Late last month, a young person was struck and killed by a speeding driver along Germantown Avenue near Uncle Bobbie’s, a popular neighborhood coffee and book shop.
Late last month, a young person was struck and killed by a speeding driver along Germantown Avenue near Uncle Bobbie’s, a popular neighborhood coffee and book shop. There was an anguished outpouring of grief at Dia Lee’s death, and anger at the increasing recklessness of drivers. Less than a week later, there was a second fatal hit-and-run at the same spot.
The twin tragedies highlight a distressing fact: Despite five years of effort, Philadelphia continues to struggle to end the carnage on its roads. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The city has the tools and civic models to restore calm to its streets and make significant strides towards eliminating traffic deaths within its borders by 2030. That was the ambitious goal set when the city launched its Vision Zero project in 2016. It is modeled on a similar effort in Sweden, which has seen traffic-related deaths fall more than 30% since the program’s introduction in 1997.
Thus far, Philadelphia has shown little progress, with fatalities actually spiking to more than 150 as recently as two years ago. With an average of six traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents each year, Philadelphia has one of the worst traffic-related death rates among major cities. It has double the rate of New York City and triple that of Boston.
What we know is that just 12% of the city’s roadways account for 80% of fatalities. Given where those roads are located, Philadelphia’s Black and Brown communities bear more than their share of loss and grief.
In 42% of the fatal cases, officials blame “aggressive driving,” which includes speeding. A driver’s speed can exponentially increase the odds of death. A pedestrian has a 90% chance of surviving being struck by a car at 20 per miles an hour. That falls to 10% at 40 miles per hour. Simply convincing drivers to slow to the speed limit can have a remarkable impact on safety.
Philadelphia’s most notable improvement to date has been on Roosevelt Boulevard, which has historically been one of the most deadly stretches of roadways in the nation. Following the hit-and-run death of a young mother, Samara Banks, and three of her children, the Pennsylvania legislature voted to permit the Philadelphia Parking Authority to install automated speed cameras along the route. The results have been dramatic, with speeding violations dropping 93% within the first year of operation.
Here in the city’s Northwest, groups such as the Northwest Traffic Calming Committee are working to bring similar attention and fixes to roadways such as Germantown Avenue and Lincoln Drive, another of Philadelphia’s most deadly motorways. Beyond speed cameras, which require legislative approval, studies have shown that there are myriad road design changes and additions that can slow traffic and make streets safer. They include speed humps, protected bike lanes, and narrower traffic lanes.
Those types of improvements require political will and civic determination to put in place.
In the meantime, there is something all of us can do that can immediately improve matters: recognize we are in this together.
As drivers, we’ve all been late for an appointment, distracted by a song on the radio, or simply unaware of the speed we were traveling. And we’ve all been pedestrians, who’ve suffered the discomfort of a car speeding past too fast, too close; the distress of being bullied by a driver as we try to cross an intersection.
When driving, then, remember what it’s like as a pedestrian. Drive like the street you are on is your street, and every person you pass is your neighbor.
Slow down. Pay attention. All of us will be better for it.
West Mt Airy