Lemar Pushes Safe-Streets Fixes

Thomas Breen photoHartford — New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar is taking a second swing at protecting “vulnerable users” — using newfound influence to try to fix flaws that prevented a previous law he authored from punishing reckless drivers who crash into pedestrians or cyclists.

At the start of this year’s state legislative session in January, Lemar, a fifth-term Democratic state legislator who represents East Rock, Fair Haven, Wooster Square, and parts of East Haven, ascended to the role of House chair of the state assembly’s Transportation Committee.

During a three-and-a-half-hour public hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on Wednesday afternoon, Lemar flexed his newfound muscles as committee chair to champion three laws that would broaden the definition of “vulnerable user,” allow towns and cities to reduce local speed limits to 20 miles per hour, and protect pedestrians as they cross the road in a crosswalk.

Lemar said that the new laws are an effort to recognize that roads are not just for cars passing through a city, but also for people who live in the city and next to the roads as well.

“You can either construct these as thruways,” Lemar said about city roads and the laws that govern them, “or as building blocks for a neighborhood.”

Despite modest pushback from a few suburban legislators skeptical of prioritizing pedestrian safety over traffic flow, Lemar earned support from the three members of the public who came up to Hartford to testify before the committee on Wednesday.

The “vulnerable user” changes are tucked away in House Bill (H.B.) 7141, a proposed act that would regulate electric foot scooters.

On the 33rd page of the 34 page scooter bill, Lemar has added several key updates to a 2014 state law that imposes a fine of up to $1,000 on drivers who crash into and almost kill such “vulnerable users” as pedestrians, cyclists, the physically disabled, and highway workers.

But time and time again over the past half-decade, drivers who have hit pedestrians in New Haven have not been charged with the vulnerable user penalty because of the original law’s ambiguous threshold of “serious physical injury.” Even a driver who sped into preschoolers on Howard Avenue last year didn’t get charged under the law. Or a Yale student who ignored a school bus’s stop sign and plowed into a 7-year-old. In both cases injured children went to the hospital. But police said the wording in the version of Lemar’s bill that originally passed prevented them from invoking it for “minor” injuries.

Getting Serious About “Serious”

“The original language was ‘serious physical injury,’” Lemar said during the hearing on Wednesday, “which local police departments have had a hard time defining, and therefore finding a way to utilize.”

The new language, added to the 33rd page of the 34-page electric scooter regulation bill, would broaden the vulnerable user definition to include electric scooter riders, and would broaden the law’s coverage to include those who suffer “substantial bodily harm” after being hit by a vehicle.

That means that drivers who crash into a pedestrian, cyclist, wheelchair user, or highway worker can be charged under the vulnerable user law not only if they nearly kill the victim, but also if they cause a broken arm or broken leg, or some other “temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ.”

“Do you think this will help in the application of the original vulnerable users bill,=?” Lemar asked Bike Walk CT Executive Director Susan Smith, one of the original promoters of the 2014 bill who had come up to Hartford on Wednesday to testify on another pedestrian-safety matter.

“Yes, absolutely,” Smith said.

Lemar asked the same question of New Haven deputy transit chief Michael Pinto (who leaves this post next week to begin his new job as the chief operating officer for New Haven Public Schools).

Pinto had come up to Hartford to testify in support of three transportation bills, including the new scooter regulations, though in his original testimony he hadn’t mentioned the vulnerable user provision tucked away at the end of the scooter bill.

“I don’t know if you’ve had experience with how the vulnerable users law has been utilized in New Haven,” Lemar said in support of the new, broader definition of bodily harm, “where we’re seeing people hit in crosswalks, but that original definition just didn’t apply. We want to change that to ensure our folks are protected who are crossing the streets and getting hit by cars.”

“We would fully welcome that,” Pinto said about the proposed change.

The only modest pushback to the pedestrian safety law came from Stamford and Darien State Sen. Carlo Leone, the committee’s Senate chair. (The legislature has two chambers, but only one set of committees, composed of members of both the Senate and House of Representatives.)

Leone raised his concerns about pedestrians bearing some culpability for car crashes in some instances during the testimony of Hartford pedestrian advocate Gannon Long.

