If you travel along Philadelphia’s Roosevelt Boulevard, you may have noticed a change over the last two years — speeding incidents are down.
This 12-lane monstrosity dropped into the middle of residential neighborhoods has long been a source of traffic crashes, especially for nearby residents who make the daunting crossing on foot. The Boulevard includes two of America’s three deadliest intersections, and 13% of the city’s traffic deaths have occurred on it.
Samara Banks and her three children were killed in 2013 while crossing the Boulevard. Relatives said Banks always kept her children close while crossing the street. But what could have protected her and her children from two young men drag racing on the wide roadway?
Banks’ death led her aunt, Latanya Bird, to forge an unlikely partnership. Working with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and then-Republican State Rep. John Taylor, whose district includes the Lower Northeast, she campaigned for a safer Boulevard. As a result, Harrisburg authorized speed cameras in Pennsylvania for the first time in 2016, and they were finally installed on Roosevelt Boulevard in June 2020.
So far, the cameras have been effective. Not only is speeding down 91% since the start of the program, the type of high-speed drag racing that killed Banks and her children has also decreased.
Speed camera opponents such as the National Motorists Association often claim speed is irrelevant to traffic safety, but research by Erick Guerra, a University of Pennsylvania urban planning professor, found that collisions on the Boulevard since speed cameras were installed fell by 17%, despite an 81% increase in collisions elsewhere in the city during the same period.
Guerra estimates that at least eight lives were saved because of the cameras. Fines from the cameras, which have declined by over 90% since the first few months of operation, go to the Automated Red Light Enforcement grant program, which reinvests the funds in street safety projects across the commonwealth.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority, which administers the program, touts it as a part of its new focus on quality-of-life issues and public safety. To build faith in this new focus, the authority should follow up its cancellation of an $11 million bill it sent the School District by ratifying a proposed ethics reform and selecting a qualified new executive director.
Considering the national surge in traffic deaths during the pandemic, these cameras could not have arrived at a better time. Yet this program is still just a pilot, which is set to expire in October 2023 without further legislative action. It’s essential that City Council and the parking authority are granted the ability to expand the use of the cameras to other high traffic neighborhoods where they are sorely needed.
It’s imperative that state lawmakers make the speed camera program permanent to slow traffic and save lives across the city. Problem spots for speeding and racing, including Kelly and Lincoln Drives, Cobbs Creek Parkway, and Henry Avenue, could then benefit from the same reduction in speeding and crashes that we’ve seen on the Boulevard.
Speed cameras alone might not accomplish the city’s Vision Zero goal to end all traffic deaths, but the Roosevelt Boulevard experience shows they can help save lives.