Stamford School Traffic Safety Waits on State Lawmakers

Stamford High students navigate the large Strawberry Hill Avenue intersection a block from their school.

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STAMFORD – It’s the city nudging the state, maybe giving it a bit of a shove.

It’s because the city wants to do something only the state has the authority to do.

But the only power that city representatives have to prod the state is a resolution – a weak instrument.

One is winding its way through the Stamford Board of Representatives now. If passed, it would “urge” the state legislature to enact a law allowing municipalities to install speed cameras in school zones.

The resolution might work; it might go nowhere, but it’s time to try, said city Rep. Jonathan Jacobson, who initiated it. Jacobson represents downtown Stamford, where student Karina Tinajero, 18, was struck by a van and killed six years ago while crossing Strawberry Hill Avenue on her way to Stamford High School to take her SAT test.

Jacobson said his downtown constituents are constantly concerned about busy Strawberry Hill Avenue, address of Stamford High and the K-8 Strawberry Hill School. The avenue’s long downward slope and changing number of lanes ends in a confusing intersection where it meets four other streets – and lots of pedestrians.

Despite that, cars speed, Jacobson said. Residents “hear screeching and honking and accidents” regularly, he said.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said. “It’s nerve-racking to pass through that intersection with all the cars and students and pedestrians all over the place.”

Between 2002 and 2016, a Stamford High parent, a teacher and a student – Tinajero – were killed on Strawberry Hill Avenue. In 2015 a Stamford High guidance counselor was injured crossing the street; in 2011, two students were hurt.

“The only way to change this culture of aggressive driving is to let people know they are at risk of getting ticketed,” Jacobson said. “We could put a uniformed police officer in front of every school with a radar gun, but that would be a waste of law enforcement resources. The other way is to put 24-7 automated speed cameras in school zones.”

But Connecticut is a state that does not allow traffic enforcement by camera. Jacobson thinks this is the year to change that.

One reason is that the number of communities using camera enforcement is growing as the federal government’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law is implemented. The law allows states to use the funds to install speed cameras in work and school zones.

Another reason is that officials in Connecticut may be reconsidering speed camera enforcement.

Last year the state legislature approved a pilot program using cameras to catch speeders in highway work zones. The cameras will photograph license plates of vehicles traveling more than 15 mph over the posted limit, and drivers will get a ticket in the mail.

It will begin in the fall, said Josh Morgan, communications manager for the state Department of Transportation.

“Work zone locations have not yet been selected but will be posted for the public before deployment,” Morgan said. “Once the pilot is complete at the end of 2023, the Department of Transportation will review the collected data and share the results with the Governor and the General Assembly. Any continuation or expansion of the program would require an act of the Legislature.”

That’s what Stamford needs before speed cameras can go up in school zones.

“To allow these devices … there would need to be a legislative change,” Morgan said.

The DOT might support such a change.

The department “has previously offered testimony in favor of implementing automated traffic enforcement measures,” Morgan said. “Data from New York City has shown there are safety benefits to using this technology in school zones. We are hopeful that the upcoming work zone pilot program will show the efficacy of automated traffic enforcement in Connecticut.”

It may take all kinds of approaches to curb speeding, a huge problem in America.

According to the National Safety Council, it was a factor in 29 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2020, up from 26 percent the previous year. Speeding in 2020 killed an average of 30 people a day.

It is especially treacherous in school zones, where children are inattentive pedestrians.

Research by Safe Kids Worldwide found that, after 20 years of decline, pedestrian death rates for 12- to 19-year-olds are increasing.

Safe Kids completed a study in which researchers observed 39,000 middle and high school students and 56,000 drivers in school zones and concluded that “distracted walking” is on the rise.

Researchers observed distracted walking in one in four high school students and one in six middle school students, who most often were observed wearing headphones, texting or talking on a cellphone. About 80 percent of students were seen crossing streets unsafely.

New Jersey’s Safe Routes Program posts information illustrating the dangers of speeding.

One out of 10 pedestrians struck by a vehicle traveling at 40 mph will survive, according to the Safe Routes website. But 9 out of 10
pedestrians will survive when a vehicle is traveling 20 mph.

Drivers traveling 20 mph yield to pedestrians 75 percent of the time; but drivers traveling 37 mph yield only 17 percent of the time, according to the website.

Safety, however, may not be what motorists have on their minds.

When the COVID-19 pandemic left streets empty, people began driving faster and more recklessly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that traffic deaths nationwide increased more than 7 percent in 2o2o, even though the number of miles traveled dropped 13 percent. NHTSA reported that 2020 was the deadliest year on the nation’s highways since 2007.

Jacobson said his resolution goes before the Board of Representatives’ State & Commerce Committee on June 23. If it passes, it goes to the full board on July 5.

If it passes there, city representatives will have to start working with state representatives to convince the Legislature that traffic cameras are needed in school zones.

It has a long way to go, but he has lots of support, Jacobson said. So far 22 fellow representatives on the 40-member board are co-sponsoring the resolution.

City Rep. David Watkins is one.

“I think we should not generally allow tickets by camera – it’s easily abused,” Watkins said. “But the problem of speeding in school zones is endemic and continuing. It’s a good idea to use cameras in school zones, but not anywhere else.”

City Rep. Bobby Pavia, a teacher, said he also co-sponsored the resolution.

“We should have all the tools we need to compensate for a smaller police presence – the city has about 50 officers less than it should,” Pavia said. “The most consistent complaint I get in my district is cars flying by Springdale School when kids are getting there and going home. Automated cameras will provide us with what police can’t provide right now in school zones.”

The state should allow cities to choose, Jacobson said.

“Let’s make this an issue,” he said.


Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 733-6811

a.carella@ctexaminer.com