Long testified to the committee in support of both the vulnerable user change as well as H.B. 7203, another proposed bill championed by Lemar, which would require motorists to grant the right-of-way to pedestrians who “affirmatively indicate their intention to cross the road in a crosswalk.”

Leone conceded that the layout of many American towns and cities privileges cars over pedestrians, and that state legislators need to be more aware of the dangers that non-drivers face when they have to share a road with a hurtling piece of motorized metal.

“But I don’t think any driver wants to hit a pedestrian,” he said. He added that pedestrians often walk into the middle of the road without paying attention to passing traffic, and needlessly endanger themselves and drivers. “I think we have to do education on both sides of the issue.”

Long disagreed. Pedestrians should have the right to walk leisurely and even a bit absentmindedly through their neighborhoods without having to worry about getting crushed by a car, she said. Plus, she said, when a pedestrian bumps into a car, no one gets hurt. But when a car bumps into a pedestrian, that pedestrian might die.

A Lower Speed Limit

The third pedestrian safety measure that Lemar helped champion at Wednesday’s Transportation Committee hearing was H.B. 6590, a proposed law introduced by Hartford State Rep. Julio Concepcion. It would allow municipal traffic authorities to reduce local speed limits by 15 miles per hour below the state’s 35 mile-per-hour statewide minimum.

That would mean that New Haven, where most local speed limits are currently set at 25 miles per hour, a citywide speed limit that predates the statewide minimum, could drop to as low as 20 miles per hour (or 15 less than the state minimum of 35).

“Of the top 10 cities in New England,” Pinto said in support of the bill, New Haven has “the highest percentage of walkers and pedestrians. We know from studies that reducing speed limits reduce pedestrian fatalities.” And if and when a pedestrian is hit by a car, Pinto said, the resulting injury will be much less severe the slower the speed of the vehicle.

Wethersfield State Rep. Russell Morin said he is concerned that allowing cities to drop their speed limits to 20 miles per hour could result in even slower speed limits in the future, with cars crawling through city streets at impractically slow speeds.

“Doesn’t this lead us to a slippery slope?” he asked.

Pinto disagreed. “We’re not trying to create gridlock,” he said. Instead, “We’re trying to balance increased safety and a road system that actually work.”

Lemar clarified that the new law would not allow cities to drop local speed limits as low as they want. Per the legislation, the lowest a speed limit could go would be 20 miles per hour.

 

Furthermore, he said, cities could only change local speed limits after the relevant local traffic authority holds a public hearing regarding the proposed speed limit changes.

“We know that 35 is not a safe speed” on many city streets, Lemar said after the hearing. This law, if passed, would empower local transit authorities who know their cities much better than a state regulatory agency does to set more appropriate limits to reduce pedestrian fatalities and minimize pedestrian injuries resulting from car crashes.

After Wednesday’s public hearing, the proposed laws stay with the committee for further revisions and internal discussions. Lemar said that the committee has until March 25 to vote the bills out of committee and pass them along to the full assembly for that body to consider voting them into law.

