Editor’s note: The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s Vision zero 2017 Conference was March 1. We will be summarizing the conference’s panels on this blog.
The final session of the Vision Zero conference, held by the Bicycle Coalition and partners on March 1, combined personal stories with practical solutions to highlight why safer streets matter.
From Personal to Practical: Designing Safer Streets for Every Road User highlighted four active city members and employees who shared their experiences on the road, including an active school crossing guard and a mother of two, as well as members from the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM).
The audience heard from Kate Mundie, a mother and bicyclist who totes her two children around the city on a cargo bike; she described how her experiences on the oversized Dutch bike pushed her towards bike advocacy and safety. Recalling a time one of her children observed that “no one yelled at us today” on their bike ride home, Mundie looks towards a city where one day everyone can respect each other’s mode of transportation, and bicyclists no longer have to compete with cars on the streets.
The solution, according to Mundie, lies in education — especially for children just learning to ride a bike. Smarter cyclists on the streets, she noted, means less potential for crashes. She stressed how well young kids can catch on to the rules of biking if taught, as her own children have developed an intuitive attitude about cyclist and driver relationships on the road.
Mary Mills, a school crossing guard for the 17th Police District also heralded children’s ability to understand the rules of the road. She recanted the times she’s spent directing school children while watching drivers applying makeup or texting, the steeling wheel held precariously between their knees.
The kids, however, understand and respect Mills’ role as crossing guard, and are knowledgeable about when and when not to cross. Since many adults do not understand her role as an employee of the Philadelphia Police Department, Mills hopes to be able to speak at some of the South Philly schools she serves to better explain her role and responsibilities to the community.
The Director of Community Economic Development at the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Bridget Palombo, spoke on community as well, and APM’s efforts towards safer streets. The organization is currently focused on outreach to the community and working with them to figure out where exactly they want to go, as to help build a plan for better accessibility. The first challenge, however, is rebuilding the trust that has been lost in North Philly neighborhoods, and putting people back at the center of the plan.
Charles Horton spoke on behalf of the city’s disabled community, as executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities. The solution to Philadelphia’s accessibility problem, according to Horton, is one that takes into account the uniqueness of the city itself. Its old infrastructure requires a creative approach to this issue; instead of looking outward at other city models, the city should look within itself and work with local organizations to come up with a practical solution.
Horton described how angry drivers get when his wheelchair becomes an inconvenience in the road as he gets in and out of his car each day. Instead of hollering out the window, the community should engage in meaningful dialogue to make everyone more aware and conscientious of the experiences of those with disabilities.
Before the panel discussion ended, each speaker was asked to explain their favorite street to travel on in the city. A fun question. Horton enjoys the convenience of his parking spot on 15th and Market, where no one is yelling for him to get out of the way. Mills recalled her early morning walk on Broad Street, where she loved the wide, open feel of the city.
Mundie and Palombo both mentioned 9th St. as a wonderful walking route that also represents an effective multi-use area of walkability, as well as commercial and residential development.
Regardless of which street the speakers chose, moderator Andrew Stober of University District concluded that streets are powerful in the way they are designed, and that power can have great impacts on improving the safety of the city’s streets.