Bishops Corner: Blame Bad Road Design, Not the Victim

On the morning of November 29, 2023, a motor vehicle driver struck a pedestrian in the location of 333 North Main Street, near Bishops Corner intersection of West Hartford. Journalist Michael Walsh reported on social media that the pedestrian had non-life threatening injuries, and that the West Hartford Police Department did not plan to release any other details.

One day later, Walsh updated his post: “West Hartford police decided to send out a [news] release, including that they ticketed the pedestrian who was hit by a car for ‘reckless use of the highway by a pedestrian’.” News outlets published this simple version of the story.

While we don’t yet know details about this particular crash, we recognize a familiar pattern. People quickly point fingers at the pedestrian, but we should be looking at our infrastructure more holistically for ways to make our public spaces safer and more accessible to all.

Bishops Corner was created for automobiles – not pedestrians – and that’s the problem. On North Main Street there is an 800 foot (0.15 mile) distance between pedestrian crossings, and 5 lanes of vehicle traffic acting as a wall between the eastern and western quadrants (7 lanes at the pedestrian crossing of North Main Street and Albany Avenue because of the dangerous slip lanes). On the eastern side there are four vehicle exits in that same stretch. The pedestrian sidewalks along North Main Street are narrow and sandwiched between parking lots with no sidewalks and multiple vehicle lanes. Finally, we know from Michael Walsh’s recent map that several drivers have recently hit pedestrians in this section of North Main Street.

With that setup and area design in mind, it is not hard to imagine why people mostly opt to drive from quadrant to quadrant, or if they don’t have access to a car why they might cross mid-block where there is no crosswalk. Recent studies have shown that mid block crossings are, on average, safer than intersection crossings and that crossing with slip lanes is dangerous. 

CTDOT is currently working on a redesign of the Bishops Corner area. Please see our July 2023 letter to the CTDOT Program Manager outlining Bike West Hartford’s recommendations, which includes (in summary, details are contained in the letter):

  1. Designing transportation that matches our desired values by reducing the number of vehicle lanes, extending the road diet, widening sidewalks and adding street trees, and reducing entrances and exits to shopping plazas;
  2. Improving crosswalk safety design;
  3. Improving safety design for bicyclist; and
  4. Improving safety design and shelters for bus riders.

We look forward to an open discussion on the CTDOT Bishops Corner redesign project once the next design is drafted. Because the CTDOT redesign project is limited to the intersection of Albany Avenue and North Main Street, we also urge Town leaders to be proactive in engaging and collaborating with CTDOT to focus on engineering changes to make the Bishops Corner area as a whole safer for all road users.

From the Board of Bike West Hartford