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Norwalk Police seek hit and run driver as City hopes to fund study

Connecticut Avenue at Darinor Plaza, where there is a button for pedestrians to push when they want to cross the road.

Norwalk Police say the driver of this vehicle left the scene after hitting a cyclist. (Norwalk Police)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Police are seeking the identity of a driver who they say fled after striking a teenaged bicyclist June 11 on Connecticut Avenue, where it meets Taylor Avenue.

That intersection is a great example of the problems outside Norwalk’s older core, where streets and land were largely developed around the car, Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission Chairman Tanner Thompson said.

“The hit and run was horrifying, and the Bike/Walk Commission is committed to making Norwalk a place where this doesn’t happen,” Thompson said, after watching a video posted on social media by the boy’s mother.

Sarah Williams said her 15-year-old son has recovered well. The video, taken from a nearby building, shows some cars proceeding through the intersection and others turning left onto Connecticut Avenue from North Taylor Avenue. The young victim appears at the top of the video, riding a bicycle into the intersection with the green light. He is struck by a black SUV and pushed to the pavement but gets up fairly quickly. He speaks to the SUV’s driver as other vehicles slowly pass by.

“My son jumped up in the video for his safety but ended up collapsing off camera,” Williams wrote on NextDoor. “Fortunately I was minutes away from this location and got there right away after he called me. I rushed him to the hospital and the police met us there. They told him he should have stayed at the scene of the accident but the mother in me just panicked and went straight to the hospital 1st.”

Norwalk Police say the teen’s bicycle was lodged under the vehicle. The driver reversed the SUV, dislodging it, then left the scene, heading east on Connecticut Avenue.

Stillshot from a video showing a SUV about to hit a cyclist.

The SUV was a Toyota Rav 4 with orange plates, possibly a New York registration, with front end damage and a broken right headlight, police say. The driver is said to be a Black man in his 60s with a gray beard. He was wearing a black hat.

“Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to reach out directly to the investigating officer via email, at [email protected],” Police say in a press release.
You could also call the Norwalk Police tip line at 203-854-3111, submit an anonymous tip through the Norwalk Police website www.norwalkpd.com or text to TIP411 (847411), typing “NORWALKPD” into the subject line and then the message.

Williams said her son has been riding Norwalk streets for two years and this is the first incident she knows of.

“Cyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable users of our streets,” Thompson wrote. “As cars have gotten bigger and streets have gotten wider, pedestrian and cycling casualties have increased across the nation. Since 2009, the number of pedestrian deaths nationwide increased by 53%, while all other traffic fatalities increased by only 2% (source: CT DOT pedestrian safety strategy, page 1). Between 2010 and 2016, annual cyclist deaths increased over 35% (from less than 630 to 852, see source for this and many other stats).”

A data graphic from the UConn Crash Data Repository showing pedestrian accidents, based on Norwalk Police Department-supplied data, according to Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission Chairman Tanner Thompson. (Click to go to the data repository)

He explained that Norwalk has a “denser, older urban core that was laid out before the time of the automobile,” but elsewhere the landscape is designed around cars. Pedestrians attempting to cross the five lanes of traffic on Connecticut Avenue have to press a “beg” button. “There is no dedicated space or signals for people on bikes and the design of Connecticut Avenue encourages motorists to drive much faster than the posted speed limit of 30mph. The whole area is designed to move as many cars as possible, with pedestrians included only as an afterthought and cyclists not at all.”

Like others, Thompson said Norwalk needs a concept called “Complete Streets.” He described that as “streets designed for all street users.”

A data graphic from the UConn Crash Data Repository showing pedestrian accidents, based on Norwalk Police Department-supplied data, according to Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission Chairman Tanner Thompson.

Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr recently called it “Vision Zero,” a “total package for a streetscape that allows motorists and pedestrians to function in a very safe and comfortable environment.” He said Vision Zero is incorporated into the update to the Department of Public Works roadway standards, approved by the Common Council in April.

“A handful of towns in Connecticut have implemented Complete Streets design guidelines but Norwalk is not one of them,” Thompson said Friday. “The City government needs to design, adopt, and start implementing Complete Streets guidelines so that our streets can be safe for all users.”

Norwalk Communications Director Josh Morgan said:

“That accident was terrible and we hope that anyone who has more information will contact the Norwalk Police Department.

“Recently, the Transportation, Mobility, and Parking Department (TMP) submitted an application to fund a Connecticut Ave/Van Buren Ave Corridor Transportation Master Plan under the Connecticut Department of Transportation Corridor Study Program. With this study, the City will be able to develop a comprehensive short-term and long-term transportation and land use plan that is equitable. The Study will not only provide a plan for future land use, but also encompass all modes of transportation decisions that will be made within the corridor. This plan will build on previous plans developed for the corridor and support Complete Streets principles.

“This plan will serve as the blueprint for future infrastructure and design improvements needed in the corridor and as support material for future grant opportunities and capital funding requests. This study will provide the city businesses, residents, and visitors with an efficient, safe, and aesthetically inviting street with the streetscape, sidewalks, bus stops, crosswalks, and other transportation amenities that they require. We are building a Complete Streets design manual that provides equity for all users and builds the framework for a safe, efficient, and equitable transportation network throughout the City.”

