Avante Reynolds, a young mother beloved for her vibrant personality, died Aug. 21 after she was struck by a vehicle while trying to cross Cobbs Creek Parkway, a dangerous road some call the Roosevelt Boulevard of West Philadelphia. Her death followed a single-vehicle crash that claimed two lives in July; this trio of recent fatalities has saddened and angered local residents.
People who live in the densely populated, predominantly Black neighborhoods along much of the 5.3-mile parkway between Woodland and Lancaster avenues have been calling for slower speeds, more crosswalks, better lighting, and stepped-up enforcement for years, if not decades. They’ve been kept waiting too long.
The Cobbs Creek Neighbors group and the political action committee 5th Square gathered more than 600 signatures on a petition to pressure PennDOT and the city to “immediately implement road safety measures so no more lives are lost.” We agree; an immediate police crackdown on speeding, illegal parking, and truck traffic won’t fix the antiquated design and frequent flooding that contribute to the risks. But enforcing the law would help. So would making the parkway a higher priority under Mayor Kenney’s Vision Zero program, which launched in 2017 and aims to entirely eliminate city traffic fatalities by 2030.
PennDOT has made a number of improvements. But the state and the city ought to jointly figure out what steps can be undertaken sooner, rather than later. The roadway itself is PennDOT’s responsibility; traffic signals and intersection design are the city’s. Some 13,000 to 23,000 vehicles a day travel various stretches of the parkway, where a city library branch, recreation center, environmental center, walking trail, and Cobbs Creek Park itself generate pedestrian traffic that includes many children.
An Aug. 28 visual survey conducted by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia found more than 1,000 feet between crosswalks and traffic signals along six stretches of the parkway, and “not a single safe and legal pedestrian crossing” on the 1.5 miles between Whitby Avenue and 70th Street. A 2019 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission analysis of the 1.2 mile section between 60th and 70th streets revealed many trucks (which are banned), and a majority of drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.
PennDOT data show six fatalities among the 372 crashes, 77 of which involved pedestrians, reported from 2015 through 2019 between Lancaster and Baltimore avenues on the parkway. During that time on the section between Baltimore and Woodland avenues, a single fatality was reported among 290 crashes, 12 of which involved pedestrians.
The good news: $1.5 million from red-light camera fines will enable the city and PennDOT to evaluate and redesign the broken, unsightly guardrail system along the parkway. Repaving on the northern section will reduce lane widths to calm traffic; the state also plans to increase safety signage and install rumble strips and raised lane separators at some locations.
These efforts, while welcome, won’t fundamentally change the parkway. That can only happen through a more ambitious, comprehensive plan that taps into the collective wisdom of those who live with the problems it creates, and the toll it takes. For that, the technical experts should make sure to speak to the family of Avante Reynolds.