The 2019 Agenda

Bill #StatusSummarySponsors
SB 431In CommitteeTo reform the property tax system.Martin Looney
SB 788In CommitteeTo create more revenue options for municipalities with a large percentage of properties that are exempt from property tax.Martin Looney, Juan Candelaria, Roland Lemar, Toni Walker, Robyn Porter, Al Paolillo, Michael DiMassa
SB 475In CommitteeTo increase municipal revenue by raising the sales tax.Martin Looney
SB 454In CommitteeTo create a more efficient educational system by consolidating small school districts.Martin Looney
SB 27In CommitteeTo reduce prescription drug prices under the Medicaid program.Martin Looney
SB 30In CommitteeTo prohibit copayment accumulator programs.Martin Looney
SB 34In CommitteeTo prohibit the delivery, issuance for delivery or renewal of short-term health insurance policies in this state that do not provide coverage for essential health benefits.Martin Looney
SB 48In CommitteeTo require manufacturers of brand name prescription drugs to provide samples of such drugs to manufacturers of generic prescription drugs.Martin Looney
SB 32In CommitteeTo establish a public health insurance option.Martin Looney
SB 1Committee ApprovedTo create a paid family and medical leave program.Martin Looney, Gary Winfield
SB 2Committee ApprovedTo establish a minimum wage of fifteen dollars per hour in the state.Martin Looney, Gary Winfield
SB 64Committee ApprovedTo prohibit an employer from coercing employees into attending or participating in meetings sponsored by the employer concerning the employer's views on political or religious mattersMartin Looney
SB 496In CommitteeTo provide for the legalization, taxation and regulation of the retail sale, personal growth and recreational use of cannabis by individuals twenty-one years of age or older.Martin Looney, Gary Winfield
SB 25In CommitteeTo restore the electoral privileges of convicted felons who are on parole.Martin Looney
HB 6073In CommitteeTo allow a housing authority to expand its area of operation to include high and very high opportunity census tracts within a thirty-mile radius.Roland Lemar
HB 5273In CommitteeTo establish as of right multifamily housing zones within one-half mile of all fixed route transit stops.Roland Lemar
HB 5722In CommitteeTo establish a public health insurance option.Roland Lemar, Pat Dillon, Josh Elliott
HB 5595In CommitteeTo authorize and regulate the sale and adult use of marijuana in this state.Juan Candelaria, Roland Lemar, Toni Walker, Robyn Porter, Pat Dillon, Josh Elliott
HB 6705In CommitteeTo prohibit the Department of Correction from using solitary confinement in its facilities.Gary Winfield, Juan Candelaria, Roland Lemar, Toni Walker, Robyn Porter, Josh Elliott
HB 6715In CommitteeTo eliminate cash bail.Robyn Porter, Josh Elliott
HB 7203In CommitteeTo promote the safety of pedestrians by requiring motorists to grant the right-of-way to pedestrians who affirmatively indicate their intention to cross the road in a crosswalk.Cristin McCarthy Vahey
HB 6590In CommitteeTo allow local traffic authorities to establish lower speed limits on streets under their jurisdiction by holding a public hearing regarding such speed limits and providing notification of such speed limits to the Office of the State Traffic Administration.Julio Concepcion
HB 7141In CommitteeTo define and regulate the use of electric foot scooters.Roland Lemar
HB 7205 In CommitteeTo require a percentage of the cars, light duty trucks and buses purchased or leased by the state be zero-emission vehicles or zero-emission buses, establish a Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program and fund such program.Roland Lemar
SB 969Committee ApprovedTo provide basic labor standards for transportation network company drivers.Matt Lesser, Peter Tercyak

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posted by: Noteworthy on February 28, 2019  1:41pm

Lemar is always trying to increase the misery of living in CT and his district in particular. Where is the language that fines pedestrians, scooters who act irresponsibly. It’s always the evil driver.

posted by: robn on February 28, 2019  2:09pm

“Pedestrians should have to walk leisurely and even a bit absentmindedly”
Really? Pretty stupid notion to advocate building a law around.

[Reporter’s note: I realize I left out two key words from my summary of her statement. She said that pedestrians should have “the right” to walk leisurely and even a bit absentmindedly… Not sure if that changes your assessment, but wanted to let you know about the words I had left out!]

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 28, 2019  2:28pm

Noteworthy, there are plenty of irresponsible pedestrians and scooter riders. But as far as I know, none of them have killed or seriously injured drivers.

posted by: LookOut on February 28, 2019  2:35pm

I agree with Noteworthy…“Lemar is always trying to increase the misery of living in CT and his district in particular.”  rather than play with wording like this, produce some enforcement overall.  How about red light cameras to stop New Haven from being so dangerous for pedestrians and drivers?  And, how about addressing our bloated government?  There is no question that we could reduce headcount by 25% with no reduction in quality of service.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 28, 2019  2:38pm

No - but they create havoc, unsafe driving conditions and put themselves in harm’s way by violating walk signals, going against the light, walking into traffic

posted by: jim1 on February 28, 2019  3:33pm

There is a nice new sign that posts your speed on Olive St. But by the time you see your speed, your in the intersection of Olive & Grand.  That sign should be put on the other side {facing Olive St.}!!  And add a similar sign before Court St. {facing State St}.

posted by: HewNaven on February 28, 2019  5:30pm

Not very popular, but y’know what actually works….. SPEED HUMPS.

