By Bob Previdi
On Wednesday, November 8th 2017, the Vision Zero Alliance organized a community listening session at the YMCA in West Philadelphia. This event brought residents of the community together to talk about road safety issues and what improvements they would like to see happen in the future. This session focused on the issues directly impacting Chestnut Street between 45th and 63rd streets. Chestnut Street is among the 15% of streets in Philadelphia that are on the high-injury crash network.
Among those involved in helping to bring this meeting together were Terry Henry and Cynthia McCoy of the YMCA of West Philadelphia, Maurice Jones, President of Garden Court, Chris Satullo of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, Jana Tidwell of AAA Mid-Atlantic, and Yocasta Lora of AARP Pennsylvania who provided dinner for everyone.
Promotion and Recruitment
We generated a flyer to promote this event through several outlets. The YMCA shared the flyer with their members. The Henry C. Lea Elementary School shared it with their community of parents. It was shared among members of the Garden Court Manor and Cobbs Creek Environmental Center. We also went door-to-door of residential buildings along Chestnut Street to leave flyers.
We committed to the community to organize this report and share it with you. We also plan to circulate this back to the community and invite more input. This report includes a summary of individual input as well as a photo of the actual hand-written notes from the evening.
Issues and Possible Solutions
To summarize the highlights of the evening, the session focused primarily on the issues directly impacting Chestnut Street between 45th and 63rd streets beyond the area of the new bike lane. Chestnut Street is listed in the Vision Zero Action Plan as being among the 15% of streets in Philadelphia that are on the high-injury crash network.
The most common concern echoed during the meeting was the issue of speeding. Chestnut Street was often described as a “freeway” or “raceway” filled with “aggressive” drivers. This is not a new revelation and is something that has been a concern for many years and needs prompt attention from the City. One resident stated that even though the speed limit is 30 MPH, “you are lucky if drivers are only going 55.” In many cases, drivers do not even stop for school busses who are picking up or dropping off children. This makes crossing the road difficult for all pedestrians.
The new bike lane caused a lot of confusion among residents and drivers when first installed. Some said they were unaware of the new addition to their neighborhood. There were mixed opinions about the impact of the bike lane. Some said that the bike lane was causing traffic congestion and slowing traffic down. Others expressed concern that it creates obstacles between drivers and parked cars. There were also concerns that it promotes gentrification.
There also were residents that supported bike lane, suggesting that it indeed slows down traffic between 45th and 34th Street which is beneficial to pedestrians crossing the street. However, several people questioned why the bike lane was not extended all the way down Chestnut Street to Cobbs Creek. Their concern was that the inconsistency of the traffic flow made it more dangerous for both cars and cyclists. For consistency and to reduce confusion, the bike lane should be installed throughout the entire length of Chestnut Street to Cobbs Creek.
Throughout the evening, concerns were expressed for pedestrian safety on Chestnut Street. The community expressed that the crossing time was inadequate for pedestrians trying to cross the road. Slower pedestrians have a harder time crossing the three travel lanes before the light changes. They would like to see changes done to the walking signal. Their suggestions included a longer countdown signal or a having the countdown start earlier than where it is now at 6 seconds. Intersections of concern included 53th & Chestnut, 53rd & Walnut, 53rd & Market, and 52nd & Chestnut. In the area with the new bike lane, one resident also worries about being hit by a bicyclist while trying to cross the street because of the bike lane being right by the curb. More information needs to be given to the public for awareness of how to navigate around the bike lane as a pedestrian or as a driver that is parking.
The only other major concern expressed this evening was the difficulty of getting around on the cracked and destroyed sidewalks of Chestnut Street, particularly for those in wheelchairs. All agreed that the mobility needs of all community members should be considered and that speed was clearly an issue they would like to see addressed.
I want to, again, thank everyone who participated in organizing and running this event including our hosts, Terry Henry and Cynthia MCCoy of the YMCA West Philadelphia, Maurice Jones, President of Garden Court, Chris Satullo of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, Jana Tidwell of AAA Mid-Atlantic and Yocasta Lora of AARP Pennsylvania.
We will circulate this final report and provide a copy to the city for comment. We also will continue to monitor progress and solicit more input and report back to those community members who expressed a desire to stay involved.
Grossly overblown statements like the one below cause a total loss of credibility.
The most common concern echoed during the meeting was the issue of speeding. Chestnut Street was often described as a “freeway” or “raceway” filled with “aggressive” drivers. This is not a new revelation and is something that has been a concern for many years and needs prompt attention from the City. One resident stated that even though the speed limit is 30 MPH, “you are lucky if drivers are only going 55.” In many cases, drivers do not even stop for school busses who are picking up or dropping off children. This makes crossing the road difficult for all pedestrians. ”
James C. Walker, National Motorists Association
Any sensible driver would support changes like lengthening the crossing signal when necessary to give people time to cross. I wonder about the possibility of having buttons to request a green crossing light that would include a choice offering a longer period for those who need more time. Also, are these lights set up to stop right and left turns during crossing, proven to be a critical help to pedestrians and bike riders? However, these statements about speeding are contradicted by the city’s own data and by a vast amount of research into motorist behavior. A small minority of motorists do truly speed on Chestnut. However, the 85th percentile speed is in the low 30s and likely represents, via a great deal of research, a sensible speed under favorable road conditions, or at least a speed very close to a perfectly safe one. This idea that “everyone is doing 55” is typical of the polarized approach that seems to have invaded American politics and at times unfortunately pervades the rhetoric of even well intentioned bicycle and pedestrian advocates. Obviously, driving past a school bus that is unloading is a very serious infraction and a very dangerous activity. But, how many car drivers actually do this? Data needs to be gathered in an unemotional manner. Closing the lane on Chestnut, originally wisely given 3-lanes for commuters on a one-way street, is a very questionable move, unless data actually shows two lanes are more than adequate even at the busiest times of the day. In a perfect world, some manner of continuing to have 3 driving lanes while also fitting in a protected bike lane would be ideal. Did anyone thing of having a parking lane that is usable for parkers after rush hour, but opens up to drivers by the next morning’s rush? My point is that it is high time for the extremism typical of those who want Vision Zero changes to be dampened not only by the opinions and input of drivers and consideration of their valid needs, but by data. The history of research into all these matters reveals a clear history of data contradicting and limiting the demands of those concerned with “slowing traffic” and promoting safety. This does not mean that we should not be seeking safer streets and doing a high quality job of protecting pedestrians and bike riders. I respect this movement. But, it means we need to start to gathering data and using science and engineering, and not emotion, to make these decisions. A good example is the complex algorithm the NTSB now uses to determine speed limits on streets where pedestrians and bike riders also are present. Rather than arbitrarily wanting 25 or even 20-mph auto speeds, the algorithm uses data to determine what the limit should be, based on crash causes and frequency. Bottom line: arbitrarily eliminating lanes to slow traffic, or arbitrarily restricting auto speeds to what is somehow seen to be an acceptable collision velocity, should be replaced by SELECTIVELY limiting speeds to that which will minimize the chances of a collision caused by speed while allowing optimal driving conditions. Catch the truly dangerous drivers, and leave the rest alone! Creating traffic jams should not be the consequence of Vision Zero, and this has not happened in cities like Amsterdam where only moderate restraints to auto traffic flow are used.