By Laura Mason | UConn Journalism
Oct. 30, 2022
STORRS, Conn. — It was the end of August 2022 and cars were whipping by Lisa’s Chocolates and Gifts on Route 195 in Mansfield again.
Following renovations at Mansfield Elementary School and the subsequent removal of a traffic island, the widened road now allowed cars to accelerate into the center of Mansfield with less regard for speed limits.
“It’s like an express way out here!” an employee at Lisa’s Chocolates and Gifts said during a phone interview, “I’ve almost been run off the road three times” within the past month.
While the road renovations heightened the problem, she explained that speeding on all main roads in Mansfield was a major issue, sarcastically saying, “well, nobody’s been run over recently” when asked if roads were safe for pedestrians.
In response, Mansfield Traffic Authority unanimously voted to request Route 195’s speed limit be lowered to 30 mph where it intersects Route 89 and Browns Road; just 500 feet from Lisa’s Chocolates and Gifts.
Their decision, made without investigation during a recent special meeting, grew out of a complaint from two local residents about pedestrian safety and comes as the number of pedestrian-vehicle accidents continues to steadily rise in Connecticut.
Currently, Browns Road and Route 89 both have 30 mph speed limits, while Route 195 has a 40 mph speed limit. However, local traffic cameras show that speeds vary between 44 mph and 50 mph in the area.
Since Route 195 is a state highway, the traffic authority’s request was sent to the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA) to be processed and considered.
While this particular intersection has experienced relatively few crashes, Mansfield has seen 116 total intersection crashes since August 2021, including a fatal pedestrian accident in November of the same year, according to the Connecticut Crash Data Repository.
Only one week before the traffic authority’s decision, a Mansfield pedestrian and state trooper were severely injured after they were struck by an intoxicated driver at the intersection of Route 44 and Stafford Road, according to NBC Connecticut.
This accident; about 7 miles from the intersection of Route 89, Route 195, and Browns Road; is 1 of 470 vehicle accidents in Mansfield over the last year. This number represents a 44.6% increase in accidents from the year prior, according to the Connecticut Crash Data Repository.
This pattern echoes across the country. Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the number of pedestrian deaths each year has increased by more than 2,400 since 2009.
However, while Mansfield’s decision to lower Route 195’s speed limit could minimally improve intersection conditions, their decision conflicts with the state’s recommendations for pedestrian safety.
In 2019, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) released the Pedestrian Safety Guide; a document designed to educate towns on data-supported strategies to reduce pedestrian deaths.
The guide, which highlighted education, enforcement, and engineering strategies, stated that all methods vary in effectiveness and often must be tailored to certain situations, but education programs were the most effective for long-term solutions.
Specifically, the CTDOT reported that education programs targeted toward pedestrians, rather than drivers, were most effective in saving lives.
A study by the CTDOT found that, while driver rights are often known, 78.6% of citizens are unaware of their rights as pedestrians and have misused crosswalks or pedestrian signals, increasing the chance of pedestrian-vehicle accidents.
By utilizing education programs, the department saw as much as a 17% improvement in attitudes toward road safety by residents age 12 to 25; the group most at risk for pedestrian-vehicle accidents.
When applied to a larger scale, results were similarly optimistic with pedestrian injuries reduced by 36% in Columbus, Ohio after implementing an education program, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Alternatively, when lowering speed limits, results were only significant when dropped to 20 mph or below. In addition, the FHWA found that lowering speed limits only increased speed violations, rather than changing driver patterns.
Similarly, Mansfield Public Works admitted that, even if the request to lower Route 195’s speed limit was approved, it would likely cause minimal change to local road safety. Rather, lowering speeds could increase the chance of accidents by disrupting the natural flow of traffic.
When asked why the traffic authority still chose to request the speed limit lowered, as opposed to other possible solutions, Mansfield Town Garage Operations Manager Brian LaVoie explained that the town had little control over state highways, but wanted residents’ opinions to be heard.
“We are the voice of the residents,” he said during a phone interview, when residents feel unsafe on their roads, “we do not ignore citizens.”
LaVoie, the member to initially call for the request to be sent, highlighted the need for government bodies to listen to residents, stating that he was “always the first to make a motion” when a resident brought up a safety concern, despite admitting that the request likely will not be approved.
In response, CT Transportation Safety Research Center Director Eric Jackson called the decision, “a very low-cost countermeasure,” and stated that “changing a [speed limit] sign has no real impact on vehicle speeds” unless enforced.
“In most circumstances it comes down to money, time, and maintenance.” Jackson said, explaining that towns utilize this method to reduce costs and satisfy residents.
Furthermore, the approach is not uncommon. Several Connecticut towns have followed similar techniques; implementing engineering or enforcement strategies rather than utilizing education programs to protect pedestrians.
Each town has seen varied results. Enfield, a town which primarily utilizes enforcement, has seen a consistently high number of accidents and experienced pedestrian deaths as recently as March 2022 when a 14-year-old high school student was struck by a distracted driver, according to the Journal Inquirer.
Alternatively, Woodbury, which focuses on engineering solutions, has seen a 28.2% decrease with only 334 accidents between 2020 and 2022 compared to 465 accidents between 2012 and 2014, according the Connecticut Crash Data Repository.
Ultimately, while effective strategies have been proposed to reduce pedestrian deaths, many Connecticut towns have neglected these recommendations. For these towns, safety precautions remain a significant concern yet, whether left outside of their control or simply not prioritized, alternative methods were implemented.
Laura Mason is a UConn Journalism major who reported this story for the Fall 2022 course, Public Affairs Reporting.
TOP IMAGE: Route 195 in Storrs, Connecticut. (Photo by Gail MacDonald)