The City of Philadelphia released its Vision Zero Action Plan on Thursday, September 28. The Bicycle Coalition has long been advocating for such an action plan—and the actions that will make Philadelphia a better, safer place to travel—and will be releasing several blog posts about the plan.
The plan itself is good. It uses statistics, public comments and strategies used elsewhere to create a three-year roadmap to eliminate all traffic deaths in Philadelphia by 2030.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed about the plan said Philly isn’t currently safe for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. And we agree—the city’s streets are not safe enough. The time is now to take real, concrete action to re-create streets that work for everyone.
For this blog, we’ve put together five of the most important actions laid out by the Plan. There are many more that we will delve into in future posts throughout the coming weeks.
Neighborhood slow zones
Brings vision zero to the neighborhood level and allows communities to propose their roadways for traffic calming measures
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, for those who don’t know, keeps track of all traffic deaths in Philadelphia. Too often, we’ve found, these needless deaths take place on neighborhood streets where, if the driver responsible for the crash were driving the correct speed limit, a death could have been avoided. That’s not to say the crash could always have been completely avoided. But studies have shown that motor vehicle-on-pedestrian crashes at 20 miles give the pedestrian a 90 percent chance of survival. At 40 miles per hour, the pedestrian is 10 percent likely to live.
Twenty miles an hour, therefore, can make a huge difference. And many of the 100 or so traffic deaths in Philadelphia could have been avoided if drivers simply followed the posted speed limit.
Additionally, it’s the local communities which know where the problem areas are. Last year, members of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia conducted timed speed tests and spoke to neighbors at 63rd and Lansdowne, where 8-year-old Jayanna Powell was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
We found that vehicles were regularly violating the speed limit here, and that everyone knew about it. One man, who witnessed the crash, said he’s been reporting problems with 63rd Street to the city for years. “It’s a shame, but it’s not the first time this type of [expletive] happened up here,” said one neighbor I spoke to.
And that’s just a single example.
Neighborhood slow zones could help empower communities to make engineering changes in problem areas. New York City has already done this, complete with an application process on its Department of Transportation’s website. And it’s made a huge difference.
“Areas where Neighborhood Slow Zones have been implemented there has been a 10-15% decrease in speeds, 14% reduction in crashes with injuries and 31% reduction in vehicles injuries,” notes NYC DOT.
Public education campaigns
The city needs two PSA campaigns that addresses speeding because it is the leading cause of Philadelphia’s traffic related deaths and the other six violations that result in severe injuries and deaths (“Safety Six”) along the High Injury Network.
Speed kills. It is, by and far, the leading cause of traffic injuries and deaths not only in Philadelphia, but the entire country. As noted by the Associated Press today, 37,461 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2016, a 2.6 percent spike since 2015, and pedestrian deaths have now hit their highest level since 1990. We’ve also hit the highest number of bicyclists killed on U.S. roads since 1991.
Additionally, Philadelphia has a clear high-injury network of streets where 50% of all traffic deaths and severe injuries occur, as highlighted in the Action Plan. It’s important that anyone driving along this network understands that they are on streets and roads with higher crash, injury, and death rates.
Authorize professionals to make safety decisions
Authorize the Chief Traffic Engineer to implement traffic calming and traffic safety improvements.
In 2012, Philadelphia City Council passed a law giving themselves authority over engineering plans as it pertains to bike lanes which take away a lane of traffic or parking, and other safety measures. Since then, the implantation of bike lanes, and the rise in bicycling in general, has slowed in Philadelphia. After that law passed, there have been cases, when Council has overruled the Streets Department‘s proposal for a bike lane even where no loss of parking or travel lane was involved.
Why does this matter to everyone? Because more bicyclists on city streets creates less congestion, less pollution, and increases safety for all road users. As Philadelphia’s population continues increasing, the streets increasingly do not have the capacity for everyone to drive a car everywhere. It’s better for everyone if more people who are able to, opt for a bicycle, public transportation, or on the pavement.
The 2012-passed law, which requires City Council members to introduce an ordinance for a full-lane bike lane (that replace a travel or parking lane) to become reality, has prevented the City from making streets safer and created extremely long and drawn out processes to get simple safety and traffic calming devices installed in Philadelphia—including along Philadelphia’s high-crash network, where changes are most-needed.
Build a network of protected bike lanes and trails
The city puts a connected network of bike lanes separated from traffic on its streets.
Protected bike lanes are good. A network of connected protected bike lanes is better. Here’s why:
- They are a traffic calming device
- They protect bicyclists who use the street network today
- They attract more bicyclists to use city streets for transportation. The Bicycle Coalition’s proposed protected bike lane and Circuit trail network is Philadelphia’s Hub and Spoke, which would create a series of high quality lanes and trails around Center City, and protected lanes from each neighborhood into Center City, allowing for easy access to Philadelphia’s economic center, getting more people to more jobs.
- A safer bicycle facility is directly linked to safer behavior by bicyclists and drivers.
Work for the passage of HB1187 to permit enforcement cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard
House Bill 1187, introduced by Rep. John Taylor (R-Phila), would allow for the installation of a speed camera safety pilot on Roosevelt Boulevard.
Roosevelt Boulevard is not a place the Bicycle Coalition recommends actually riding a bicycle (and on a portion of it, bicycling is illegal.) Nevertheless, the Boulevard is the most dangerous street in Philadelphia, and one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the entire United States.
Over a five year period, 13 percent of all traffic fatalities in Philadelphia occurred on the Boulevard and speeding was the leading cause. The entire roadway needs to be re-engineered, and the City is working on getting that done through a TIGER-funded Route for Change Program.
In the meantime, drivers need to slow down and obey the 45 MPH posted speed limit along that stretch so there are fewer crashes, and the crashes that occur are less severe. Speed enforcement cameras, which the Bicycle Coalition has been advocating for in Harrisburg, could help make that happen.
It amazes me that the Coalition’s view of pedestrian safety focuses so narrowly on speed, and virtually ignores accident causation. Given the actual statistics on crash causes, focusing on speed is CLEARLY less effective than focusing on causation, with approaches like better intersection lighting, making jaywalking a serious offense, and separating the green light for cars from the walk light, while also adding discrete left turn arrows. The statistical reality id that each of us would spend several lifetimes driving at 20 mph on streets safer at higher speeds and never have a close call with a walker or biker. Further, it is a serious misconception that closing heavily traveled car lanes for the 2.2% who bike will decrease pollution, even if the change doubles bike commuters. Anything that seriously disturbs smooth traffic flow is very likely to significantly increase air pollution.
The bottom line is that the steps council took to control changes were taken because of majority resistance to Vision Zero’s harsh tendency to treat all drivers as if the were part of the tiny minority that drives at truly excessive speeds and causes, not the average crash, but the most spectacular ones.
The Coalition needs to learn that if you gave the average, safe driver the respect he or she deserves, and worked toward a kinder, gentler, and more statistically-based form of road design (i.e. one that considers actual statistics on motorist behavior and crash causation, not statistics that show benefits from harsh, aggressive traffic calming), we could make much more rapid progress toward safety for all, and there would be little resistance from those who now phone their councilmen and women complaining about anti-driver street redesigns.