Driving, Running, Talking About Slowing Down

Tuesday’s accident — a Staples cross country runner was struck by a minivan driver on Long Lots Road — has caused quite a stir.

Drivers have to slow down! some Westporters say.

Joggers and bikers have to share the road! others counter.

Meanwhile, alert “06880” reader Kim Lake calls the accident “truly unsettling.”

But, she adds, “even more unsettling were the comments on WestportNow about kids and their attitudes about sharing the road. Wow!

In Westport, runners often take to the roads.

“I’m appalled at the absolute absence of empathy on the part of some people in our community sometimes, at their sense of righteousness when all the facts are not even known.”

(From all indications the Staples runner was not at fault. Coaches and runners followed all proper procedures.)

For a long time, Kim has wanted more legal, clearly defined bike lanes in town. When Diane Farrell’s administration held their public hearings on her version of a Downtown Plan, Kim spoke about bike lanes and walking paths. “I was disappointed that all my comments fell on deaf ears,” she says.

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, she was impressed that a company named Spotcycle has successfully set up a system where people can, for a small fee, easily use bikes to get themselves anywhere. They pick up a bike at one station and and drop it off at their destination.

As soon as she saw how well it works, she thought: “If only in Westport…”

A couple years ago, when Kim chaired the Green Task Force, she spoke to a town employee about bike lanes. Though an avid biker himself, he was distraught.

“He would love to provide bike lanes throughout town,” she notes. “Stringent federal laws, however, prevent taking action (something about all streets having to be widened). Can you imagine the discussions that proposal would generate?”

The ideal — bicyclists in single file, all with helmets — even without a bike lane.

Kim continues: “In light of this recent incident, and especially in light of the insensitive comments, I think we should have a Town Meeting, with politicians and the Police Department, about how we drive in this town.

“Between texting, cellphones and the rush to get somewhere (wherever it is) FAST, it’s time we stop and reflect about civility and safety on the roads.”

Laws and tickets are not the only way to get people to slow down and pay attention, Kim says.

“Community consciousness can have a tremendous impact. I hope that out of this sad incident, something good will happen.”

63 responses to “Driving, Running, Talking About Slowing Down

  1. I really like what they have done in Philly by highlighting the bike routes with green paint. It seems to more clearly delineate the areas for driving and for non-motorized traffic. It also would serve as a visual reminder to motorists that they are in a high volume running area. I wonder if we could take a look at some of the more commonly used running routes and carve out some green paint space?

  2. Couldn’t help but notice the heavy handed Federal regulation. . .

  3. Melissa Ceriale

    I”m with Kim. Westport is no longer The Country. This is a bedroom community with a young resident population. There should be sidewalks and bike paths all through this town. Kids should be able to walk and ride their bikes to school. I vote for Imminent Domain . . . install sidewalks everywhere possible and, while we are at it, get the power lines underground. Can we also expect zero tolerance on speeding and stop signs?? Or is that asking too much of our police force? If they really need backup help for an expired registration tag, my guess is that they might have time to issue a few tickets around here.

    • It is MY RIGHT-OF-WAY not yours.

      In fairness to the police, they are well aware of the problems at 4-way stops, misaligned intersections, speeding, etc. Unfortunately, drivers usually behave when the police are present. There are few places for the police to safely hide to catch the scofflaws. Also consider that whenever the police are staking out one spot they are not patrolling elsewhere.

      This is not about the police. This is about people who believe their interests come before those of every other citizen.

      • Oh please! The police are just as bad at driving while on cell phones, speeding, rolling through stop signs, etc., etc., etc. Police certainly aren’t modeling the right behavior especially against general motto of “obey the law”… seemingly doesn’t apply to them. Regardless, they should enforce ALL traffic laws with ZERO TOLERANCE. Doesn’t require finding a place to “hide” to catch people! Am I the only one who drives around town or walking downtown and sees numerous moving violations??!! Seems pretty easy to identify moving infractions and stopping violators and ticketing them!! But park for five minutes too long somewhere and surely you’ll get a ticket. Only wish the same amount of time would go into enforcement of moving violations as for parking violations. Have to wonder if the issue is moving infractions/tickets and corresponding “revenue” go to the State versus parking which the town gets?

