When a car hits another car, a person or a bike, don't call it an accident.
That was the refrain at a conference Thursday about making Philadelphia's streets safer.
"This is not an accident," said Denise Goren, director of the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities, of automobile crashes during one of the daylong event's panel discussions. "What we're talking about here are crashes we can avoid."
Vision Zero Philadelphia, hosted by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, brought together city planners, elected officials, cops and staff from nonprofits. They talked about better education for drivers, tougher enforcement for traffic-law violators, and infrastructure changes, such as reduced speed limits and better street lighting. Ideas were plentiful, but Goren said that money is not. A change of perspective from drivers would help, but other improvements will require financial commitments.
"Do you have dedicated goals that are attached to funds?" she said.
Mayor-elect Kenney said his administration will push back at developers for construction crews that unnecessarily take over city sidewalks, and would favor closing car traffic on major thoroughfares such as Broad Street or the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for periods. He also wants to do more to separate bike lanes from auto traffic.
"Paint on the street isn't enough," Kenney said.
Vision Zero began in 1997 as an effort in Sweden to reduce traffic deaths to zero. The philosophy has gained traction in American cities, too.
Philadelphia had about 11,000 automobile crashes a year on average from 2009 to 2013, resulting in 90 to 100 deaths a year. That's the highest rate per 100,000 people among peer cities including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, according to a report from the Bicycle Coalition. That same report found that in 2013, 40 percent of the Philadelphia's traffic fatalities were from autos hitting pedestrians.
"We write it off as the cost of mobility - and it's not," said J. Peter Kissinger, keynote speaker and president and CEO of AAA, which was a sponsor for the event.
The crash and fatality statistics stand starkly against numbers that show the city is embracing other modes of transportation. Philadelphia has about 200 miles of bike lanes, and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission estimated about 17,600 people a year bike to work in the region.
Meanwhile, events such as September's visit by Pope Francis, which caused much of Center City to be closed to vehicle traffic, highlighted Philadelphia residents' interest in more walkable streets.
"I think there's a transition happening," said Bob Previdi, policy coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition. "They're starting to demand a safer street."