A long-hoped-for street safety tool could soon be coming to Philadelphia: speed cameras.
The Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday voted 47-1 to approve the use of speed cameras in the state. The bill already had been approved by the House, so it now goes to Gov. Wolf, who is expected to sign it into law.
The speed cameras are planned to be used first in a pilot program on Roosevelt Boulevard, which has seen an increase in deaths from vehicle crashes this year. The bill also authorized the use of speed cameras on highway work zones throughout the state.
"It took too long to get done, but it finally got done, and I'm thrilled," said Bob Previdi, policy coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. "This is a first step in many things we need to do to make the Boulevard and our streets safer."
Automated enforcement is seen by city officials as a valuable tool in the quest to bring down the death toll caused by vehicle crashes in Philadelphia. Automation frees police officers to handle criminal investigations and eliminates concerns about racial profiling and bias that can accompany manned traffic enforcement.
The city has a 22-year strategy for Roosevelt Boulevard that eventually would include dedicated bus lanes to wean people from their cars and encourage public transportation. Automated speed enforcement is a first step in taming the route.
"We feel very strongly that the evidence is there that it will have a pretty significant safety impact," said Mike Carroll, Philadelphia's deputy managing director for transportation and infrastructure.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority, which will administer the program, has said the cameras could be active on Roosevelt Boulevard in four to six months. When they're activated, there will be a 30-day grace period that would let speeders off with a warning. After that, a motorist photographed traveling 11 mph over the 45-mph speed limit would incur a $150 fine.
Revenue is to go to the Motor License Fund and will fund grants for transportation projects, the legislation states.
The city plans to install nine cameras along nearly 12 miles of the Boulevard, from the Philadelphia border with Bucks County to the Ninth Street intersection near Hunting Park. Signs placed every two miles will let drivers know the cameras are there.
"We're going to be looking at high-crash locations, and we're going to be looking at locations where speed has been a factor in those crashes," Carroll said.
He also was not certain how long the pilot program would last, saying the city needed to capture data about the cameras' effectiveness before using them elsewhere. Bringing more cameras to Philadelphia beyond the Boulevard would require state authorization, he said.
Speed-camera tickets would not add points against a driver's license and would not affect automobile insurance rates.
City officials have described Roosevelt Boulevard as a top priority of the Vision Zero program, which emphasizes engineering, education, and enforcement as tools that can slow cars and prevent fatal crashes.. About 86,000 vehicles a day use the road. Between 2011 and 2016, the 12-lane divided highway saw about 3,000 crashes, according to city data released in 2017. Officials have argued speed cameras will be a critical tool in making the route safer.
So far this year, there have been 13 deaths on the route, according to Philadelphia police, and one on a limited access portion of it, the Roosevelt Expressway. Eight died on the Boulevard in 2017.
The cameras for work zones on state highways also will be triggered by vehicles traveling 11 mph over the speed limit and may be installed on federally funded highways and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, according to the legislation. A first offense would cost a driver $75.
The legislation requires that warnings also be placed on the highway alerting drivers to the presence of the cameras, and on PennDot or the Turnpike's websites. Like with the Roosevelt Boulevard cameras, a violation on a highway would not add points to a driver's license.
After administrative costs are covered, 45 percent of the revenue from the work zone violation fines would go to the State Police, 40 percent would go to the Motor License Fund, and 15 percent could be used to promote work zone and traffic safety on highways.
Speed plays a role in about half the traffic-related deaths in Philadelphia each year, officials have said. A study from the National Transportation Safety Board in 2017 found that from 2005 to 2014, speed played a role in 31 percent of American traffic fatalities — 112,580 deaths.
Pennsylvania would be the 16th state to adopt a speed-camera program, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Studies on speed cameras' effectiveness generally show that they do improve safety, but it is difficult to determine to what extent. The NTSB study cited research that showed the cameras reduced all crashes by nearly half and serious injuries and deaths by 44 percent. A 2016 study in the United Kingdom found speed cameras reduced deaths and serious collisions by 50 percent but acknowledged it was difficult to determine how much of that reduction was directly attributable to the presence of speed cameras.
Other studies have found a less significant improvement due to speed cameras, and just last month, the Washington Post reported that the one million tickets issued by speed cameras in the District of Columbia in 2017 was a record high for the two-decade-old automatic enforcement program, an indication that cameras weren't changing drivers' behaviors.
Critics of the technology have said they are concerned it would be used as a revenue generator, rather than a safety tool.
"They are everywhere and always a racket to get money from safe drivers," said Thomas McCarey, a member of the National Motorists Association, which has fiercely fought the legislation. "The politicians are desperate to get more money, even if it makes the highways more dangerous."