More bike infrastructure can prevent future tragedies
The tragedy of Stonington's first ghost bike, a memorial to Gary Piver, a cyclist hit and killed while riding on U.S. Route 1, is a tipping point for our community. This tragedy did not have to happen had the planned bike infrastructure designed over the past decade been built. The first instinct of many is to blame the victim, calling for bright clothing, helmets and lights, all of which is a good idea but ignores the obvious — cycling is safe; it is the cars that create the danger. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg claims that the fatality rates on America’s roads rival that of gun deaths.
The country is in a huge cultural shift away from the car-centric culture of the 20th Century. The price paid for this culture is coming due — neighborhoods destroyed by highways and streets, Co2 emissions damaging our health and the planet. High cost of cars and fuel becoming further out of reach for many.
The demand now is for spaces for people above cars and parking, active transportation offers so many new benefits. People want the “15” walkable minute town, rather than a long drive to a mall or shopping center. Stonington, and especially Mystic, is a unique case among all the local communities as our roads are burdened with the automobiles of over 1.8 million visitors a year and studies have found over 30,000 vehicles a day travel on Route 27, and we have a Route 1 bridge that stops traffic every hour backing up traffic for a mile each way. The pandemic only saw an increase in visitors as air travel was grounded.
During the pandemic, the bike boom saw a local increase in bike sales of 600% in a local shop and with less commuting to the office, people had more time to enjoy riding. Add to this “perfect storm” is the boom in E-bikes giving greater access and flattening any challenging inclines.
Getting people out of their cars and into active transportation has so many benefits; less auto traffic, less air pollutants and improved physical and mental health. Businesses see increased spending due to the lingering effect. The simple joy and freedom a bike can bring is unmatched. Yet so many, especially women feel unsafe on our roads.
Why don’t we have bike infrastructure? The current system is broken. As UConn Transportation Professor Norman Garrick stated: ”The current battle pitting safety advocates against an obscure government-published document called the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is illustrative of the institutional sclerosis that keeps us from making real headway in traffic safety. The MUTCD plays an oversized role in determining how our streets look, feel and function.” A long-awaited update of MUTCD may help. The cogs of the system have seized up like a rusty tractor.
Planners and consultants have been designing improvements for the past 20 years and yet nothing has been built. The small rural towns strapped for resources must compete for the few grants. Grants go for studies rather built infrastructure. CTDOT is slow and limited.
In 2019, SCCOG designed the Eastern Shoreline Path which would connect the shoreline communities with a protected bike path. We need to work towards that goal incrementally with signage and road paint. It should be noted that Route 1 from Maine to Florida is one of the earliest established bikeways in America. It is the town’s with the advocacy groups and community will that see bike safety — New Haven being a prime example. And to be clear, we do not need one road with a bike lane such as the bike lane on Cross Road in Waterford. We need fully developed active transportation network connecting all parts of Pawcatuck, Stonington and Mystic.
But there is hope. Across the country, advocates have proven how to do small inexpensive alternative projects in 10 months or less. In Bridgeport, after a pedestrian fatality, large planters were installed as safety barriers. The state has many programs, Safe Streets 4 All, Vision Zero, Safe Routes to School, but none of these has seen a single improvement here in Stonington. The Ghost Bike is a monument to that neglect.
Our new CTDOT Commissioner Garret Eucalitto is behind the Vision Zero HB-5917, a large bill which has many safety recommendations that could help should it be passed. Bike lanes on Mystic’s Bascule Bridge could move downtown Mystic into the future.
Jennifer Lacker is President of Bike Stonington/Mystic Cycling Without Age