Sunday, Nov. 15 marked the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. The Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven gathered on the New Haven Green to call for change in our city, and across Connecticut, to make streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. As of Nov. 15, 12 pedestrians and cyclists have died this year after being struck by a vehicle in New Haven – an increase from the nine lives lost in 2019. These entirely preventable deaths are not just statistics. They represent real people whose families and friends will never see them again.
New Haven is not alone in this epidemic. The rise in pedestrian and cyclist deaths is a statewide and national trend caused by people in our country driving more, driving bigger vehicles, and driving while distracted. Moreover, our streets prioritize the convenience and speed of cars over the safety of other street users. People without cars, disproportionately low-income and people of color, are particularly vulnerable users of our streets.
Here in Connecticut, the state has done little to reverse the rise in deaths. Far from adopting an aspirational Vision Zero-type policy, the state projected more pedestrian deaths and exceeded that already grim projection according to Smart Growth America’s 2020 Dangerous by Design report.
We should not accept the loss of family members and friends as the unavoidable cost of decades of prioritizing cars over people in street design and engineering. We should not accept the unequal impacts of traffic violence on low-income people and people of color. Decades of trials and research have equipped us with a huge toolbox of interventions that remain underutilized and underfunded in Connecticut.
One of these interventions is the implementation of equitable automated speed enforcement, or speed cameras. We know that speed kills. Research shows that a car driving at 20 mph will kill or seriously injure pedestrians in approximately 15% of accidents, while that percentage jumps to 80% for a car driving at 40 mph. Anyone who spends time in our city knows speeding is a serious problem. COVID-19 has aggravated the situation, creating emptier roads where motorists are able to drive faster.
The New Haven Police Department does not have the capacity to carry out consistent and widespread enforcement. Even if it did, there are compelling reasons to avoid relying on armed police to enforce traffic rules. In our country, traffic stops are the most common interaction that residents have with police. For Black drivers, who are almost twice as likely to be pulled over as white drivers, these interactions can be stressful, traumatic, and dangerous. Speed cameras can deter potentially lethal speeding without direct police engagement, and without any subjective human decision-making and the attendant risk of implicit or explicit bias.
In past efforts to establish automated enforcement, some have voiced the concern that automated enforcement would disproportionately target low-income, non-white neighborhoods. We propose to avoid this by placing cameras near schools and hospitals, locations in a variety of neighborhoods, with many vulnerable users nearby.
Automated enforcement already has been tried and tested all over the country, including in New York City. New York City’s school zone speed cameras successfully changed drivers’ behavior, with the average number of violations falling 50% over the course of the first year. Additionally, more than 75% of fined vehicle owners did not receive a second violation. The cameras also saved lives. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of crashes around New York City schools with speed cameras decreased by an average of 15%. The number of deaths decreased by an average of 55%.
Equitable automated enforcement is merely one of the tools to make streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. In the long term, investing in human-centered street design will encourage safe driving and reduce the need for enforcement – but this requires time and money. Authorizing automated enforcement would be an immediate, practical step to address the pedestrian and cyclist safety crisis in Connecticut.
We call on the Connecticut state legislature to unite in fighting for Vision Zero, the global movement to reduce traffic deaths to zero. If legislation is passed in early 2021 allowing us to pilot automated enforcement in New Haven, and thoughtfully place cameras near schools and hospitals, with clear signage and education about their presence, we will quickly reduce the number of people who speed – and we can save lives.
Andrew Giering and Carolyn Lusch are members of the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition.