Traffic on Roosevelt Boulevard has slowed notably over the nearly two years that automatic cameras have been enforcing speed limits on the 12-lane thoroughfare, which runs from the Schuylkill to the Bucks County line, Philadelphia Parking Authority data show.
Other city neighborhoods are asking for the speed cameras, now limited by state law to the Boulevard. The program expires next year unless the legislature extends it.
“We’re seeing something that has succeeded better than we could have hoped for,” said Christopher Puchalsky, policy director for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability.
Speeding violations tumbled 91.4% from June 1, 2020, when cameras were activated, through November 2021, the PPA, which runs the enforcement program, said in its second annual report recently filed with Gov. Tom Wolf and the legislature.
Average speeds measured at the eight monitoring locations also declined. And fewer vehicles were clocked traveling faster than 100 m.p.h. Thirty-nine drivers were caught traveling that fast in the first month of the program, when violations brought a warning but no fine. Last November, only eight were nabbed.
Community and political leaders have requested speed cameras for their dangerous arteries, including Cobbs Creek Parkway, Kelly Drive, Delaware Avenue, and Torresdale Avenue, PPA officials say.
Data on the speed-camera program were unveiled at an April 30 traffic safety conference organized at Temple University by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to discuss “Vision Zero” policies that aim to eliminate traffic deaths. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration set a goal of achieving zero deaths by 2030.
The Boulevard’s speed cameras, by the numbers
So far, serious crashes and traffic fatalities have declined on Roosevelt Boulevard relative to Philadelphia streets without enforcement cameras, according to a University of Pennsylvania researcher analyzing the effects of the speed surveillance. Erick Guerra, associate professor of city and regional planning at Penn, presented early unpublished findings at the April 30 conference.
Before and after: Average monthly collisions on the Boulevard dropped 30% compared with the rest of Philadelphia and by 50% compared with other city three- and four-lane road segments, according to PennDot crash data from the first seven months of the program. Both reductions are statistically significant, Guerra said. The monthly average on the other roads went from 261 in the year before cameras to 320. Only crashes involving an injury or a vehicle being towed were counted.
Crash fatalities decreased by 17% on the Boulevard but rose by 81% on other major arterial roads, based on average monthly police tallies in 2019 and from the beginning of the camera program through 2021.
Speed cameras prevented about eight traffic fatalities on Roosevelt Boulevard in 2020 and 2021 — “my best estimate,” Guerra said.
The findings are strong, but “we definitely want to collect some more data,” Guerra said. For one thing, a bigger sample will reduce the chances effects may be random, he said. Based on similar studies, he said he’s confident the trends will be borne out.
More cameras are coming to Roosevelt Boulevard
Two new locations for speed-enforcement cameras — 700 E. Roosevelt Blvd. and 5000 E. Roosevelt Blvd. — are scheduled to begin operating June 1, a PPA spokesperson said. Motorists will receive warnings for the first 60 days they are active.
Corinne O’Connor, PPA’s deputy executive director, noted a large initial drop in the number of violations after the first notices with fines attached hit mailboxes beginning in August 2020.
“As soon as people started realizing this is real, that we’re not messing around, they started noticing what the posted speed limit is — and they definitely changed their behavior,” O’Connor said at the Vision Zero conference.
Violations carry fines of $100 to $150, depending on how fast a car is traveling. Vehicles are cited only when they are captured exceeding posted speed limits by more than 11 miles per hour. No points are assessed.
Roosevelt Boulevard has 12 lanes and long stretches without traffic signals. Though built like a highway, it runs through densely packed commercial and residential neighborhoods. Posted speed limits are 40 mph and 45 mph along the route. It’s often at or near the top of the list of most dangerous roads in the city and is especially perilous for crossing pedestrians.
Speed cameras are controversial, and it took about four years of wrangling before the legislature approved a five-year pilot program for Roosevelt Boulevard in 2018. The law also authorized PennDot and the Turnpike Commission to pilot work-zone speed enforcement cameras.
The National Motorists Association, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on protecting drivers’ rights, says that by slowing traffic down generally, automated speed-enforcement hinders the vast majority of drivers who are safe and exist just to make money for cities and states that use them. The group also has concerns that poorly calibrated cameras can give false readings.
Authorization for the Pennsylvania experiment with speed cameras is scheduled to run out Oct. 19, 2023.
Proponents note that the cameras are designed to reduce the number of violations over time — and thus the revenue they generate. The state law also requires posted warnings where speed cameras are in use and stipulates that any money raised is earmarked for safety projects on the Boulevard and state highways.
“The goal is for this program to fail at raising revenue,” said Michael Carroll, Philadelphia’s deputy manager for transportation.