Empty streets don’t mean open streets, or safe streets.
Philadelphia’s empty roadways in 2020 have resulted in a year that was, in the words of Kelley Yemen, the City’s Complete Streets Director, “horrific” with respect to traffic violence.
To date, over 140 people have been killed on the City’s streets; a 63% increase since 2019. At least 45 of those killed were people walking and five riding bicycles. This tragically high level of traffic violence reinforces what that the Bicycle Coalition has been saying for years: traffic fatalities and severe injuries caused by motorists is a pressing public health crisis that must be addressed proactively and with urgency.
Roads with few cars not only resulted in rampant speeding and reckless driving and more children, teenagers, women and men dying, it also led to more drivers to leave their victims to die without calling for assistance. The number of hit and runs in 2020 is more than double (138%) of all of 2019.
In a year that has demonstrated very clearly that when empty, Philadelphia’s streets are more dangerous than ever, the answer is not to just let traffic increase to slow drivers down.
Philadelphia has an even more compelling reason to address its high per capita fatality rate and continue to work toward zero deaths by 2030, one of Mayor Kenney’s high profile commitments when he took office in 2015.
Mayor Kenney recently released his 2025 Vision Zero Action Plan, which has many strong and progressive elements in it, primarily that is built around a safe systems approach that manages all risks in the transportation system and eliminates deadly conditions, rather than trying to design infrastructure that only works when everyone follows the rules.
However, a good plan is only as good as the resources invested to implement it. When the City revised its FY21 in June 2020, the Mayor cut over $2M that had been allocated to the Vision Zero program both in the capital and operating budgets. It’s critical that those budget cuts get restored and in fact, a new line item be created. Three main reasons why.
First, the current Vision Zero Maintenance crew of thirteen who work in the Highway Division of the Streets Department does not have direct access to supplies to maintain infrastructure projects and thus, the projects suffer from existing in less than ideal conditions.
Secondly, the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (oTIS) needs specific funds to conduct necessary planning and design of projects, such as creating designs for Washington Avenue.
Third, oTIS and Streets need funds available in order to match state and federal grants, as was used to make possible future protected bike lanes on Parkside Avenue and 6th Street; otherwise, they can’t apply for such funding. All of these line items enable the City to secure funding for projects that have a multi-year lead time.
Now as the FY22 budget begins to be shaped by the Mayor, we are putting forward how important it is to restore those budget cuts in a letter sent on December 17th. Specifically, our letter calls upon Mayor Kenney to:
- Add $1,000,000 for a new Vision Zero Maintenance line item to pay for supplies (striping, flex posts, barriers and other traffic calming devices) for Vision Zero maintenance crew’s uses.
- Restore $425,000 to the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure & Sustainability to conduct Vision Zero planning and design projects.
- Restore $2,000,000 for the Vision Zero in the Streets Department Capital Budget.
- Maintain staffing levels in oTIS and the Streets Department to carry out the 2025 Vision Zero Action Plan.
In particular, if the funds cut in FY21 are not restored in FY22, Mayor Kenney will fall further behind in planning and implementing Vision Zero capital projects, and it will derail the Mayor and his team in their efforts to achieve the goals set out in the Vision Zero Action Plan 2025.
A version of this post was sent to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney this week.