‘Drive mindfully’

A data graphic from the UConn Crash Data Repository showing pedestrian accidents, based on Norwalk Police Department-supplied data, according to Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission Chairman Tanner Thompson.

The Bike/Walk Commission is a new body but was preceded by a Bike/Walk Task Force, formed by Mayor Harry Rilling shortly after he was first elected in 2013. Many task force members were appointed to the Commission.

Recently, the Commission formed a Pedestrian Committee. Chairwoman Audrey Cozzarin said:

“Norwalk, like the rest of our region, has a high population of busy people and road congestion is a constant problem. During the pandemic, people have been walking and biking more, and we need all hands on deck to make sure our roads are safe for ‘active transportation’ as well as more highly-functional public transportation.

“If we encourage people to walk and bike, for exercise, to walk dogs, or to get to work and school, everyone who drives really needs to examine how they’re driving. Traffic laws are not in place to annoy motorists. These are laws that exist for the common good of everyone, to keep us all safe.

“The June 11 hit and run of a teenager on a bicycle, as well as the motorcyclist hit on July 4 (both, ironically, on Taylor Avenue), highlight the need for motorists to ‘drive mindfully,’ safely, responsibly. The Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission advocates for timely and meaningful improvements to our roadways, community outreach, and enforcement. But, we can use help from everyone to do their part: Drive safely and follow the law, and always watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

13 comments

Norwalker July 12, 2021 at 7:28 am

There are sections of Rt 1, both Connecticut Avenue and Westport avenue that have no sidewalks at all! How does this happen? Several Cory stress as well. Norwalk is not a pedestrian friendly town.

David Muccigrosso July 12, 2021 at 1:10 pm

“They told him he should have stayed at the scene of the accident but the mother in me just panicked and went straight to the hospital 1st.”

Whichever numbskull cop said that should at least get a reprimand, if not be fired. You don’t flipping wait for people to die in the middle of the street.

Seriously, this is how we train our cops? I’m pretty sure even the letter of the law about fleeing the scene of an accident includes some sort of exception for medical emergencies, and even if it doesn’t, you can be 100% certain that the courts have interpreted those laws to have a medical exception.

I’m not saying our cops have to be lawyers, but come on, these exceptions have GOT to at least be part of “How To Police Traffic Violations 101”.

NPD needs to do better.

David Muccigrosso July 12, 2021 at 1:17 pm

Also, this “Vision Zero” sounds like exactly the sort of policy you adopt when you want to look like you’re doing something well after the fact.

I mean, come on guys, the road’s been built. The buildings on it have been built. Are we going to rebuild them all?

In lieu of having had a sane development pattern that didn’t make our roads a deathtrap in the first place, we should at least focus on avoiding making new deathtraps. Harry’s administration is perfectly happy to take that sweet sweet big developer cash and build yuppie pads every which where in SoNo, but I wonder how much they’ve actually bothered to apply these new standards to those buildings, or even double-checked to see whether those standards could lead to a sustainable Norwalk.

I for one think we can probably do a lot more addition through subtraction. Get zoning and setbacks and all the other frivolous regulations out of the way of homeowners and small developers, and let’s actually set about building a walkable town. Proven things like permanently closing the eastbound lane of Washington, and reducing speed limits. Fix things like the back-side of CTown, before we go spending our money on TIFs for the big boys.

http://www.strongtowns.org is your friend

Peter Franz July 12, 2021 at 5:08 pm

@David Muccigrosso; first, absolutely agree that it’s a bit strange to hear of anyone being reprimanded for going to the hospital. Ms. Williams didn’t panic at all, she absolutely did the right thing. But there’s a good chance we have a case of telegraph as the police may have been voicing a little frustration of an incident where everyone fled the scene. No mention by the way of several cars who just drove past the incident. Nice.

For the rest, I’d strongly disagree with the overall “it’s too late to fix it” tone regarding Norwalk’s roads. The article mentioned Complete Streets, but I’d add this is not just an idea or concept, it’s been a CT State Law for quite a while. And without going into a deep dive into what that all means, I’d suggest the link you posted does indeed encourage towns exactly like Norwalk to review their road safety issues and modify and update them for improved pedestrian, cyclist AND driver’s safety. This CAN and MUST be done.

I’d like to emphasize another part of the article. The Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission was created through the work of many, but made official by Mayor Rilling and the Common Council. It should be noted the prior administration laughed off efforts to improve safety and called cyclists asking for more protection measures “elitists.”

With pedestrian fatalities up 53%, I hope every Norwalker will support the efforts of The Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission to help influence safer roads. The incident covered in this article is of course horrible, but next time could certainly be worse.

Anthony Crafters July 12, 2021 at 7:47 pm

RT. 1 is not a pedestrian or bike friendly route. I’ve personally gotten hit once by a car near rite aid at the i95 exit and almost got hit head on in south Norwalk under the train bridge. Biking in Norwalk is a nearly deadly adventure that needs to be turned around.

