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The Highs and Lows of Tuesday’s Streets Department Hearing

The Bicycle Coalition assembled a group of volunteers on Monday morning, going door-to-door in City Hall, advocating for two pieces of the mayor’s proposed budget.

First, we were asking the City Council members we met with to support an increase in Streets Department funding, to better pave city streets.

Second, we were asking for those Council members to support the proposed 13-person Vision Zero maintenance crew that will help maintain bike lanes, crosswalks, ADA ramps, and other street infrastructure.

We spoke with 12 Councilpeople or their staffs.

Bicycle Coalition volunteers speak with Councilman Squilla on Monday

On Tuesday, Council held a hearing on the Streets Department budget.

As many may have already read, the hearing was filled with mixed opinions. On the one hand, Council president Darrell Clarke seemed to lash out at Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems Deputy Managing Director Mike Carroll when asking about vehicular traffic.

As PlanPhilly recounted of their exchange:

At Tuesday’s hearing, Clarke seemed ready to stand up and demand a faster drive to work.

“I know we have an exhaustive study as it relates to bike lanes and bikes and all the things associated with that, but what is the game plan for the vehicular traffic?”

Clarke asked Carroll. “I think all of us kind of witness that every morning and in the evening, coming down Broad or whatever.”

Carroll didn’t disagree that some roads in the city are clogged but argued Philadelphia faced more pressing transportation problems, which OTIS hopes to tackle with a forthcoming transportation plan currently under development.

“The idea, though, is mostly focused on safety because the fact is, if you compare the city of Philadelphia to other cities around the country, we’re not really one of the most traffic congested cities around the country. we’re like number 25,” said Carroll, referring to Texas A&M’s Urban Mobility Scorecard’s travel time index. “We are the worst in terms of people getting killed and injured though.”

According to the City’s Vision Zero Action Plan, Philadelphia has the highest per capita traffic death rate among peer cities at six per 100,000.

“So, that’s the priority the administration set, to deal with the people getting killed on the streets,” said Carroll.

“So, it’s not about increased traffic?” Clarke asked in response. “Because you’re talking about everything but what I asked you about.”

But Clarke was hardly the only Council member to speak to members of the Streets Department about transportation.

I was in the meeting, and there were several positive moments, as well.

The Streets Department, as many know, has a 1,000+ backlog of streets that need repaving. In recent years, they’ve been repaving between 50 and 70 miles per year, which has continually increased the backlog. Just to maintain the backlog, the city would need to pave 130 miles per year. Last year, they repaved 70 miles; this year, they hope to reach 100 miles; and the next fiscal year, 130 miles, they said.

Councilman Domb asked about increased congestion in the city – which, it was noted, is actually down from where it was in the 90s – and noted it’s likely new car sharing services, like Uber and Lyft have added to the increase in Center City traffic.

Strangely, no one asked about SEPTA, whose ridership has decreased 10 percent just in the past year. This decrease in ridership (about 18 million fewer rides) is a likely huge culprit in Philadelphia’s traffic woes.

Councilwoman Helen Gym, a cyclist, noted she was concerned with snow blocking bike lanes in the winter and late spring, and Streets said their budget adds increased enforcement, inspectors and data enforcement.

Carroll additionally noted they have been able to fund equipment to plow bike lanes.

“You will see an improvement next year,” he said, adding it is current Streets Department policy to not dump snow in bike lanes.

Councilman Taubenberger, one of the 12 Councilpeople we met with a day earlier, noted he believes the increase in online shopping has helped add to Philadelphia’s traffic problems. He also brought up the potential for speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard — Pennsylvania’s deadliest road — and Latanya Byrd, who lost members of her family in a crash on the Boulevard just a few years ago.

“Whatever your department wants to do … with the Vision Zero people, I want to do,” Taubenberger noted.

The hearing, unfortunately, ended early before every Councilmember had the chance to speak. We will update on our blog if and when another Streets hearing takes place before the end of the current budget season.

Our general takeaway: Although we were disappointed with the comments made by Council President Clarke – and the apparent insinuation that increased speeds is more important than the 100 people killed each year in Philadelphia – Vision Zero remains popular amongst Philadelphia’s legislators.

The city’s Vision Zero heat map was brought up several times, as were our meetings a day earlier, and the potential for keeping speeds manageable while giving all Philadelphians transportation options. Everyone in Philadelphia deserves a safe way to and from where they need to go, no matter what form of transportation they’re using, and we will continue advocating for just that.

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Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured, Vision Zero

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