Philadelphia’s most dangerous roadway is one step closer to getting automated speed cameras. Come February, the cameras will be installed at eight locations along Roosevelt Boulevard, the first of 32 total locations, city officials announced Jan. 13. City Council approved of the cameras in May 2019, after a three-year effort to bring the technology to Philly.

Advocates say that the cameras are effective safety measures that have reduced serious accidents, including fatal ones, in other cities. But some critics of the policy say cameras aren’t a big enough safety guard against speeding on the Boulevard, one of Pennsylvania’s deadliest highways.

The Inquirer turned to the executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and a writer who has long traveled the Boulevard, to ask: Will speed cameras be enough to keep the road safe?

Yes: Cameras are proven to promote safety and protect lives.

By Scott Petri

The 11-mile stretch of Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous highways in the state — if not the nation. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), between 2013 and 2017, there were 2,695 crashes resulting in 41 fatalities.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) has teamed up with Mayor Jim Kenney, City Council, PennDOT, the City’s Streets Department, and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability to begin installing 32 automated speed enforcement cameras at eight different locations on the Boulevard.

The goal of the speed enforcement program is to reduce speeding by imposing fines for violators that will serve as a deterrence and change their behavior, ultimately making Roosevelt Boulevard a much safer highway.

Red-light cameras at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road in Philadelphia. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)
Red-light cameras at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road in Philadelphia. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)

Communities in 15 states and the District of Columbia already use automated camera enforcement technology to reduce speeding and save lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that automated speed enforcement can be an effective countermeasure to prevent speed-related crashes when used alongside traditional enforcement. The effectiveness of this technology has been demonstrated in New York City, where speeding was dramatically reduced by 63% at camera locations during school hours, and fatal crashes were reduced by 55% over a three year period.

The PPA first started using automated camera enforcement technology back in 2005 at key intersections on Roosevelt Boulevard to stop rampant red-light running that posed a direct threat to public safety. The first camera location at Grant Avenue recorded 25,673 red-light running violations during its first 10 months of operation in 2005. At this same intersection in 2018, 4,697 red-light camera violations were recorded for the year. That’s a staggering 82% reduction in red-light running at this intersection.

Today, there are 31 red-light camera intersections throughout the city, nine on Roosevelt Boulevard. Since the PPA’s Red Light Camera program installed cameras, red-light violations have decreased an average of 58% at Boulevard intersections.

Speed enforcement cameras will get us closer to the city’s goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.

Scott Petri

Red-light cameras save lives. We believe the placement of automated speed enforcement cameras at key points along Roosevelt Boulevard will help enhance the safety of this highly traveled highway.

As Mayor Kenney has said: “Adding automated speed cameras on the Boulevard is one of the most effective steps we can take to eliminate traffic deaths.” We are in full agreement and believe speed enforcement cameras will get us closer to the city’s goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.

Or to quote John Taylor, a longtime advocate for both red-light and speed enforcement cameras and former state representative for Pennsylvania’s 177th District: “Our goal with automated enforcement technologies on the Boulevard has always been to save lives.”

Once the speed cameras are fully operational, there will be a 60-day warning period before fines are issued, after which any vehicle recorded traveling more than 11 miles per hour over the speed limit will be subject to a fine up to $150, depending on the speed at which the vehicle is traveling. The camera-generated evidence for each violation will be inspected by a Philadelphia police officer prior to it being mailed to the registered owner of the offending vehicle. No points will be added to a driver’s record.

Running red lights and vehicular speeding on any highway can cause accidents that result in serious injury and even death in some cases. Both the red-light and automated speed enforcement cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard will improve safety and protect lives on one of the most dangerous highways in Pennsylvania.

Scott Petri is the executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

A few feet north of where Samara Banks and three of her sons were struck in the drag-racing pedestrian accident on Roosevelt Boulevard, a mother runs across the road carrying her young son in moving traffic Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
A few feet north of where Samara Banks and three of her sons were struck in the drag-racing pedestrian accident on Roosevelt Boulevard, a mother runs across the road carrying her young son in moving traffic Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

No: More police and visibility are needed on this corridor of death.

By B.G. Kelley

I was driving the 35 mph speed limit and in my lane when suddenly, and out of nowhere, an SUV going at least 65 miles per hour cuts me off, brushing inches away from taking off my front fender. I hit the horn. He flashed the finger. He sped off to no doubt endanger other motorists.

I knew I was living dangerously. I was on Roosevelt Boulevard.

I am on the Boulevard often, traveling this deadly roadway to teach my writing class at International Christian High School in the lower Northeast. In fact, I’ve been traveling the Boulevard just about all my life.

The reckless driving by so many ethically and morally challenged motorists on this stretch that begins in East Falls, snakes through Northeast Philly, and ends in parts of Bucks County is a routine occurrence, somewhat like brushing your teeth. I can’t count high enough to how many accidents I’ve almost incurred in the last 20 years on the Boulevard, considered Philadelphia’s most dangerous corridor.

Too many motorists on Roosevelt Boulevard fail to take into account someone else’s life or property.

B.G. Kelley

But finally — finally — something is being done, if too long in coming. It’s following a lot of empty rhetoric about tackling excessive speeding on the Boulevard. My concern is that the proposed solution won’t be up to the magnitude of the problem.

In today’s world, driving has gone from a horse-and-buggy environment to a rocket-fueled world where speed means getting to your destination quicker. The other part of the problem extends to the fact that there are more drivers and cars than ever before. It is raw and flawed combustible symmetry. Simply put, too many motorists on Roosevelt Boulevard fail to take into account someone else’s life or property.

To wit: There have been more than 100 fatalities on the Boulevard since 2013. In 2019, there were seven vehicle-related deaths and — disturbingly — 21 in 2018. The average in recent years has been 10. As well, Roosevelt Boulevard has accounted for 8% of all crashes in Philadelphia that resulted in a fatality or serious injury from 2013 to 2017. Two intersections — at Grant Avenue and Red Lion Road — are notorious for accidents, ranking in 2001 as the second and third most dangerous intersections in the entire United States.

To reduce the danger, 32 automated speed cameras will be installed at intersections up and down the Boulevard. The first eight are anticipated to be installed in February, and, yes, Grant Avenue and Red Lion Road are included.

I don’t think the city planning commission envisioned such irresponsible motorist behavior when they constructed the Boulevard but intended it to be an easier access to residents in the neighborhoods of the Northeast. Originally called Torresdale Boulevard, in the ’50s and ’60s it was extended to include the far Northeast. As the Northeast proliferated into a busy commercial corridor of shopping centers and restaurants, more drivers used it, and eventually, it became clear that the Boulevard was never meant for the high-density or reckless driving it sees today.

The cameras are a responsible, active approach to a serious problem that could only get more serious — and more deadly. However, that’s not enough. So please excuse me for being a pessimist but more police presence and visibility are needed. Unless all motorists who travel this roadway commit — or recommit — to driving responsibly, we will not see a safe-to-drive Roosevelt Boulevard. The speed cameras will only be a Pyrrhic victory.

B.G. Kelley is a Philadelphia writer.

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