Milly July 13, 2021 at 5:18 am

As a pedestrian I have almost been hit by cars when crossing at intersection that allows right on red (& that is when a cross light is green). That needs to be eliminated – cars see right on red and drive right thru – it is too dangerous (& makes no sense) to allow right on red where there are people crossing the street.

Audrey Cozzarin July 13, 2021 at 7:55 am

I have personally been after traffic calming and safety measures in Norwalk since creating a Norwalk Citizens Traffic Safety Committee of which current B/W Commission chair Tanner Thompson was a member back in 2019. Norwalk is still a dangerous place to walk and bike.

To Peter Franz’s comment, I feel the most egregious crime committed in that recent hit and run accident with the teenager on a bike, is the lack of compassion of the motorists who drove past the accident and did not stop to help that kid. No one stopped. To me, that is a sad commentary on our local society.

David Muccigrosso July 13, 2021 at 8:23 am

@Peter

I apologize if I came off as overly pessimistic. I wasn’t trying to say that it’s “too late to fix”, I’m just pointing out that there are very real and very *large* practical barriers.

What Strong Towns would say about Rt1 is that it’s a classic example of a “stroad” – a roadway that combines the weaknesses of a street and a road.

Streets are like Washington or parts of Main in SoNo: They’re low-speed (<30mph), they accommodate pedestrian traffic, and they're densely built. Streets are what you build a town out of. Almost the entirety of Manhattan is made of streets.

Roads are for moving traffic from one place to another. The Rt7 connector is a road. They're high-speed, and they don't have buildings along them.

What a stroad does is combine a road's high speed (30-50mph, which is actually the speed at which most fatalities happen) with trying to have buildings along them like a street. The buildings are set back with large parking lots. It's not walkable, let alone bike friendly, because the distances are so large – it's built to the scale of a car, not a person.

Any of that sound familiar?

My point is, Rt1 is a stroad, and pedestrian safety on stroads isn't easily fixed. You can't just repaint lines and add a bunch of fines for running lights and such – the cars are simply moving too fast. We've been trying to make stroads safer for decades, and nothing works, because they are inherently unsafe. You just can't reconcile such high speeds and large distances with pedestrian-friendliness.

Streets, by contrast, make sure that even when people do mess up – which they eventually will always do – that the mistakes are less fatal. How many fatalities have we had on Washington in the last year? And how much more pedestrian traffic does it have than rt1 – 10x? 100x?

Fixing Rt1 would require either demolishing all the buildings along it, or converting it from a stroad into a set of streets.

But I would argue that keeping Rt1 as a stroad, and trying to make it "safer", is just lying to ourselves. We can't have our cake and eat it too.

George July 13, 2021 at 4:26 pm

I am quite surprised we don’t have cameras with the ability to record every license plate on the roads.

Paul Cantor July 13, 2021 at 10:35 pm

I was knocked off my bike by a car that ran the stop sign at the intersection of Fillow Street and Richards Ave. The driver of the car that ran into me apologized but quickly made his exit when the police and an EMS vehicle arrived. Unfortunately no one jotted down the driver’s license plate and the police did not follow him or make an attempt to document what happened by interviewing witnesses to the event. Most drivers respect cyclists but there is a not insignificant number (of which the driver in the video appended to this article is a member) who treat them as contemptible obstacles. It is past time for Norwalk and other cities to address that problem with steeper penalties for drivers who endanger cyclists. The fact that the driver who ran into this young man drove off without even getting out of his car demonstrates a degree of callousness that should not be tolerated. And as Audrey commented, it is shameful if there were others who witnessed the accident and did nothing to ensure the cyclist was alright. Often people who are seriously injured are able pick themselves up for a few moments after being hit. Then after a short time the full impact of the hit they took takes effect and they end up in the hospital. Note: My wife also was hit by a car. A driver on North Taylor rode up behind her, passed her, then cut her off by turning sharply right into a driveway. As a result the mirror of the car hooked my her arm and pulled her over the car. When I reached her moments later she was in pain and laying on the ground.

Chris Redfield July 14, 2021 at 8:29 am

“There are sections of Rt 1, both Connecticut Avenue and Westport avenue that have no sidewalks at all! How does this happen? Several Cory stress as well. Norwalk is not a pedestrian friendly town.”

Technically, those are State Roads.

Mimi Chang July 14, 2021 at 2:23 pm

While I’m glad that Audrey Cozzarin got the last word, I feel that it should be noted in the article that Audrey was the one pitching the “Vision Zero“ initiative to Anthony Carr and others at City Hall waaay back in 2019 through her Norwalk Citizens Traffic Safety Committee which I’d been on for a short period of time. I guess better late than never, but why “Vision Zero” is being incorporated almost two years after Audrey and her committee pushed really hard for it by meeting tirelessly with City Hall officials and providing them the research and data on it, only for the initiative to emerge in this article as Anthony Carr’s idea, is disingenuous. Here we are two years out now, and little to nothing has been done to address Norwalk’s traffic and pedestrian issues. Why is that?

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