For most of us, walking is the most natural form of movement and earliest move toward personal independence, taking our first steps after being on this planet for only a year.
It began as a series of footpaths, developed before colonizers arrived. In the land grab, it became Route 1, its other names being legion. The choice was made, repeatedly, to build up alongside it: motels, strip malls, one after another. More pavement was added. If you follow the road from Greenwich through Stonington, what you see bears no resemblance to its origins and there’s no amount of squinting to assist the imagination. It is a travesty, the epitome of cultural arrogance that permits one to trample over those who were here already, to destroy the land. The steadfast refusal to amend this mess with any expedience has consequences.
In January it was announced that Stonington would be installing sidewalks along a portion of Route 1 beginning this spring. Since at least 2012, this route from there to Greenwich has received attention for its deadliness to pedestrians – that is, people simply moving by the way they were naturally designed. Why would it take over a decade of begging to install the most basic piece of infrastructure?
Beyond the finger pointing related to funding, wetlands were blamed.
This is a hollow excuse when you see what Route 1 already is, when you know what we have already lost. Look for yourself, or use the National Wetlands Inventory to see how little regard was given to our ecosystem over the last century. I dug around for any sign that shoreline communities were serious about protecting and mitigating damage to wetlands today, hoping to see a surge in transforming the myriad parking lots by retrofitting them with porous asphalt and concrete. I searched for signs of large scale vegetated swale and green roof creation where the landscape had been degraded. A $4M saltwater marsh restoration project kicked off in Stratford last year, but that’s not a statewide effort, and also in 2022, Route 1 in Orange was widened to add a turn lane for automobiles. Which direction are we headed in?
Since 2015, drivers have killed a minimum of 32 pedestrians/cyclists on the portion of Route 1 in Connecticut. Six of the seven victims from 2022 have not even been listed in the Connecticut Crash Data Repository yet. Bridgeport and Stamford have the deadliest segments, but Greenwich, Milford, West Haven, Orange, New Haven, and Stonington have all seen more than one preventable death. Stamford and New Haven both had more than one fatal crash at the same intersection.
For perspective, there were 43 drivers/passengers killed during this same time and the same roadway – a number seriously out of step with how many people walk versus drive on this, or really any, Connecticut road.
In almost every fatal pedestrian crash along Route 1, the victim was trying to cross a road that was anywhere from 4-to-7 lanes. In 2016, a cyclist was killed in Stamford where seven lanes were built for cars, but there is not a single protected bike lane. In 2015, a driver killed a person who was walking in East Haven where engineers made six travel lanes but neglected to include sidewalks.
As Jonathon Stalls, author of Walk, would describe it, Route 1 is “demoralizing layers of disconnection,” from both nature and humanity. Any stretch of the road bearing more than two lanes offers space that could be, without construction, repurposed for those treading the lightest: cyclists and pedestrians. The portion in Milford where a pedestrian was killed in 2021, where there are five lanes but missing segments of sidewalk, is a prime candidate for space redistribution. Two of those lanes could be reclaimed for human use. Repeat as needed, and by the unrelenting death toll on this road, it is needed.
We need to think about what and who we have already lost.
On March 6, 2023, the poor design of Route 1 claimed another victim. Gary Piver, a day short of 70, was cycling home from his job at Stonington High School when he was killed because there are neither sidewalks nor protected bike lanes. This was the deeply sad and predictable result of delaying basic safety provisions to people walking and biking.
At the end of the week, Vision Zero legislation passed through the Transportation Committee. The next step is the House. Will decision makers begin to grasp that prolonging meaningful action means consenting to additional deaths that they could help prevent?