“Groundbreaking” ConnDOT Road Diet Must Be First of Many

An aerial view of Burnside Avenue/Route 44 in East Hartford, which ConnDOT plans to put on a "road diet" next year. | Image: Google Maps.

Today, Tri-State Transportation Campaign applauded reports that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) is planning a “road diet” on a section of Burnside Avenue/Route 44 in East Hartford to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. A ConnDOT spokesperson called the project “groundbreaking,” and said it was the first time the agency has planned a road diet primarily to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. If so, it should be the first of many.

“This is an innovative and exciting project that will save lives, but it shouldn’t be an isolated case. Numerous roads across the state lack the needed infrastructure to ensure that walking and cycling are safe and viable forms of transportation,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool said in a release [pdf].

According to the Hartford Advocate, ConnDOT plans to narrow a 3-mile section of Burnside Avenue. The road currently has two automobile lanes in each direction, but will be resurfaced and restriped to provide one automobile and one striped bicycle lane in each direction, along with additional on-street parking and left-turn lanes at some intersections. Pedestrian safety improvements will be installed to shorten the crossing distance at key intersections. Construction would take place next year. Three cyclists have been killed on Burnside Avenue since May, 2010, and there were more pedestrian fatalities in Hartford County than in any other Connecticut county besides New Haven between 2008 and 2010, according to Tri-State’s Most Dangerous Roads report.

Though this may be the first example of a road diet geared towards pedestrian and bicycle safety, it is not the first step ConnDOT has taken towards improving nonmotorized transportation. In recent years, the agency has promised to make commuter rail more bike-friendly and fill gaps in the trail network, created a bicycle coordinator position, revamped its municipal sidewalk policy, and undertaken other significant work to fulfill the requirements of the state’s complete streets law. The law, passed in 2009, requires that “accommodations for all users shall be a routine part of the planning, design, construction and operating activities” of all state roads.

However, the agency often remains reluctant to implement fixes if it means slowing down cars, even though communities are clamoring for these types of improvements on state and local roads. “Trying something like this on Route 1 would be a traffic nightmare,” agency spokesperson Kevin Nursick told the Advocate (even though the South Western Regional Planning Agency is already studying pedestrian safety measures like a road diet along the stretch and seven pedestrians were killed on Route 1 from 2008-10, more than on any other road in the state). Resistance from state traffic engineers has also been a key factor holding back pedestrian and cyclist safety measures in the City of New Haven’s Route 34 highway-to-boulevard project.

Tri-State called on ConnDOT to take a comprehensive look at where safety improvements, like the ones to be implemented along Route 44, could take place. There’s no shortage of locations in the state that could be targeted. For example, Route 4 in Farmington, where a 14-year-old student was killed earlier this week, lacks marked crosswalks and sidewalks even though there are CT Transit bus routes and destinations, like the UConn Health Center, along the road.

While the Burnside Avenue improvements will be built next year as part of a resurfacing project, ConnDOT has the ability to address safety issues sooner. In 2010, ConnDOT announced a “Quick Fix” program that uses existing DOT funding to support inexpensive safety improvements aimed at calming traffic and providing more space for pedestrians and cyclists. This program should be a possible funding source for further improvements.

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