I tried to cut through Fair Haven the other day, it took twice as long as I imagined because of speed humps all over Clinton and Front Street. I say good job, whoever is responsible for that. It definitely worked at slowing me down!! After I was through that, I sped the rest of the way, which tells me we should think about a NETWORK of traffic calming instead of the piecemeal work that is being done.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 28, 2019  5:36pm

New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar is taking a second swing at protecting “vulnerable users” — using newfound influence to try to fix flaws that prevented a previous law he authored from punishing reckless drivers who crash into pedestrians or cyclists.

How about going after Distracted pedestrians who are using cell phones or listening to music and texting.In fact I read research conducted by a professor from Polytechnic Institute of New York University found out that 48 percent of cell phone users stepped into a crosswalk while a vehicle is approaching.Distractions such as cell phone and MP3 player use while walking decrease the focus of a pedestrian resulting in inattention to his or her surroundings. When a pedestrian is preoccupied with texting or talking with someone through a cell phone, it may isolate him or her from the sounds of the surroundings like train whistle, ambulance siren, or car horn. Pedestrian deaths have been increasing as the use of cell phones rises. The Governors Highway Safety Association, or GHSA, says pedestrian deaths in the United States increased 25 percent between 2010 and 2015. That trend continued in 2016 with the number of pedestrian deaths rising to almost 6000, 11% higher than in 2015.

US City Bans Texting while Walking
The city of Honolulu, Hawaii wants everyone to learn that lesson.

Texting while crossing the street will soon be banned in the city. Beginning on October 24, you could be fined from $15 to $99 if you step into a Honolulu street while looking at your phone.

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/honolulu-walking-texting/3976027.html

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 28, 2019  5:40pm

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 28, 2019 1:28pm
Noteworthy, there are plenty of irresponsible pedestrians and scooter riders. But as far as I know, none of them have killed or seriously injured drivers.

Woman Hit by a Bicyclist in Central Park Dies
A woman whom a cyclist struck in Central Park last week died Sunday night, her family said on Monday

The woman, Jill Tarlov, 58, was walking across West Drive near West 63rd Street in the park on Thursday afternoon when she was hit by a cyclist and struck her head on the road. She had been in critical condition at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.Her husband, Mike Wittman, an executive for CBS Television Stations, announced her death in a statement.

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/nyregion/woman-dies-after-being-struck-by-central-park-cyclist.html

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 28, 2019  5:59pm

I like this.

We the Drivers, Pedestrians and Cyclists — A new Constitution for transportation safety

We the Users of the Streets of the City of New York — the Drivers, the Pedestrians, the Cyclists — in order to form a more perfect Understanding, establish Rules, insure roadway Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the reduction of transportational Warfare, and secure the Blessings of Safety to ourselves and our fellow Users, do ordain and establish this Constitution.

Article I

Section 1

Drivers shall be defined as the operators of any motorized Vehicles that utilize the main thoroughfares and side streets.

Section 2

Drivers must yield to Cyclists and Pedestrians in crosswalks and other times when Cyclist and Pedestrians have the right of way as defined by common Law. Drivers may not speed up to position themselves ahead of Cyclists and Pedestrians who are about to enter a crosswalk or assert their right of way.

Article II

Section 1

Cyclists shall be defined as operators of human-powered Vehicles, whether of one, two, three or more Wheels.

Section 2

Cyclists shall purchase Insurance, obtain a license under rules ordained by the several States, and submit themselves for recertification at a period of 10 years to ensure that they can still safely operate their Vehicles.No Cyclist shall listen to amplified music through one or more earpieces at any time while the Vehicle is in motion.Cyclists must yield to Pedestrians at all times. This does not mean a Cyclist can swerve around a fellow Cyclist who has slowed to allow a Pedestrian to walk safely. No Cyclist shall ignore basic traffic rules

Here is the rest.

https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/users-streets-city-new-york-article-1.2839116

posted by: yim-a on February 28, 2019  9:57pm

If enforcement of the 35 mph sped limits in New Haven is near non existent, why bother lowering to 20 mph?

posted by: 1644 on February 28, 2019  10:21pm

H.B. 7203, another proposed bill championed by Lemar, which would require motorists to grant the right-of-way to pedestrians who “affirmatively indicate their intention to cross the road in a crosswalk.”

Pedestrians already have right of way in crosswalks, and cars need to stop when they stop off the curb.

https://search.cga.state.ct.us/r/statute/dtsearch.asp?cmd=getdoc&DocId=54530&Index=I:zindexsurs&HitCount=1&hits=48+&hc=61&req=crosswalk&Item=13

posted by: robn on February 28, 2019  11:58pm

1644

In 1994 the Leg passed a law stating something to the effect that a pedestrian near a curb was enough to signal an intention to cross. in 2007 the Leg changed it to “stepping off the curb”; LeMar wants to change it back.

Check out CGS Sec. 14-300 for explicit wording in crosswalks and pedestrian accountability in general.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on March 1, 2019  8:11am

Lookout, Roland has tried repeatedly to get red light camera legislation adopted. He’s been thwarted by an unusual coalition of Republicans (concerned that municipalities would use the system solely to raise money), civil libertarians (concerned about privacy), and black and Hispanic legislators (concerned that POC would be targeted).

HewNaven, speed humps can be effective. But they often simply relocate the problem as speeders change their routes to avoid them. And their immediate neighbors routinely complain about the resulting noise. Definitely part of the solution, but not a panacea.

Jim1, the sign was placed there in response to a pedestrian fatality (an elderly woman) on Olive Street. Decisions about placing such signs are not solely the result of traffic engineering.

Three-fifths, you don’t read carefully. I said pedestrians and scooter riders, not cyclists.

posted by: robn on March 1, 2019  8:30am

There is a bit of a “boy who cried wolf” problem with any law about pedestrian intention ( to cross.) Daily I see people waiting in the curb cut or sometimes even in the street for a bus (no intention to cross but it appears as such.) Drivers get frustrated with this behavior and trust what appears to be intention less and less.

posted by: George Polk on March 1, 2019  9:38am

When did “The Right” become a cliche’ ? I suppose people have many rights that might actually cause them pain or injury, it’s just I don’t want to have to pay for their thrill seeking and bad decisions. From a young age I was told to always be alert and careful crossing a street. Yes drivers disobey traffic regulations but a bit of alertness like if you see a car or bike that is headed for a cross walk at a normal speed obvioulsy they will not be stopping, stay on the sidewalk, when crossing keep looking up and down the street. Think it being no difference then when walking through a sketchy area.

posted by: robn on March 1, 2019  9:58am

GP,

The law is pretty clear that pedestrians have to be reasonably responsible for their own well being. CT general Statutes, Sec. 14-300c. says this….

(a) No pedestrian shall walk along and upon a roadway where a sidewalk adjacent to such roadway is provided and the use thereof is practicable. Where a sidewalk is not provided adjacent to a roadway each pedestrian walking along and upon such roadway shall walk only on the shoulder thereof and as far as practicable from the edge of such roadway. Where neither a sidewalk nor a shoulder adjacent to a roadway is provided each pedestrian walking along and upon such roadway shall walk as near as practicable to an outside edge of such roadway and if such roadway carries motor vehicle traffic traveling in opposite directions each pedestrian walking along and upon such roadway shall walk only upon the left side of such roadway.

(b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb, sidewalk, crosswalk or any other place of safety adjacent to or upon a roadway and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close to such pedestrian as to constitute an immediate hazard to such pedestrian. No pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol or any drug to a degree which renders himself a hazard shall walk or stand upon any part of a roadway.

posted by: ctddw on March 1, 2019  7:52pm

More archaic rules and regulations. Why don’t we just outlaw cars and go back to horse and buggy then we could have dirt roads and save on paving cost.  I would expect pedestrians to have more sense when crossing roads than a gaggle of geese. Just more reason to get out of this backward city/state.

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 4, 2019  1:58pm

Can someone tell me whether the current rule is that a driver of a car must only stop once a pedestrian is in the road? Is the plan to change that to require a driver to stop for someone on a curb waiting to cross?

posted by: HewNaven on March 5, 2019  3:40pm

PK,

Here’s my understanding: That, drivers were required to yield to pedestrians waiting to cross until about 2003. Then, the law changed so that drivers must only yield to those who have already entered the crosswalk. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I know this is the place to do it…