Philadelphia voters struck a blow against snarled streets in Center City on Tuesday, approving the creation of a new class of law officer dedicated to traffic enforcement.
Voters also approved three other proposed City Charter amendments: to use gender-neutral language for City Council and its members; make permanent the Office of Immigrant Affairs, created by executive order in 2016; and urge the state legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
All the questions were approved overwhelmingly.
The traffic-related ballot question asked voters to amend the charter to create “public safety officers.” Unlike police, they would not be armed or have arrest powers, but would be able to direct traffic and have authority to issue some citations.
City officials have said they will need to work out many details of the new officers with legislation and regulation.
Philadelphia’s traffic has steadily worsened over the last decade, with a boom in e-commerce deliveries, a growing population, and ride-share vehicles.
Traffic-oriented public safety officers are deployed in several cities, including New York, which provided a template for backers in Philadelphia, led by Council President Darrell L. Clarke.
Opponents have raised questions about the cost of the program and asked whether it is wise to put unarmed people in fraught situations.
Many voters also expressed uncertainty. Those who voted yes and those who voted no both said they didn’t really know the implications. “It seems like we should have more help, but I’m not sure,” said Alexis Drain, 25, a University of Delaware graduate student who lives in Fishtown.
Stephen Rafferty, 30, an architect in West Philadelphia, thought a new traffic force would come to no good end. “I know how car-centric this city is," he said. "It seems like they would probably just ticket pedestrians and bikers.”
The city’s police union was against the measure, saying it violates state law reserving traffic enforcement for police officers. It vowed to file a complaint with the state labor board.