After four fatal pedestrian accidents in Brattleboro, enough is enough. While the Windham Regional Commission has been trying to address Brattleboro's pedestrian and bicycle safety issues and the Department of Public Works paints crosswalks, this is obviously not working. As we green-up our town and our lives by walking and biking more, socializing with neighbors and building community, we need the support of a safe and accessible environment. A pedestrian fatality is traumatic for the vehicle driver too and can be a horrendous, life-changing event. As Brattleboro is the home of the Slow Living Summit, it too can be the home of Slow Traffic, and create spaces that are as safe and accessible to pedestrians as it is for vehicles.
Germany has a successful program of vekehrsberuhigung or "traffic calming." Traffic calming is a system of design and management strategies that balances traffic on streets with other uses such as strolling, playing, shopping, walking, biking and skating. The traffic calming toolkit comes with many practical solutions, one of which is to build median strips. Besides looking nice and being a space to plant trees and flowers they also cause cars to slow down, and provide a safe in-between refuge for pedestrians. Main Street in Keene, N.H., with diagonal parking, forested median strips, and tri-color paved crosswalks, is a great example of a local, successful, traffic calming solution.
New York City's Project for Public Places is a nationwide nonprofit that helps people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. They train over 10,000 people a year to create safe, accessible, successful, public spaces and have worked with municipalities, town planners and citizens in over 3,000 communities in 43 countries and all 50 states. Surely they will have a few good tips for us here in Brattleboro.
I remember being a new mom living on Williams Street in Brattleboro six years ago and asking the Department of Public Works to paint a crosswalk at Western Avenue and Crosby Street so I could safely cross my children to the Neighborhood School House. I was told that there were "too many crosswalks" on Western Avenue and had my request denied. Now there is a crosswalk, but painting a few white lines that quickly fade with winter salt and snow is not enough.
How many more deaths will it take before the Brattleboro organizations and individuals -- such as the interim town manager, Windham Regional Commission, Department of Public Works and others that we pay with our tax dollars and trust for our public safety -- come up with some meaningful vekehrsberuhigung? A safe pedestrian solution is real, viable and the resources and know-how are there. We just need to use them.
Tamara Stenn is a scholar of sustainable development and a professor of Management and Integrative Studies at Keene State College and the School for International Training. She lives in Brattleboro.