STONINGTON — Nestled against the "Welcome to Wequetequock" sign on the western side of Anguilla Brook along Route 1, a white bicycle stands to honor the lifelong Stonington resident and cyclist who was killed in a hit-and-run incident involving an SUV on March 6.

The bridge that crosses the brook before it, narrow-laned with a guardrail that jettisons inward, leaving a 6-inch shoulder on one side and losing the shoulder completely on the other, is also a reminder of the dangers that cyclists across the region face even when all precautions are taken to remain safe.

The recent death of Stonington High School custodian Gary Piver, who was killed at 10:45 p.m. while driving home after locking the school up for the evening, has sparked renewed conversations between safety advocates and both state and local officials. Advocates said they are hope the latest conversations will bring changes to improve roadways and draft legislation that will bring an end to needless bicyclist injuries and deaths.

“Gary’s death was something that truly was preventable and that is the message I feel the community needs to hear,” said Allison Palmer, director of operations for Mystic Cycle Centre and vice president of Bike Stonington. “We need to come together, break down the whole car versus bicycle mentality and create a shift in attitude so that we can build safer roadways.”

Stonington police are continuing their investigation into the incident. An SUV possibly involved in the crash was seized and a suspect has been identified, but no arrest has yet been made.

Piver’s death may have brought new light to the challenges plaguing regular cyclists on New England roads, but it is far from the first in the region — and unfortunately, if nothing is done, it will continue happening.

In order to create something positive from Piver’s death, Palmer and Bike Stonington President Jennifer Lacker have urged state and local officials to collaborate and cut the red tape to make real, lasting changes that forever improve cyclist safety in southeastern Connecticut.

Across southern New England, a resurgance in enthusiasm for outdoor activities sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in bicyclists. Over the past five years, ridership risen more than 600%, said Palmer and her husband, Chris J. Palmer, who runs the day-to-day operations at Mystic Cycle Centre, which they own together.

With the increased ridership, there has also been an exponential increase in the number of roadway incidents involving cars and bicyclists, a trend that proposed safety changes would help end.

Alongside Lacker, the Palmers having been working for over a year already to gain local and state support for changes along Route 1, including where Piver was struck, to improve safety and enhance the sharing of roads. The group first began working with the town after approaching officials at a community conversation with the Economic Development Commission regarding renovations at Exit 90 and along the Route 27 corridor in Mystic.

It has been anything but an easy process, Palmer admits, but advocates have slowly seen more interest and involvement from officials, including First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough and state Rep. Greg Howard. Chesebrough said this week that the process for change is complicated, often involving local government, state legislators and other state agencies.

“It can become really challenging when you have state roads and local roads both involved because there are certain requirements when it comes to making these kind of changes,” Chesebrough said. “Everyone needs to be fully on board to bring things together.”

Chesebrough said she was committed to improvements and would continue to work with Palmer, Lacker, state agencies and other stakeholders to develop solutions.

The call for change has also caught the attention of other important groups, including the Stonington Police Commission, which has shown growing interest in working with advocates to address the issues. Under the direction of Police Chief Jay DelGrosso, who is an avid cyclist himself, the police department has also promised to work to improve safety.

With an eye toward changes, both Allison and Chris Palmer said this week that they have already put forth several ideas for ways the state and town could improve awareness and enhance bicyclist safety.

“Change has to begin somewhere,” Allison Palmer said. “Route 1 is one of the oldest deemed bicycle routes, spanning along the eastern coastline from Maine to Florida, but so little has been been done to even make people aware. Signs aren’t going to save lives alone, but that’s a step in the right direction and a good place to start.”

When it comes to changes to the roads themselves, there are several recent studies that promote specific safety concepts such as creating bicycle bridges, narrowing travel lanes on certain roadways and engineering and integrating bicycle lanes into new construction such as the sidewalk project that will be built in Pawcatuck.

In the section of roadway where Piver was struck, Palmer said a bridge around the main roadway would allow bicyclists to navigate the narrow section without fear of colliding with cars. As the roadway currently stands, it is difficult to fit two cars and a bicyclist at the same time and would not be possible at all if keeping the 3-foot buffer required by law.

Palmer said it is worth noting that other improvements, such as putting a sidewalk in, wouldn’t help because under state laws, bicylists are not entitled to use the sidewalks as a driving lane.

Other sections of Route 1 could use improvements too, Palmer and her husband both noted, including eliminating a double-laned highway that runs through a stretch just east of Quiambaug Cove. 

Chris Palmer said another concept, which has been used successfully in Colorado and internationally, including throughout Europe, is to narrow lanes and widen shoulders on all roads in order to increase driver alertness and prevent dangerous driving.

Along Route 27, he said, there are sections where lanes extend more than 13 feet wide or more on either side. Narrowing those to 11 feet and providing more space on the shoulder would help to potentially prevent a collision.

“For a plan like that, there isn’t a huge expense,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is repaint.”

The struggle, Allison Palmer said, is that while it is clear there is need and desire, making any changes involves a complicated process that includes local government, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Southeast Connecticut Council of Governments and other state agencies. The more agencies involved, she said, the slower the process seems to move.

“There needs to be a simpler way than this,” she said. “Right now there are multiple entities all doing the same studies, sometimes in the same places. Even when everyone means well, if they are not working together than the effort becomes inefficient, the process becomes ineffective and the plans sit stagnant.”

Road improvements alone won’t be enough, she acknowledges, and that is why Bike Stonington, the Mystic Cycle Centre and a growing list of partners are promoting education and enhancing awareness. They have also increasingly become involved in Bike Walk Connecticut, an organization dedicated to promoting safe transportation through a change in culture.

For more on Bike Walk Connecticut, including information for both cylcists and motorists, visit the website at

Until significant changes are made and the number of bicylist injuries and deaths start to decline, Palmer said she and other advocates will continue to speak out and keep the conversation alive.

“This isn’t about bicycle sales or building anything extraordinary; it is about being a good community partner and working to improve safety for everyone,” Palmer said.

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