Less Respectability Politics, More Swift and Meaningful Action

This letter was originally sent to West Hartford town officials on January 8, 2024.

Image: All crashes with injuries and fatalities on segments of Route 44 since 2015. This is from UConn’s Connecticut Crash Data Repository. I know that I am sharing no new information.

Unless a vehicle was dropped out of the sky onto the pedestrian who was killed on Saturday night, I do not want to hear excuses about needing to learn the oh-so-special details of the circumstances. 

Please, respect residents and those who use West Hartford’s streets by having the integrity to name the known problem. 

Route 44 is deadly in its design.  

An elderly person trying to cross this four-lane highway does not stand a chance. The speed limit is posted as 40 MPH, but we all know that this is more like the starting speed for most motorists. And why not? They have a long, mostly straight road with lots of width to play with. You have engineered (or maintained the existing design) to allow drivers to travel at high speeds. 

There is one paltry painted crosswalk at Mohegan Drive. It’s barely visible in daylight. To earn the right to cross, you have to press a beg button – a practice that shows little cultural sensitivity for those walking in this area who may refrain from engaging with electronics one day of each week. There are orthodox synagogues close to the intersections of both Mohegan and Trout Brook Drive. Automated pedestrian signals are used in parts of Hartford and elsewhere, and civilization has not collapsed because drivers have been expected to simply wait a few seconds to keep others safe. Copious research does not have to happen to figure out which area we’re talking about; a map already exists. The side benefit: children walking to King Philip Middle School, joggers, parents walking with strollers for fitness, and folks walking to Bishops Corner to do errands are all also kept safer when there’s a reliable crossing system for those walking or rolling in wheelchairs. 

There are too few marked crosswalks on Route 44. The closest one from Mohegan to the west is at Trout Brook, and that’s a six-minute walk. The closest one from Mohegan to the east is at Steele Road, a twelve-minute walk. Failing to provide more of these options shows a failure to understand human behavior. Ask yourself if you would expect someone in a car to travel several minutes out of their way for anything but an emergency detour. I know you wouldn’t, as evidenced by the re-opening of Memorial Road Extension to cars. 

Street lighting in this area is poor. This does no favors for those whose cultural customs involve wearing dark clothing, nor does it do any favors for those whose work culture requires that they wear a dark uniform. I bring this up because in 2020, a 19-year old Hartford resident who was employed at the West Hartford’s McDonald’s in Bishops Corner was killed coming home from work; in that era, the uniform was gray. He died on your Route 44 where there was no sidewalk on one side of the street. The young father was left to die on the side of the road. This horror should have been enough to motivate West Hartford’s decision-makers to start making changes, beginning with those that are low cost like hi-vis pedestrian signs, and continuing to make safety improvements like sidewalk installation and reduction of travel lanes as funding became available. The existing sidewalk on the opposite side of the road was redone, but as far as I can tell, nothing else has changed. 

Waiting on the police to provide a report is not the way. The job of the police is to make decisions about if someone was following a law or not. They are not asked to consider in what ways the road plays a role unless there are weather conditions or something like an oil spill that would impact the surface. They won’t tell you that your road is designed to kill. If I’m wrong and they come out and say that Route 44 is trash, I will buy you each a latte. 

Street lighting is poor on Route 44, as in most places in West Hartford. I know this from the experience of walking to bus stops at night in your town and being stunned at what is deemed acceptable there. I have had to flag down a bus with my phone’s flashlight because of how little street lighting there is – something that needs to be addressed on any road that has bus routes, but I’m especially thinking about Route 44 and Asylum Avenue. I have had to reluctantly opt out of participating in many Jewish community events because with the exception of the synagogues on Farmington Avenue, every single other one in West Hartford is a dangerous walk to the bus stop at night, and often, even during the day. I am not an 80-year old person; I’m in my mid-forties and shut out of community life because I am unwilling to try crossing multi-lane Route 44 after dark. 

There are many advocates in West Hartford who have been steadily bringing these dangers to your attention, and I urge you to take them more seriously. The way to do that is not through lip service but action. They have been telling you what they need. Listen to them. 

West Hartford is not a special place. It follows national trends and does not defy laws of physics. With this in mind, endless studies are not needed to begin making common sense changes. If a motorist was impaired (inebriated/medical condition/exhausted) or distracted, the courts can deal with that. Your job is policy and implementation of that. There’s a reason that serious and fatal crashes happen on certain roads frequently and not on others, and it’s not because drivers are magically sober when they turn onto a narrow, two-lane street.

In August, the CT DOT released its Complete Streets directive. This applies to West Hartford. The MUTCD, which applies to West Hartford, offers design advice. 

A saying from my faith tradition: you are not required to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. To date, I have not seen strong signs that West Hartford has begun the work. 

As an aside, in Hartford, after a driver killed a 20-year old college student on New Britain Avenue as she walked back to campus in a crosswalk with two other pedestrians, our decision-makers had hi-vis yield signs and flex posts added to that intersection in a matter of months. There weren’t endless community meetings and obsessive worry about upsetting motorists. We got the job done over here. I can name many other examples like this of Hartford’s government being responsive in recent years. If you were looking for an example of a municipality taking swift action, you don’t need to look across the nation – just over your town border. 


Kerri Ana Provost 
Hartford resident