Each year, there are 11,000 crashes in Philadelphia, nearly 100 deaths, and thousands of injuries. Pedestrians and cyclists are vulnerable and they lack any real protection against a thousand-pound vehicle.
The costs are staggering — not just in terms of the human toll, but financially as well. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the medical, auto insurance, and infrastructure costs associated with crashes total more than $1 billion per year.
This needs to end. Now.
That’s why the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is calling on the next mayor and City Council to implement a Vision Zero policy — a political, planning, and enforcement strategy that originated in Sweden and has successfully cut deaths and crash rates in many cities, including Stockholm, London, Paris, and New York.
At the heart of the Vision Zero approach is the idea that traffic deaths should never be thought of as “inevitable.” Look at the airline and railroad industries, which are always adapting their methods of operation to increase safety.
Similarly, we believe the next mayor can make our roads safer for all users — people in automobiles, on bicycles, and on foot — by making it a priority to study the causes of crashes and implementing better safety strategies.
As a result of the May 12 crash along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Philadelphia, the Federal Railway Administration called for changes in how trains operate around curves. We need to bring that same focus and commitment to what is happening on our roads and have our government and the public respond quickly to fix problems.
The Bicycle Coalition has been examining crash data in the city and what is most disturbing is that too many of the top crash sites involve pedestrians located along our most important transit and commercial corridors: Broad Street, Frankford Avenue, Market Street, Chelten Avenue along with Roosevelt Boulevard, and Torresdale and Cottman Avenues.
One major factor identified in many of these crashes is speed. If we can lower the speed at which cars travel, we can lower the chances of a collision. And when a crash does occur at a lower rate of speed, the chances of survival for pedestrians and cyclists will be greater. At 30 miles per hour, the chance of surviving is 60 percent, but at 20 miles per hour, the rate of survival goes up to 95 percent.
The goal, then, is to get drivers to slow down so they can be more prepared to see and react to pedestrians and cyclists. And there are many tools to make this happen, including speed cushions, roundabouts, bulb-outs, signal timing, speed cameras — even bike lanes.
Since the installation of a bike lane on both Pine and Spruce Streets in 2009, the volume and speed of traffic has stayed constant, but crashes have dropped 25 percent. This is due to the single lane of vehicle traffic accompanied by timed 20-mile-per-hour signals on those streets, allowing vehicles to get from one end of Spruce or Pine to the other within minimal stopping time. The key to replicating that success throughout the city is to take a comprehensive look at where crashes are occurring and find solutions that fit the needs of each neighborhood.
Too often the debate is framed in terms of rude behavior from drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians. The reality is all users have a right to the road. But changes to our road system have not kept pace with the number of people choosing to commute via bicycle or with their feet in our city. Physical changes — like protected bike lanes and pedestrian plazas — need to be made to our streets to acknowledge the presence of all users. And we must do a better job of educating road users of all ages and backgrounds through media campaigns and education programs like Safe Routes Philly.
If we are to affect reform, social norms must change by increasing public awareness to problems and solutions.
Enforcement is also critical. We need to use 21st-century technology to assist law enforcement. The Police Department currently is not allowed by state law to use radar — a World War II technology — because only state police can. This is ridiculous, and the next mayor should work with state legislators to allow Philadelphia to govern in a way that can protect its citizens.
We want the next mayor to commit to cutting the death and crash rates in half in Philadelphia. Start by appointing a task force that includes city and state agencies, as well as neighborhood groups. Then provide the strong leadership that will be needed to get everyone on board to implement the recommendations. Government works best when there is a clear goal and the public understands and supports that goal.
Traffic deaths are not inevitable, and Philadelphia can do more to save lives and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.