By Kyle Hearing
This week, our ongoing examination of Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Action Plan is focusing on engineering. In many ways, engineering is the most straightforward aspect of Vision Zero; guidelines (such as those published by NACTO, AASHTO or the Federal Highway Administration) can provide planners and engineers with a blueprint for creating safer streets that simply have no counterpart when it comes to enforcement (see our page on Vision Zero and Equity for more on this). At the same time, engineering solutions are expensive and many municipal budgets are limited, which creates difficult decisions throughout the planning and implementation process.
Broadly speaking, the Engineering Actions laid out in Philadelphia’s 3-Year Action Plan prioritize safety improvements along the High Injury Network and seek to incorporate Vision Zero principles in departments across Philadelphia government agencies.
Safety improvements planned for Year One (September 2017 to September 2018) include the installation of Philadelphia’s first two bicycle signals, and the installation of two raised intersections. Though the Bicycle Coalition has not heard of any plans for bicycle signals to be installed during 2018 (though we know that PennDOT expects to place one on the Chestnut Street Bridge), if you have spent any time on South Broad lately, you may have noticed that construction has begun on raised intersections at Chestnut and Walnut.
The Action Plan also lays out safety improvements that are planned to occur annually; some examples include the installation of leading pedestrian intervals at 50 intersections, the installation of two major pedestrian intersection improvements, and the installation of 25 low-cost safety improvements.
While this meticulous schedule of improvements is a great way to ensure that engineering actions tied to this plan are measurable, a commitment to installing or improving a target mileage of bike lanes is noticeably absent. While Mayor Kenney has independently committed to building 30 miles of protected bike lanes, at the Bicycle Coalition’s 2018 Vision Zero for Philadelphia Conference, the Mayor admitted that though the City is still working towards this goal, mileage has been slow to materialize. Since Mayor Kenney came into office, the City has installed 2 miles of protected bike lanes and 16.2 miles of conventional bike lanes in 2016. The number of bike lanes added in 2017 has not yet been made available by oTIS or the Streets Department.
Plans to incorporate Vision Zero principles in departments across Philadelphia government agencies include updates to the Development Services Checklist to ensure that streets are designed for their most vulnerable users and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan to include an analysis of sidewalk and bikeway network gaps and new design elements. Additionally, the Action Plan calls for the creation of a database capable of tracking streets and intersections with line-of-sight issues.
The effort to internalize Vision Zero principles within Philadelphia’s bureaucracy is incredibly important, although time consuming and difficult to evaluate. One suggestion that the Bicycle Coalition has made is to continue making data publicly available (such as the ongoing sidewalk inventory and planned database of streets and intersections with line-of-sight issues); this is a great way to engage with residents as Vision Zero engineering improvements are rolled out. An information portal such as this would also benefit from the inclusion of Streets Department permits for lane and sidewalk closures, allowing the public to easily see if existing closures are permitted.
If you are interested in learning more about the engineering actions planned as Philadelphia continues to roll our Vision Zero, we highly encourage you to take a look at the full 3-Year Action Plan.