating Election

We might want to consider a public awareness campaign and think broadly about the various partners and communities we engage in speaking out about the importance of pedestrian & bicycle safety and distracted driving.

Frank Smith Participating Election

The Vision Zero Council in CT is an interagency workgroup tasked with developing statewide policy to eliminate transportation-related fatalities and injuries. I voted to establish this council in the 2021 legislative session which is tasked with investigating this very issue and reporting back to the legislature on their recommendations. I look forward to continue working with them to make our streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Kerri Ana Provost is a Hartford-based writer who also publishes at

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.