More cycling infrastructure can prevent future tragedies

Cars drive past a memorial to Gary F. Piver on Route 1 in Pawcatuck on Thursday, March 9, 2023. The 69-year-old cyclist from Stonington was killed near 210 South Broad St. (Route 1) late Monday night when he was struck by an SUV exiting the scene. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints

The tragedy of Stonington’s first ghost bike, a memorial to Gary Piver, a cyclist who was hit and killed on US Route 1, is a game changer for our community. This tragedy need not have happened if the proposed cycling infrastructure designed over the last decade had been built. The first instinct of many is to blame the victim and calls for bright clothing, helmets and lights, all of which are a good idea but ignore the obvious – cycling is safe; it is the cars that create the danger. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg claims the number of fatalities on America’s roads rivals the number of deaths from guns.

The country is undergoing a tremendous cultural shift away from the car-centric culture of the 20th century. The price paid for this culture is coming – neighborhoods destroyed by highways and roads, CO2 emissions that harm our health and the planet. High costs for cars and fuel are becoming increasingly prohibitive for many.

With the demand now for human spaces over cars and parking lots, active travel offers so many new benefits. People want the “15” walk to town rather than a long drive to a mall or mall. Stonington and Mystic in particular is a unique case among all local communities as our streets are burdened with the cars of over 1.8 million visitors a year and studies have shown that over 30,000 vehicles travel on Route 27 daily and we have one Route 1 bridge stopping traffic every hour and backing up traffic for one mile each way. The pandemic only saw an increase in visitor numbers when air travel was grounded.

During the pandemic, the bicycle boom resulted in a 600% local increase in bike sales at a local shop, and with fewer commutes to the office, people had more time to enjoy cycling. Adding to this “perfect storm” is the boom in e-bikes, which allow for greater access and smooth out challenging inclines.

Getting people out of their cars and into active transportation has so many benefits; less car traffic, less air pollution and improved physical and mental health. Businesses see increased spending due to the lasting effect. The simple joy and freedom that a bike can bring is unmatched. Yet so many, especially women, feel unsafe on our streets.

Why don’t we have a bicycle infrastructure? The current system is broken. Norman Garrick, Professor of Transportation at UConn, said: “Current safety advocates against an obscure government-released document called the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) illustrate the institutional sclerosis that prevents us from making real advances in road safety to achieve. The MUTCD plays an outsized role in determining how our roads look, feel and function.” A long-awaited update to MUTCD could help. The gears of the system are stuck like a rusty tractor.

Planners and consultants have designed improvements over the last 20 years and yet nothing has been built. The poor rural towns have to compete for the few grants. Scholarships are more likely to go to study than to built infrastructure. CTDOT is slow and limited.

In 2019, SCCOG designed the Eastern Shoreline Path, which would connect coastal communities with a protected bike path. We must gradually work towards this goal with signage and street colour. It should be noted that Route 1 from Maine to Florida is one of the earliest established bike routes in America. It’s the will of the city with stakeholders and the community seeing bike safety – New Haven is a prime example. And to be clear, we don’t need a road with a cycle lane like the cycle lane at Cross Road in Waterford. We need a fully developed active transportation network connecting all parts of Pawcatuck, Stonington and Mystic.

But there is hope. Across the country, advocates have demonstrated how to implement small, low-cost alternative projects in 10 months or less. Large planters were erected as safety barriers in Bridgeport following a pedestrian accident. The state has many programs, Safe Streets 4 All, Vision Zero, Safe Routes to School, but none of them have seen a single improvement here in Stonington. The Ghost Bike is a memorial to that neglect.

Our new CTDOT officer, Garret Eucalitto, is behind Vision Zero HB-5917, a major bill that includes many safety recommendations that could help in its passage. Bike paths on Mystic’s bascule bridge could lead downtown Mystic into the future.

Jennifer Lacker is President of Bike Stonington/Mystic Cycling Without Age


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