Commentary: State should allow city to use safety cameras

IN 2013, Feltonville resident Samara Banks and three of her children were killed by a driver racing another motorist, traffic light to traffic light on Roosevelt Boulevard. Why would anyone blatantly speed on a road posted at 45 mph? Because racing on an overly wide Roosevelt Boulevard is easy and has too few consequences. The only consequence that night was four innocents losing their lives.

But, sadly, they weren't the only ones. In Philadelphia, speed-related crashes kill nearly 100 people a year.

Last year, 86 people died; 37 of which were motorists, 30 were pedestrians and nine were bicyclists. Between 2009 and 2014, an average of 95 men, women and children were killed by motor vehicles in Philadelphia.

While many factors contribute to traffic crashes, according to Philadelphia Police reports, speed is responsible for 30 percent of traffic fatalities.

Reducing the number of speed-related crashes is imperative to make progress toward reducing the number of people killed and severely injured in traffic crashes.

Most of Philadelphia's local streets have a speed limit of 25 mph. Larger arterial roads, such as Kelly and Martin Luther King drives have posted limits of 30 or 35 mph. Roosevelt Boulevard has speed limits of 40 to 45 mph. It's well understood that speed limits are are too frequently ignored.

Under current Pennsylvania law, only the state police is allowed to use radar to enforce speed limits.

Months after the fatal Feltonville crash, state and city police enforced speed limits on Roosevelt Boulevard and ticketed 100 motorists in two hours. This indicates how meaningless the speed limit is. But it is too expensive to put state troopers or city police officers out on the streets to enforce speed limits on a regular basis.

The only viable way to reduce speed-related crashes is to deploy automated safety cameras that can measure motor vehicle speed and issue enforcement tickets. Safety cameras are efficient and save lives. They should be one of the tools available to Mayor Kenney as he sets out to implement a Vision Zero strategy to reduce traffic fatalities, something he prioritized in his budget address on March 3.

But Harrisburg must give Philadelphia the authority to use the technology.

We know that cameras work. In 2002, the Pennsylvania General Assembly allowed Philadelphia to start using red-light cameras. A 2011 evaluation report found that such cameras have reduced red light running enough to drop crashes by 24 percent.

It's time for Philadelphia to be given the tools necessary to make saving the next family from traffic violence a public safety priority. A panel on Thursday at Jefferson University will reinvigorate a public dialogue about how to manage speed.

It's time for Philadelphia to be able to manage speed before more people lose their lives.

Sarah Clark Stuart is executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

sarah@Bicyclecoalition.org