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After the third car crashed into his lawn fronting Lincoln Drive, Paden Amsden bought six tons of boulders for $4,500 and had them embedded at the perimeter of the property.

“I’d had enough,” said Amsden, 33, a mortgage broker who bought his West Mount Airy house in early 2021. Out-of-control cars launched from one of the city’s most dangerous roads had already knocked out several protective steel posts filled with concrete, each weighing as much as 400 pounds.

“I couldn’t keep making claims on my homeowner’s insurance,” Amsden said. The first crash happened at 1 a.m. about a week after he moved in. The third was last February.

“I’ve always been in love with Mount Airy and wanted to live here, and I’m terrified to go out on my front porch.”

Rodney Finalle, 55, who bought a house near Upsal Street 2½ years ago.

Horn-honking, squealing tires, and the crunch of metal are the omnipresent soundtrack of Lincoln Drive, a north-south arterial that funnels commuters through Northwest Philadelphia to Center City.

Now fed-up residents are pushing for new speed controls to reduce near-daily crashes on and near Lincoln Drive, which has hairpin curves, a posted speed limit of 25 mph, and passes through dense neighborhoods.

So far, they’ve grabbed the attention of City Council members and state lawmakers, as well as regional officials at PennDot — though structural changes to roads and increased enforcement of traffic laws can take years to achieve.

Meanwhile, the neighbors do what they can. At the notorious Emlen Circle, where Lincoln Drive and two other streets intersect at oblique angles, for instance, they have placed yellow flags to help pedestrians. (Take one from a container, cross the street, survive, and put it in a container on the other side for the next person.)

“I’ve always been in love with Mount Airy and wanted to live here, and I’m terrified to go out on my front porch,” said Rodney Finalle, 55, a pediatrician who bought a house near Upsal Street 2½ years ago.

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He’s witnessed at least 12 accidents at the intersection since moving to his dream neighborhood and said all the nearby neighbors have had cars crash into their lawns. His family installed boulders right away.

What would he do if his doesn’t work? “Get bigger boulders.”

Residents with radar guns

Lincoln Drive is on the city’s High Injury Network, the 12% of roads where 80% of the Philadelphia crashes in which drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians are killed or seriously injured happen. City officials use the data to plan safety projects.

From 2014 through 2020, Lincoln Drive had at least two fatal crashes, and 10 people were seriously injured, the city’s data show. So far this year, two people died in Lincoln Drive crashes, including a 24-year-old woman killed in July when a speeding tow truck driver hit her sedan head on near Emlen Street.

Anne Dicker, a former political organizer for progressive causes, has helped marshal the Northwest Traffic Calming Coalition, a joint project of the West and East Mount Airy neighborhood associations. They’ve got 1,025 petition signatures, “Slow Down” yard signs, and regularly post photos and videos of crash scenes on two Facebook pages.

“I think we can save lives,” said Dicker, 49, who sometimes clocks vehicles with a radar gun. On a recent summer Sunday she found traffic traveling at an average of 36 mph — 11 miles over the limit.

“Not bad,” she said. It’s often far higher.

What can be done

The group is focusing on residential streets that intersect or feed traffic to Lincoln Drive and is organizing residents on Germantown and Henry Avenues, both on the city’s list of dangerous streets.

In general, the residents say they want a “safe systems” approach to street planning — designing roads and traffic controls to minimize crashes and reduce vehicle speeds so when crashes do happen, they are less harmful.

“We’re not asking to be a super special exception because of the neighborhood we live in.”

Steve Newman, 52, who lives on Lincoln near West Allens Lane.

Examples include better-timed signals, speed tables — slightly raised platforms in the road that slow drivers as they pass over — as well as roundabouts and curb bump-outs at intersections to shorten crossing distances and times for walkers. Another approach involves narrowing travel lanes, often called a “road diet.”

Improvements like these need approval by the state or the city, and they sometimes draw opposition from those with other interests, such as small businesses concerned about losing loading zones and on-street parking.

Many residents also express support for automated speed-enforcement cameras, such as those installed on Roosevelt Boulevard, which have reduced average speeds there. Those are temporarily authorized by state legislation only for the boulevard and other roads as designated by City Council as a “pilot project” due to expire in June 2023.

People across the city have been clamoring for traffic-calming projects, and several are in progress, including on Lehigh Avenue, Parkside Avenue and the Broad, Germantown and Erie hub of North Philadelphia.

“These traffic problems are occurring in neighborhoods all over the city, some more affluent like ours, others less so, and they all need proper attention so that people aren’t worried about life and limb,” said Steve Newman, 52, who lives on Lincoln near West Allens Lane. “We’re not asking to be a super special exception because of the neighborhood we live in.”

Speeding cars, rising deaths

Lincoln Drive has long had a fast and furious reputation, but residents say they noticed a big increase in aggressive driving and speeding beginning with the COVID-19 lockdowns of early 2020. And it has continued.

Traffic-crash deaths in Philadelphia jumped 88% in 2020 over the previous year, to 156, even though the pandemic reduced the number of vehicles on the road, according to the city’s 2021 Vision Zero report, which tracks progress on reducing fatal crashes.

For years, traffic engineers believed that congestion increases safety because drivers are forced to slow down. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a key metric for traffic volume, has risen steadily across the U.S. — but fatal crashes increased in 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022 anyway, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projections.

That has prompted some experts to wonder whether more focus should be placed on dangerous choices by some drivers: to be drunk behind the wheel, to speed and drive aggressively, in addition to designing safer roads.

The problematic stretch of Lincoln Drive from Allens Lane to West Cliveden Street is a state highway, for which PennDot is responsible. From that point south, it’s the city’s.

PennDot has met with the Lincoln Drive activists and is open to considering changes.

“From the high-level view, Lincoln Drive has the potential for some improvements … but we haven’t dove down to the specifics at this point,” said Sharang Malaviya, an engineer and traffic safety supervisor in PennDot’s District 6 office, which handles Southeastern Pennsylvania.

‘I’d like to be hopeful’

Some of the Lincoln Drive campaigners have been here before.

Kittura Dior, 66, lives in the house where she grew up and remembers several times feeling the impact in her bedroom when a car hit a light pole or tree on the corner in the middle of the night. She’d wake up and call 911.

After living abroad for years, she returned in 2005 to the house at the corner of Lincoln Drive and Hortter Street. To Dior, the number of accidents seemed worse than ever, and she began organizing neighbors to push for changes. She upped the effort after an SUV driven by a drunk driver flew off the road and smashed into a neighbor’s house in 2007.

“When we would go to meetings and mention traffic calming, all the elected officials said, ‘What? Can you spell that?’ They had never heard of it,” Dior said. Nothing much happened.

Today, the strategy is better known. Designing “safe systems” streets that calm traffic is now the road safety policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation, with federal money behind it.

“I’d like to be hopeful,” Dior said. “But the wheels of government move slowly.”