It’s “been a difficult year,” Mayor Jim Kenney said, with 24 people killed in crashes in July alone — “the highest number of traffic fatalities in a single month since the city committed to Vision Zero four years ago,” according to the action plan.
“This alarming spike in traffic deaths comes at a time when there are fewer cars on the road due to the pandemic response, which has encouraged speeding and aggressive driving,” Kenney said. “Together, with all the challenges Philadelphians have faced this year, these tragic deaths make our Vision Zero efforts more important than ever.”
Kenney was joined Friday by Deputy Managing Director for the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability Mike Carroll, Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams, and others in releasing the plan that looks at progress made since the effort launched in 2017 and outlines steps needed in the next five years.
The city plans to expand automated speed enforcement and Safe Routes Philly, a youth safety education program; continue Neighborhood Slow Zone programs in Sharswood and South Philadelphia to calm speeds; and install 40 miles of protected bike lanes by 2025.
“The next five years is going to be crucial for us to really make progress," said Lily Reynolds, the city’s deputy director of Complete Streets, a term used to describe roads that are safe and efficient no matter how someone is traveling. "And this plan really sets us out to do that.”
The city highlights 58 miles of completed safety improvements, 456 e-bikes added to Indego, and 10 miles of protected bike lanes, as some of its accomplishments since Vision Zero was started three years ago. Philadelphia had seen “a flat to slightly decreasing trend” in those killed on city streets between 2015 and 2019, according to the action plan, which notes: “If we continue our current trend, we will not reach our goal by 2030.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how Philadelphia’s streets are used, presenting unprecedented hurdles toward Vision Zero’s goal. Stay-at-home orders earlier this spring led to fewer drivers, therefore leaving stretches of streets open to speeding cars. Although traffic volumes ticked up as restrictions eased, there’s newfound concern about what roads will look like if a perceived fear of public transportation during the pandemic leads more people to travel by private car.
Kelley Yemen, director of Complete Streets, calls 2020 a “horrific" year for traffic deaths.
“We’re going to have to work even harder to start bending this curve downwards," she said. "We know that with the open roads and the changes in how our streets are being used during the pandemic has stark safety consequences.”
The Vision Zero 2025 Action plan points to four policy goals that would need legislative action, aside from expanding automated speed enforcement as is already seen on Roosevelt Boulevard, which include setting or lowering speed limits, passing a curb bill allowing for safe street design, and adopting a Vision Zero ordinance.
It also promotes using SEPTA by highlighting it as a safer choice than a car. Ridership aboard SEPTA has plummeted during the pandemic, with figures down about 65% from pre-coronavirus levels on subways, trolleys, and buses.
By 2025, officials hope to pilot bus-lane enforcement through onboard cameras to make transit a more attractive option.
“Mass transit is part of the lifeblood of the city of Philadelphia,” Carroll said. “So Philadelphia really doesn’t work unless people are going to get back into the habit of using mass transit.”
Officials are focusing on racial disparities as they map out the next five years, with fatalities or serious injuries “30% more likely to occur in areas of the city where most residents are people of color,” according to the plan.
Regarding the plan’s racial equity goals, Yemen said: “We really dug in to as much as we can, where we have disparities and need to refocus and double down on our efforts toward a more equitable Philadelphia. So, definitely a stronger focus on this plan on righting some of those past wrongs.”