Eleven people have died in traffic accidents on Philadelphia's Roosevelt Boulevard so far this year. But a plan that might have saved some of those lives is hung up in the state legislature over its usual inability to solve problems.
Rep. John Taylor (R., Philadelphia) sponsored a bill that lets the city install speed cameras on the boulevard. If drivers go 11 miles over the 45 mph speed limit, a camera would snap a picture of their license plates and the State Police would send them $150 tickets. The point is to stop drivers from speeding and endangering each other, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.
But in the final days before the legislature's summer recess, House leaders were paralyzed. They didn't address gerrymandering or stop violent domestic abusers from having easy access to their guns. In all the controversy, this smart bill to help Philadelphia just fell off the table, even though it easily won preliminary votes in both houses.
While the legislature is on vacation, danger on the boulevard isn't. Motorists routinely drive well above the speed limit; worse, the boulevard serves as Philadelphia's drag strip. In 2013, a drag racer killed Samara Banks and three of her children as they crossed the boulevard. The children ranged in age from 7 months to 4 years old.
The city is trying to slow down traffic in other areas, aiming to reduce the average 100 fatalities a year on all of its streets, to zero, according to its Vision Zero plan. And, with good reason.
Staff writer Jason Laughlin recently reported that people are three times more likely to be killed by cars in North Philadelphia than in Center City. In fact, the rate of deaths per 100,000 vehicle miles traveled is twice as high in North Philadelphia (which includes the Lower Northeast) than it is in Center City. One big difference is that people drive at slower speeds in Center City, in part, because they have to navigate around other drivers as well as pedestrians and cyclists.
In lower income neighborhoods, where streets can be wider and less traveled, cars can move more quickly and residents, without cars, are walking and riding bikes. Pedestrians and cyclists often must navigate around hazards like cars parked on sidewalks or shoulders, so they use the street, thereby putting themselves in harm's way.
The city is embarking on a major planning and safety project, holding neighborhood meetings and asking people around the city how they want to make streets safe for everyone. Installing speed bumps, fixing potholes, putting in protected bike lanes, and tougher traffic and parking enforcement can help slow the accident rate. But so far, the majority of the street safety projects so far through the city's Complete Streets program have been in Center City. The city should make sure all neighborhoods get equal representation.
Cooperation in Harrisburg would also help.
Taylor says he believes his speed camera bill will pass when legislators return in September from their summer recess. Let's hope he's right.