        Agreed that it’s about individuals and responsible behavior and accountability for actions, but the Police need to start enforcing the laws which will maybe start to get the violators attention!!!!

        • It is MY RIGHT-OF-WAY not yours.

          I am not going to argue about whether or not the police could do a better job. More/better enforcement would be great. The undeniable truth is that none of us have a 24/7 police police escort. Even though I am driving carefully, safely, and within the law if I see a police car I check my speedometer. Doesn’t every one? We all see the offending drivers, but I doubt that much of that behavior goes on in front of the police.

          Westporters need to change their driving habits. But then again I have been run down on Easton Rd by people in a hurry to get to Fairfield when the Merritt is slow/stopped.

          Maybe we need to all be deputized and carry big guns. Zero tolerance and summary execution will clean up the roads and reduce the population.

      • The police aren’t allowed to “Hide” to catch the scofflaws.

        They have to be in plain sight…otherwise they would need a warrant.

        • Said it “DOESN’T” require a place to hide for the police to do their job… it is so obvious and visible in everyday situations. Tickets and drivers license demerit points should be issued/zero tolence PLEASE!!!

        • It is MY RIGHT-OF-WAY not yours.

          When the police are in the unmarked muscle cars tucked off to the side of the Post Road on the Southport end of town are they doing so with a warrant? They may not be 100% “hidden”, but they are certainly not in plain sight of the oncoming driver. Would you could clarify your statement? Are warrants issued for unmarked cars and plainclothes detectives? What are you talking about?

          My original point is simple: if there is a police car on the road or clearly on the side of the road most of the outrageous behavior is kept in check. Also, no matter how many times I see people pulled over for speeding in that area there are still drivers speeding by me when the police are not present. Agreed, the police should enforce the laws, but ultimately our “civil” society is entirely dependent upon the behavior of the civilians.

    • David J Loffredo

      Sidewalks? Bike Lanes? Bury the Power Lines? I think you just proposed $100M worth of infrastructure in a town that struggles to find extra pennies to keep the bus service active.

      Westport may no longer be “the country” but these are the same streets from 50 years ago and the population is essentially unchanged. What has changed is that people now exercise (although it’s hard to tell by the chubbiness on Compo Beach) and the “cars” have doubled in size.

      In reality there are only a small handful of streets wide enough for bike lanes and they already have them (Compo South, Greens Farms Road). There are also only a few areas that really need sidewalks (downtown, Saugatuck, along the Post Road) and they’re there too.

      As an avid runner I feel like I take my life in my own hands every time I venture down roads like Sturges Highway that are curvy and narrow and have blind turns. I run against traffic with bright colors and hope for the best.

      There’s not a government solution to this, people just need to use a little common sense and exercise some decorum. Westport will never be a “bike friendly town” and there’s zero reason for a bike share program. If that’s what you’re looking for, move to Brooklyn.

      • Actually, the population has changed substantially from 50 years ago (from 20,995 in 1960 to 26,391 in 2010- an increase of about 25%, I believe) – I would guess the number of cars in Westport is up substantially more than that over the same time….And given the wood paneled beauty I used to ride around in, I am not sure the cars were much smaller then either. People size- certainly is up, as you point out-Hence the need to create safer walking/biking/cycling space.

      • The population has increased about 30% over the last 50 years.

        • David J. Loffredo

          And the population of the earth has more than doubled in 50 years from 3.0402B in 1960 to 6.9737B in 2012 so I guess 25% or even 30% is pretty good.

  4. Kerstin Warner

    I would definitely attend a town meeting to improve conditions for cyclists and pedestrians in our town. Count me in!

    • This discussion makes me wonder what’s up with the proposed bike and hike trail along the Merritt Parkway. At the meeting held in Westport last spring, I recall the representatives saying the results of their local discussions would be part of a study unveiled this fall. Seems to me a dedicated biking and hiking trail along the south side of the Merritt, with convenient on/off access at various points through town, would be safe and scenic alternative to our congested roads. Sure, there is the public funding issue to grapple with, as well as miles and miles of NIMBYs to deal with. But in terms of improving our “quality of life” in various ways, should this project be part of the solution to our congested roadways? Here’s a link to the ct gov web page about it: http://www.ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?a=4185&Q=491882&PM=1

  5. Kim brings up some excellent points here… worth pursuing a community discussion and action plan to address this ongoing issue. As someone who walks my dogs daily down Long Lots Road, I see many offenders behind the wheel, and once was nearly hit by a woman on her cell phone, who rolled through a stop sign as I was crossing in the pedestrian walkway. Please, people, hang up and drive!

  6. Folks on cell phones that think they are driving are not multi-tasking – they are multi-threatening: for walkers, runners, bikers and other drivers. In other words – everybody!!!

  7. Good Ahead……..Have your “Community Discussion”.

    It will be a feel good measure and everyone will pat themselves on the back while the drivers out their on the roads will continue to live their hurried lives in SW CT and will continue on with their distracted driving.

    That is the reality of the situation.

  8. Babette d'Yveine

    At one time, we did have bike lanes with signs indicating them. A previous administration decided they weren’t necessary and removed the signs. I could never understand why.

  9. Oh please! The police are just as bad at driving while on cell phones, speeding, rolling through stop signs, etc., etc., etc. Police certainly aren’t modeling the right behavior especially against general motto of “obey the law”… seemingly doesn’t apply to them. Regardless, they should enforce ALL traffic laws with ZERO TOLERANCE. Doesn’t require finding a place to “hide” to catch people! Am I the only one who drives around town or walking downtown and sees numerous moving violations??!! Seems pretty easy to identify moving infractions and stopping violators and ticketing them!! But park for five minutes too long somewhere and surely you’ll get a ticket. Only wish the same amount of time would go into enforcement of moving violations as for parking violations. Have to wonder if the issue is moving infractions/tickets and corresponding “revenue” go to the State versus parking which the town gets?

    Agreed that it’s about individuals and responsible behavior and accountability for actions, but the Police need to start enforcing the laws which will maybe start to get the violators attention!!!!

  10. A westport parent

    I agree- I live on a very busy street -with many kids who also live on the street. The kids can’t even walk to each others’ houses, without parent supervision because there are no side-walks and cars speed. My kids could also walk to school, but don’t — again because there are no side-walks and cars driving to the school wizz by– making it quite dangerous to be a pedestrian. This town needs side-walks, bike paths– Its a way to build community, save on gas, go green. Keep everyone– both drivers and walkers/joggers safe!!!

    • Who is going to maintain and shovel all of the snow off of all of these new sidewalks you propose?

      • In the town where I grew up (and walked- on sidewalks -to school every day) – homeowners were required to remove the snow from the sidewalk in front of their home within 48 hours after a snowfall. I believe they were also responsible for maintenance as well.

        • I have a neighbor who is handicapped. How will he clean the sidewalk? Hire someone? So you favor a tax on the handicapped. Well done.

  11. How about a few “baby steps?” Bikers are forced out of bike lanes by all the road rubbish (pebbles and twigs) and also overhanging bushes. This is a TOWN RESPONSIBILITY. Hillspoint Road is a great example of dirty bike lanes and overhanging bushes and sea grass.
    There are also streets that are so narrow and curvy that no passing should be permitted.
    Just a start…

    • Sidewalk Maintenance Needed!

      Yes, thanks for bringing this up. The road rubbish is a huge problem. The crumbling sidewalks with chunks of asphalt are a dangerous liability for the town. And the overgrowth is terrible (especially on the area of lower Hillspoint near the Mill Pond). If a fire truck and a car squeak past each other on that overgrown area of lower Hillspoint, there is nowhere for a biker or walker to go due to the brush narrowing the roadway and sidewalk. Perhaps one should learn how to pole vault over the 10 foot bushes to save oneself!

      However… I don’t think we have to ask the town to fund everything. Public areas, yes – there could be significant improvement on the maintenance. But on my property, I have to maintain my own landscaping and I plant accordingly (ie I don’t plant bushes that grow 2 feet a month if I don’t want to constantly trim them – like those annoying privet hedges on Hillspoint). It should be illegal to block a public right of way, like a narrow sidewalk on a narrow and busy street. And the $ fines for doing so can help pay for cleaning up the public areas. Don’t park in a crosswalk and don’t plant and block a sidewalk. “Baby steps” to pedestrian safety that we all can follow.

      • Agreed. That lower hillspoint area is a problem – in many areas around town, trees and hedges are overgrown which narrow roadways and create dangerous conditions for cyclists, runners and pedestrians. Perhaps we can take the fines from those homes to create a sidewalk fund.

  12. Elizabeth Daines

    First and foremost, I feel terribly for the young woman, who I hear was an outstanding runner looking forward to a wonderful year in a sport in which she excelled. The coach and team have an excellent safety record and a very impressive track record (literally :).

    I have spoken with so many people who would like to pass on their support and encouragement to her, and to wish for her the best rehab possible.

    I read the comments yesterday, which were hopefully representative of only a few people inside on such a beautiful day. While I understand the fears that people have of injuries, outdoor activities are an essential part of everyone’s life. I moved to Westport due to the recreational opportunities of this lovely coastal town, and have been disconcerted by the lack of safe pathways. Walking/running/biking provide health benefits and sheer enjoyment for the young and old. Everyone loses out if people are afraid to bike or walk around the beach areas or downtown (I have had more than my share of dodging cars while in the middle of a crosswalk in the downtown shopping area, and we all know what it’s like trying to navigate a Post Road crosswalk).

    So what do we do? I am glad to read about the suggestions from Kim and the pending opportunity for discussion and change. Perhaps the young athlete will be able to add a few suggestions to this debate, once she feels better. Her friends and family will also have something to add since they have witnessed the true cost of driver inattention. Whereas an accident like this does not change everyone’s behavior, it CAN make enough people slow down to make a difference. If a few people decrease from 40 mph to even 30 mph driving around town, it can have a ripple effect.

    As for general safety and driving, a very effective program that has been run by school PTAs in other areas is called KEEP KIDS ALIVE DRIVE 25. http://www.keepkidsalivedrive25.org If people have a bumper sticker on their car, it is an excellent deterrent to speeding (if you talk the talk…) as well as a constant reminder to others as to WHY we should all slow down.

  13. Bike lanes are OK, if the road is wide enough. Regardless, bikers and walkers should always exercise care. Bikers should always ride single file with the traffic (and stop at stop signs and lights). Walkers should walk facing oncoming traffic and fold into a single line when vehicles are approaching. Nothing more irritating than gaggle of morning walkers walking three abreast. Gently tap your horn and you get fingers in the air.

  14. Westport Convert

    But why are we not addressing the awful behavior shown by many cyclists around here? The walkers and joggers..OK. I get that. Fine. But the cyclists are terrible offenders of traffic rules.

    Deny it all you want, but it’s true. I don’t need to be driving a car to tell you that. You’ll see it all the time if you’re watching for it. God Forbid you point this out, you’ll get the cyclists screaming at you and giving you the middle finger.

    Talk about “civility.” Yeah right.

    WC

  15. I bike, I run and I drive in this town. So I’ve experienced inattentive drivers who speed and are on their cellphones, arrogant bikers who either ride abreast of one another or just out in the middle of the road, and clueless runners with headphones on and/or no reflective clothing.

    Bike lanes, widened roads and sidewalks are all great ideas but those are all costly and unlikely to happen anytime soon. The onus for solving this problem, or at least mitigating it, is on all of us. Whether we are driving, biking, running or walking – pay attention, and be aware that other people are also using the road. It really is that simple.

    As long as everybody is sharing the same road accidents will happen, but if drivers, bikers, runners and walkers can realize that the road is not theirs alone and exercise caution each time we are out there, that will go a long way towards making everybody safer.

  16. Just six words do it for me…Stop Being Selfish – Obey the Law. But then those words are not for me I’m entitled!

  17. Count me in for the town meeting. I would love to cycle more with my kids but the speeding, reckless drivers put me off.
    Cycling on Bayberry Lane on last Sunday afternoon was nerve-racking: not because of my two young cyclists, but because of the thought of some (not all) drivers using that winding, undulating road as Westport’s own Nürburgring.

    • Count me in too. I would love to see this town become more walkable, bike-able, and run-able. I would vote in favor of a bond issue, or contribute to a private fund. Whatever it takes.

  18. Cyclists are Crazy

    Those complaining about lack of bike lanes —- MOVE TO BROOKLYN, THEN!!!

  19. I agree that this problem needs to be viewed from all angles – drivers, walkers, bikers need to be responsible for themselves and others. I live near Bayberry and I believe it is a TERRIBLE place to do any of these activities because of the curves, but particularly biking. I have watched the highschool kids for years running in packs on that road as well as others and always felt it was an accident waiting to happen. They assume drivers will be paying attention and will see them but as we all know – that is a faulty assumption.
    Absolutely drivers need to slow down but those that are biking, running, etc. need to protect themselves – many a time I have come across a dark clothed runner at dusk and barely saw them…….and I WAS paying attention. PLEASE be responsible for yourself when doing any of those activities – and yes, drivers in this town need to get off the phone and slow down.

    P.S. My understanding is that the driver that hit the girl was not being distracted by a cell phone or necessarily driving fast.

  20. Just wait until all the cars, cyclists and joggers start crashing into parking meters. It will be chaos.

  21. Jim Honeycutt

    I live in Fairfield and work in Westport. I would love to own a bike and ride it around town… perhaps even ride to work weather permitting. But I remember a Westport friend’s grief when her husband was struck in Westport and killed riding a bike during a bike race in town. I am reluctant to ride a bike around here. And yet I love visiting places like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. In these places, you can ride a bicycle because there are bike paths which make it safe to do so.

    Long ago Fairfield and Westports’ roads were laid out and designed knowingly or unknowingly for autos. As we begin to try to move in a more “green” direction, incorporating alternative means of transportation – walking, running and bicycles – is going to take enormous planning and financial commitments for roads to widened to accommodate safely these other modes. Realistically, I wonder if will get done…

  22. If you can create successful bike lanes in NYC without widening the streets why not in Westport?

    • Because the streets in NYC already have multiple lanes. On many avenues they removed a traffic lane and turned it into a protected bike lane. Many one-way side-streets are single lane but wide enough for one car to be stopped/double parked and another to get by – so there is a room for a bike lane (which is often obstructed by cabs/deliveries/etc).

      Personally I think bike lanes are useless unless they are protected. I NEVER rode in the narrow bike lanes on Compo road – if I came across debris/branches/glass I would have to swerve INTO traffic. On the other hand if I rode on the line or slightly street-side, I could swerve into the bike lane to avoid danger. In addition, while I found CT drivers to be pretty good about observing the 3ft rule, I found this was ignored if I was in the bike lane (ie cars would not pull away from the bike lane even if I was only 1 foot inside of it).

      Lastly – the one irony I found about riding in Westport was the mix of good and bad drivers made it much harder. In NYC everyone drives like an ***hole but in a very predictable way, so I know how to respond. In Westport, some people were polite, others were not. Example – waiting at the light going north on Hillspoint to cross Post Rd onto Roseville. Two cars across Post on Roseville are waiting to make a left (ie east) onto Post. Light turns green, I start up the hill.. The first car pulls out, but the driver politely motions for me to continue up and waits to turn. The second car slams on the gas and turns onto post road, cutting off both me and the first car. This is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen – one driver politely tells me to go, and the (somewhat hidden) driver behind disagrees – and I can’t tell you how often this happened!

      • Reminds me of my mother’s driving mantra: assume every other driver on the road is an idiot.
        And I agree fully with your comment about predictability. (And the daily idiocy at the Roseville/Post/Hillspoint junction).

  23. As a teenager, I rode my bike on the service road for the Cross Bronx Expressway when it was newly built. Rode for miles in the Bronx on sidewalks and streets to visit my friends and grandparents. But that was a long time ago. And so it is in Westport, comparing what happened here 20 years ago – a lot less time than when I rode my bike.. As I drove home today up Roseville, I followed a landscaper’s small truck with a wheeled carriage on the back for his lawnmower. It was so wide, there was barely 1 foot between it and the bike path as it rode the yellow divider on the other.

    Our population is more numerous and we live closer together in larger houses; our cars are larger and we drive them faster – life is faster. It would be nice if we could walk and ride bikes more here, but I just don’t see how. Even if we widened the streets – a Hurculean task – the other things I think about would not change. And yes – the streets in NYC are already a lot wider than our 2 lane – dual direction roads.

  24. For a look at how some committed Norwalk residents are getting results on road user safety (i.e. sharing the road), take a look at http://www.livablenorwalk.org/

  25. Jerry Kuyper

    I have driven, walked and biked the roads of Westport for 18 years and find the vast majority of people using the roads to be reasonable. For the unreasonable, I offer this suggestion – please stop considering bicyclists, runners and pedestrians as annoyances or obstacles to maintaining your speed.

    I agree with the sentiment that the key is the driver’s attitude. Consider for a moment that most of the roads in Westport were here decades before the car was invented. I’m sure the wagon drivers, horseback riders, bicyclists and pedestrians were squabbling back then.

    Attitudes can and do change. In the 70’s I bicycled across the Netherlands and England. In Holland my chin would drop when a large truck would come to halt so I could proceed on a bike path. I saw young mothers riding with 2 or 3 young kids side by side on town roads (not plastered to edge of the road). Cars simply waited until it was safe to pass and went around them.

    This summer my wife and I were in Portland, OR for two weeks. Again I was astounded the respect drivers give to bicyclists. Drivers commonly wait and wave you through intersections on side streets. There are bike paths, bike lanes and roads where traffic is slowed by speed humps (or in some cases dead ended as means to control traffic speed).

    The attitude shift I would like to see is that drivers consider pedestrians, runners and bicyclists as people that are:

    – trying to stay healthy (to lower Medicare and insurance costs)

    – reducing their carbon footprint (leaving more gas for you and keeping the air fresher and the climate cooler)

    – providing you with even less traffic than if we were all in cars

    And if all that fails, consider how much time you will lose in court or how many sleepless nights you will have if you hit someone.

  26. Not a good mix

    Bikers, runners, walkers and cars do not mix on narrow winding CT roads. we are just not as adaptable to a safe mix as many communities. I don’t think there is a solution. Why not at least require riders,bikers, and children on their way to school to wear reflective bright green/yellow safety vest. We said “no plastic bags” it happened. We can make this requirement too.

    • Why not just “make this a requirement too” that car drivers OBEY all traffic laws and police enforce/ZERO TOLERANCE??!! Seems pretty simple and obvious!

      • Should bike riders be required to obey all traffic laws?

        • Being a cyclist also… YES! Rules apply to all vehicles including cyclists. Regardless, more potential “harm” from 3,500+ lb cars than 30 lb cyclists

      • Except that bike riders DO NOT obey the traffic laws. They feel they are the exception to the rule, because they’re not in cars. It is absolutely ridiculous.

  27. If you “make them” and they don’t comply (I wouldn’t), then what?

  28. It is my understanding this 15 year old SHS track team member now has two broken legs – Can we just take the lesson from this a be more alert and careful in our driving, share the road and be mindful road are for bikers walkers, runners and cars.

  29. As a driver that almost hit a runner last year….and a wife of an avid road runner….we all need to cooperate to keep the roads safe. I don’t drive over the speed limit, and constantly look out for runners & cyclists.. However, last year, at a stop sign on Lincoln turning Left on to Riverside, I looked right for cars, left for cars, right again for cars, and went to make my left turn. A guy came flying off the side walk to my right at a very fast pace and stopeed himself by putting his hand on my car as I had started to make the left from my stopped position. I never saw him. Scared the heck out of me, and every time my husband goes out running..I’m seriously concerned. It can happen to any one of us………..Defensive driving, defensive cycling, and defensive running. Seems like the only way to me.

    • This is what I don’t get about the “run in the opposite direction as traffic rule” …. Cars just don’t expect runners on that side… When people back out of their driveways, they mostly look for auto traffic from one direction, not running traffic from the other. I know I have scared a few drivers that way. My apologies…but after running on the streets for a while, I tend to feel like running with traffic is safer.

      • I would be cautious before suggesting changing a national protocol. Undoubtably many informed people weighed in before deciding walking and running against traffic is safer. As a bicyclist I wear a rear view mirror and find it very reassuring to know what is headed my way.

  30. I just moved here from Los Angeles, and I am amazed how many drivers are going right through the stop signs, barely slowing down. I see it several times a day. Is everyone really in a hurry they cannot trouble to stop for a few seconds? Please everyone it’s a STOP sign.