Transportation advocate's death revives debate over redesign for Market Street, JFK

A minivan crashed into a newsstand at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard in Center City on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Police said the newsstand then struck two pedestrians, fatally injuring one, identified as Peter Javsicas, 76, of West Mount Airy.

The death of a longtime Philadelphia transportation advocate has spurred interest in a plan to drastically improve safety on city streets.

Two days after Peter Javsicas was killed at 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, City Council passed a resolution by Council President Darrell L. Clarke to hold public hearings on Vision Zero, a proposal endorsed by Mayor Kenney to get the city to eliminate traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

“Obviously the recent death of an individual in Center City has caused some significant concerns,” Clarke said Thursday. “We thought it would be prudent to have a series of hearings to discuss the Vision Zero that has been adopted by other municipalities and ultimately come up with some kind of an implementation plan.”

Javsicas, 76, died after a minivan crashed into an SUV at the intersection, then jumped a curb, hitting a newsstand, and injuring Javsicas and another pedestrian near Suburban Station. The intersection is among the most crash-prone in Center City, with 22 traffic incidents reported from 2011 to 2016, according to PennDot records. Half of those involved pedestrians, though none was fatal.

The mayor’s office backed Clarke’s call for public hearings on Vision Zero on Thursday, while also noting that the effort to implement its policies has been underway for about a year and a half.

“The mayor is extremely proud of all that the Vision Zero team has accomplished in the last 18 months to reduce severe and fatal traffic crashes, working with partners in the Streets Department and OTIS [Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems],” said Mike Dunn, a city spokesman.

Transportation advocates in the city highlighted a 2011 proposal to improve safety in the area where Javsicas was killed. That year, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, a precursor to OTIS, and the Center City District proposed a redesign for Market Street and JFK Boulevard that would reduce the roads to three-lane thruways. The fourth lanes on both roads would be converted into a protected bike lane on the north side of Market Street and one on the south side of JFK, which would not interfere with buses. The project also proposed curb bump outs to make bus stops easier to use and to improve conditions for pedestrians. It was a Vision Zero kind of approach years before the city’s formal adoption of the philosophy.

The proposal grew from complaints from area businesses that the two major thruways were not friendly to cyclists and people on foot. The changes were designed to improve safety along the roads, though Javsicas was struck on the opposite side of the street from where the bike lane was proposed, and no one suggested a bike lane would have saved his life.

Traffic studies conducted by the city temporarily reduced parts of Market Street and JFK to three lanes of automobile travel and found the change had little negative impact on how quickly drivers were able to travel through Center City, but created safer spaces for cyclists and people on foot.

In 2011, officials said the work could cost $7 million to $10 million.

That year, advocates said the changes could be complete by 2014. There have been concerns about the effect on delivery trucks, said Bob Previdi, policy coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Opposition has also come from people who live along the two thruways.

“It is still a pending proposal,” Previdi said. “We’re just pushing the issue and getting a consensus.”

Council has scheduled no action on the plan, though, and Clarke did not respond to a request through his office to say why the proposal had not moved forward. Clarke represents the Fifth District, which includes that part of Center City.

Javsicas founded Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions Inc., or PenTrans, in 2002 and served as its executive director until 2014, said Beverly A. Harper, a PenTrans co-chair.

“Sadly, I think [Javsicas’ death] has revived interest in the proposal,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, the Bicycle Coalition’s executive director. “We want very much the Council president to refocus attention on it and explore what the proposal is and what’s involved and then let the city go forward to find the funding to implement it.”

Staff writer Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this article.