Sam Ozer’s tragic death at the intersection of Henry Ave and Barnes St. was preventable. Henry Ave in Northwest Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous roads in Philadelphia, responsible for 10 traffic deaths in the past five years, according to PennDOT data.
Officials and planners know this. That’s why there’s been a planning process to fix Henry Avenue, going on since around 2012 when the East Falls Traffic Safety Committee began discussing the issue with the City and PennDOT. Finally, in 2017, the final design phase for the Henry Avenue Safety Improvement Project began.
Thank You To Everyone Who Submitted Comments to DVRPC
Transportation projects that use state and federal dollars in the Region are included in the DVRPC 2021 Pennsylvania Transportation Improvement Program which, by law requires a public comment period before adoption.
We asked the public to submit comments on the Henry Avenue Safety Improvement Project.
As a result, DVRPC received a record amount of public comments for this project. Of the 570+ comments received, about 400 people commented on Henry Avenue alone.
The response from PennDOT is the longest agency reply that we have ever seen — and perhaps the most disappointing. While the response provides minute design details, it does not include any changes to project’s plan.
What’s Coming to Henry Avenue?
The Henry Avenue Project is a huge undertaking and will be built in two phases. The first one, known as SIP, begins at the Port Royal Ave/Ridge Pike Intersection and ends at the Wissahickon Creek Bridge.
Construction for this 4.7 mile section will begin in Spring of 2021. The second phase, known as SI2, will be the 1.3 mile project and and construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2021. The full list of improvements are listed and mapped on the project’s web page.
Focusing first on the most dangerous section of Henry Ave between Walnut Lane and the East Falls campus of Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) where five people have died in the last five, years including Sam Ozer: First and foremost, a new traffic signal will be installed at Barnes St., the street that Sam attempted to cross Henry Ave.
Upon crossing Henry Avenue, there will be curb cut access to a 10 foot wide sidepath between the Wissahickon Bridge and Walnut Lane. There will also a raised center median to prevent drivers from crossing over travel lanes. These are welcome changes.
Farther west in Upper Roxborough, Henry Ave widens at Monastery St. The configuration of 4 travel lanes and standard bike lanes will remain as there is no room for buffered bike lanes where street parking is permitted. Improvements will include bumpouts, upgraded signals, crosswalk markings and extended medians. A new pedestrian refuge island will be installed at Cinnaminson St.
For the later SI2 phase in East Falls, PENNDOT will look at extending the path eastward to Schoolhouse Lane, but there may not be enough right-of-way to widen the sidewalk into a 10 foot wide sidepath. An intermediate solution would be to extend the path to the Henry Ave entrance of TJU. The connection to Schoolhouse Lane would be via the campus access road. There is not enough road width for any facilities east of Schoolhouse. PENNDOT is calling this segment along with the stretch between Walnut Lane and Monastery St “Share the Road” accommodations for bicycles.
What’s not coming to Henry Avenue?
In a recent conversation we had with PennDOT D-6 staff, we asked about lane reductions, protected bike lanes, speed cameras and lowering the speed limit. Lane reductions were ultimately rejected by PennDOT because the road serves as an arterial and an alternate for I-76 in the event of shutdown.
Roundabouts were considered for School House Lane and Midvale in East Falls, but PennDOT determined that the current traffic volume on Henry Avenue would exceed the capacity of the roundabouts and increase delays — which, to be clear, is considered a more important than the safety of road users along this street. Without lane reductions (also rejected by PennDOT), there isn’t enough room to do protected bike lanes.
We discussed at length if the posted speed limits could be lowered. Henry Avenue is already a road that is designed to accommodate faster traffic than the posted speed limit. Thanks to the arcane 85th percentile speed test, any study of the road done by PennDOT would recommend the speed limit be raised. They felt that by adding “deflections” such as widening the median and bumpouts at the intersections, this would have the effect of slowing motorists down closer to the posted limit.
What We Are Still Asking For?
Much of the roadway borders Wissahickon Valley Park and the parking lane on that side of the road is rarely used. We will be asking the City and PennDOT to install a protected bike lane (one way or two way) on the park side of Henry Ave in Upper Roxborough between Monastery Ave and Wise Mill Rd (entrance to Valley Green).
Finally speed cameras will require legislation to be allowed for use on Henry Avenue.The Bicycle Coalition is working with Sam Ozer’s parents to arrange a meeting with Rep. Pam Delissio to start discussions for automated speed enforcement.