I raise a family on Chestnut Street, where I bike, walk, and drive. With three lanes of traffic, vehicles approach highway-level speeds, encouraging dangerous weaving between cars to get ahead. At these speeds, it's not uncommon that a driver loses control of the vehicle, driving up onto the sidewalk or even plowing into a building. In the eight years I have called West Philly home, my parked car has been sideswiped three times.
Residents have been calling on the city and PennDot to fix this unsafe road for years by removing a travel lane, as has been done on adjacent streets. After years of calling for these changes, we finally saw improvements.
This month, the travel lane was removed and the first parking-protected bike lane in Philadelphia opened between 45th and 33rd Streets. The goal is to slow speeding vehicles, provide clearly marked lanes for drivers and bike riders, and reduce the distance for pedestrians crossing the street. Flexible plastic posts separate a row of parking that now divides bike traffic from cars.
While I am glad to see these initial changes, much more needs to be done:
These necessary safety improvements must extend the entire length of Chestnut Street. Instead of three lanes, the street should become a strict two-lane road for cars and trucks for the entire stretch from Cobbs Creek to the Schuylkill.
While most residents welcome these improvements, some are opposed. Some were concerned to see an unfamiliar change, especially during the three-week rollout by the Streets Department. These residents object that there are two travel lanes rather than three, especially as vehicles are double parking.
Mostly, though, residents are frustrated by the glacial pace of change and the city's limited efforts to adopt a safe and equitable transportation system throughout our city. With Philadelphia having the highest vehicular crash rate of any city in America, it is disappointing that injuries and fatalities are only met by calls to form task forces.
At the ribbon cutting on Tuesday, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell surprised everyone by reversing her previous support for the safety improvements and declared she would reevaluate after 90 days if these changes would become permanent. Rather than calling for their removal, she should use her influence to expand the program and ensure its success.
Politicians should never demand that we reduce safety improvements; they should advocate for expanding safe streets. It is imperative that street safety improvements are rapidly expanded to all Philadelphians, regardless of their zip code or income.
I want the children of my neighborhood to be able to play out front and bike to school without the risk of serious injury or death. I want the elderly to be able to cross streets without anxiety. I want all Philadelphians to be able to safely get to workplaces, schools, and places of worship.
This city cannot be built around speeding cars. Safety improvements are fundamental for the well-being of residents and visitors. Our politicians must advocate for safety improvements on Chestnut Street, in West Philadelphia, and throughout our city.