Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Help Desk: Tired of Trucks

Have a question or comment on city services? Let us know at www.thecityhowl.com, e-mail howl@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5855.

Help Desk: Tired of Trucks

Have a question or comment on city services? Let us know at www.thecityhowl.com, e-mail howl@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5855.

THE PROBLEM: All day, the tractor-trailers barrel down the 2700 block of Orthodox Street, a two-lane, one-way corridor through a residential neighborhood in Bridesburg.

Tom Henry, a school district police officer who lives on the block, said the trucks speed down the hill between Thompson and Richmond streets to make the traffic light at Orthodox and Richmond, and head for a truck yard where Orthodox dead-ends at the Delaware.

Henry said the traffic starts before 6 in the morning and goes late. "Between 7 and 8 at night, it's like a convoy," he said.

To make things worse, there's a YellowBird Bus Co. depot across from the truck yard, and three SEPTA bus routes (73, 25 and J) stop on Henry's corner.

Henry said he doesn't remember the truck traffic being so heavy when he moved to the neighborhood four years ago.

"It's been really bad probably the last year- and-a-half," he said.

So bad that Henry's neighbor Phil Scheurer bought a sports radar gun to clock the vehicles coming down the road. He's even started keeping a ledger of vehicles, times of day and speeds. The speed limit on the street is 25 mph, but Scheurer frequently clocks bus and truck drivers doing 30 and faster.

Henry and Scheurer said they're worried about the safety of kids and senior citizens in the neighborhood. Several of their neighbors agreed that the truck traffic is at least a nuisance, if not a safety hazard.

"It's like we're being invaded by the trucks," Scheurer said. "That's how bad it is."

ARE THOSE TRUCKS ALLOWED TO BE THERE? According to Steve Buckley, deputy commissioner for transportation at the city Streets Department, there is no official truck route system in Philadelphia. Certain streets are prohibited to trucks, the rest are not. Orthodox Street is not a restricted route.

Before 1977, Buckley said, the decision about which streets were off-limits to trucks was governed by City Council ordinance. But since then, the city has been required to follow regulations laid out by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. (The city still makes no-truck designations on city streets, but follows PennDOT rules.)

Steve Chizmar of PennDOT said that unless there is an "obvious safety hazard," trucks are granted access to all roads in the city. If a community makes a request, a traffic-safety study can help determine whether a truck restriction is warranted.

Besides clear safety hazards, Chizmar said, there has to be an alternate route for trucks to reach their destination in order for a restriction to be put in place.

Roddy Martin of YellowBird Bus conceded that the traffic in the neighborhood surrounding his company's headquarters is bad, but said he doesn't see any way around it.

Orthodox Street "is the only way you can get in and out of here," Martin said.

Scheurer and Henry said they believe that trucks are supposed to take the Bridge Street exit off I-95 to Richmond and then to Orthodox - a route that would bypass their neighborhood.

But that route isn't required. So unless they can get the city or PennDOT to perform a safety study to determine whether their block should be off-limits, the trucks can keep roaring through.

A SOLUTION? Ken Ferro owns a one-chair barbershop on Orthodox Street near Almond.

He said that the barrage of trucks and empty school buses headed for the depot are a serious danger to the neighborhood and that it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

But he does see an alternative to banning the vehicles altogether: Slow them down.

"If we could get a stop sign here" - at Orthodox and Edgemont streets, between the two traffic lights - "it would solve the whole problem," Ferro said.

Buckley said that a community can request a stop sign by sending a letter or e-mail to the Streets Department. The department will then conduct a study in the neighborhood to "determine whether warrants for a stop sign are met."

The factors that warrant stop signs are laid out in the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, with additional factors in the Pennsylvania Code. The federal manual includes such considerations as minimum traffic volume, pedestrian traffic and evidence of car accidents.

Even if the community were able to get a stop sign installed and slow down the traffic, they'd still have to deal with the noise and the exhaust.

For now, Henry isn't interested in compromise. He plans to try to get the city to conduct a traffic safety study.

"I want to eliminate the trucks," he said.

Think you know a corner that needs a stop sign? E-mail the Streets Department at csstreets@phila.gov, or send a letter to:

Chief Traffic and Street Lighting Engineer
City of Philadelphia Streets Dept.
1401 JFK Blvd., 9th floor
Philadelphia, Pa. 19102

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