In less than 30 days, Philadelphia bore witness to the untimely deaths of three bicyclists. It is unprecedented to have this number of bicyclists die at the hands of motorists in such a short span of time, and the city needs to act — now.
First, it was 17-year-old Sam Ozer, riding home on Father’s Day from his job at a bike shop in Manayunk. He was hit from behind by a motorist on Henry Avenue — within 800 feet of an intersection where 10 people have died in traffic crashes in the past five years.
Then, 18-year-old Nadir Nafis Holloman Jr. was killed on his bicycle while crossing Kelly Drive at Sedgley Road, a busy intersection in front of Lloyd Hall.
And on Sunday, July 12, William Lindsay, 32, was killed by a motorist who left him to die after fleeing the scene.
There are many common threads in each of these crashes. All were on “roads” with posted speed limits of 30 or 35 miles per hour. These roads go through residential neighborhoods and Fairmount Park, but are nevertheless designed, and treated, like highways — carrying large volumes of high-speed motorists. Each of these crashes was preventable — if the roadways were not designed to allow speeding, or if countermeasures were in place to prevent such collisions.
Additionally, 23 pedestrians have lost their lives in traffic this year, bringing to 47 the total number of people killed on roadways in Philadelphia.
With fewer motor vehicles on the road since the coronavirus shuttered the economy, Philadelphia, and cities all over the world, have seen an increase in speeding and aggressive driving.
This isn’t a matter of wishing for better behavior or compliance with traffic laws. This is not a time for increased police enforcement. The City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have the tools at their disposal to make our roads safe for our state’s most vulnerable residents: cyclists and pedestrians, children and the elderly.
Even if collisions keep occurring, which they most likely will, they shouldn’t be fatal. Slower speeds mean fewer deaths. Although Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has made the commitment to reaching zero traffic deaths by 2030 early on in his tenure, the implementation of his Vision Zero program needs additional resources and an accelerated time schedule if it has a chance of reaching that goal.
It also needs creativity and imagination, such as installing a network of temporary protected bike lanes while the city works its way out of the pandemic. Or keeping Martin Luther King Jr. Drive closed on a long-term basis to support safe exercise and commuting.
Likewise, the commonwealth must abandon its stranglehold on speed control technology and innovative road designs, and stop preventing municipalities from using them, such as automated speed cameras, radar, and parked car protected bike lanes.
In the immediate term, the Pennsylvania legislature should heed the call of advocacy groups around the state, such as Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia, and pass Senate Bill 565, sponsored by State Sen. Larry Farnese, to allow the installation of parked car protected bike lanes as a buffer between motorists and bicyclists on state roads.
In the longer term, the commonwealth needs to allow municipalities to deploy strategic use of automated safety technology on roads like Ridge Avenue, Kelly Drive, Henry Avenue, and others, where everyone knows motorists are able to reach deadly speeds.
It’s maddening that Sam, Nadir, and Will died unnecessarily on Philadelphia’s roads in crashes. Engineering and technology are available to prevent lives from being lost in future crashes. It’s up to our elected officials to make what’s possible a reality.
Sarah Clark Stuart is the executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Randy LoBasso is the policy director.