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Speeding and Reckless Driving Still Issues in Norwalk

There has been a slew of stories recently in the local media about Norwalk’s Complete Streets program, which aims to make city streets safer and pedestrian friendly. Coupled with this are efforts to secure grants to fund additional sidewalks near schools to make walking to school easier and safer. The degree of walkability in a city has become an important metric when it comes to evaluating its quality of life, and Norwalk is doing well in this regard.

Constructing sidewalks, designing safe intersections, analyzing crash data, teaching pedestrian and bike safety in schools, and creating bike lanes are important components of any safe streets program. But to truly create safe streets, speeding and reckless driving (failing to signal, ignoring stop signs, tailgating, distracting driving, ignoring pedestrians, etc.) must be controlled. Fortunately, the Norwalk police department recently reported that the number of citations for speeding and distracted driving increased markedly in 2023.

Much of the news and commentary about pedestrian safety has focused on the urban parts of the city, where there are sidewalks and streetlights. I agree with this focus, but believe we need to spend some time also discussing the more “suburban” sections of the city, where there are often no sidewalks (or streetlights). Instead, there are footpaths (paved areas) along some roads.

These footpaths are often narrow, cracked, uneven, and overgrown with weeds and even poison ivy. Pedestrians using footpaths must walk around various obstacles, such as utility poles, mailboxes, trees, and street signs. It’s often next to impossible to ride a bike or push a carriage along these paths without also using the main road. (A few of Norwalk’s “suburban” streets have bike lanes, which creates another option for pedestrians who find it difficult to navigate their way along bumpy and overgrown paths.)

The biggest safety issue in the non-urban neighborhoods of Norwalk is reckless driving, especially speeding. I’ve been running and walking on the roads of the northeastern part of the city for over 30 years, and very little has changed, except for the presence of bike lanes. Here are some of the problems that runners and walkers must deal with. 

First is the absolute necessity of running and walking into traffic to ensure you are not killed by a distracted driver. Runners used to say, before the advent of the internet and cellular devices, that running into traffic was critical because four eyes were better than two (assuming both runner and driver were looking ahead) but today, with the proliferation of distracted driving, the saying has been modified, now it’s two eyes are better than none (assuming the driver might be texting or talking on the phone).

Of course, speeding is the primary danger on our roads, but for runners and walkers, there is the added danger of tailgating because on narrow roads (with barely any shoulders and no footpaths) neither the runner nor the second car can see each other. Moreover, tailgaters often veer to the right to see what’s up ahead and that spells serious trouble for a runner or walker.

Another source of danger for runners and walkers is the refusal of many drivers to use turn signals. I often have no idea if the car coming toward me is going to turn right at an intersection. On a few occasions I’ve had words with drivers who believed they did not have to use signals for runners or walkers, that turn signals were only for other cars.

What annoys me most, and this happens every few months, are idiots behind wheels who think it’s funny to move alongside a runner or walker and honk their horns as loud as possible. This is downright scary. Whenever this happens, I generally stop, thank heaven I’m alive, and gather my wits before continuing. I can’t fathom why anyone would do this, yet most runners and walkers have experienced this on numerous occasions. 

I mentioned earlier that traffic citations for speeding increased last year. Good news. But consider this: How many times have you (including me) driven in Norwalk, found yourself behind a car moving at what seems to be a snail’s pace, started to become impatient, but then looked at your speedometer and realized the car ahead of you was merely following the speed limit?

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