No family should have to endure what LaTanya Byrd has. On a quiet summer evening in 2013, her niece Samara Banks and Banks’ four sons took advantage of the warm weather in Northeast Philadelphia and chose to walk home. While crossing Roosevelt Boulevard, she and three of her four sons were violently struck and killed by a car going so fast nobody had time to react. The driver was drag racing.
The crosswalk is gone now, eliminated because of this tragedy. In this case, and in so many other similar tragedies along Roosevelt Boulevard, excessive speed was the killer.
We must work to make the Boulevard safe. Today it is known for being the most dangerous road in Philadelphia and one of the most dangerous in the state. The quickest way to make it safer is for the Pennsylvania House to pass Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill).
This bill will allow speed cameras to be used in highway work zones and also includes an amendment from House Transportation Committee Chairman John Taylor (R., Phila.) to include a five-year pilot to test speed cameras along a nine-mile stretch of the Boulevard where, sadly, drivers who are willing to take the chance with other people’s lives have struck so many ordinary citizens.
Last week, members of the Vision Zero Alliance, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, LaTanya Byrd, and others traveled to the state Capitol to advocate for S.B. 172, holding a news conference and meeting with state representatives to garner their support.
The Vision Zero Alliance was formed in 2016 to encourage Mayor Kenney to adopt Vision Zero, a traffic policy that puts safety first for all road users. He did so in an executive order setting the goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.
The alliance, which includes AAA Mid Atlantic, AARP, Clean Air Council, Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance, Uber, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and others, supports speed cameras for Roosevelt Boulevard because they’re of no cost to the government and are the quickest way to reduce speeding as time is taken to do a full-scale reengineering of the roadway.
We are not asking Harrisburg for money; an automated enforcement system is designed to pay for itself. The bill has driver protections as well as provisions to ensure drivers can appeal, and violations would not incur points. This is not a “gotcha” situation either; only drivers traveling 11 mph or more over the posted speed limit would receive tickets.
Automated enforcement works. According to a 2017 National Highway Transportation Safety Board report, speed cameras have been shown to reduce injurious crashes by 20 percent to 25 percent, on average. At this point, the state legislature has before it widely supported legislation that will save multiple lives every year. Since LaTanya’s family members were killed on the Boulevard, 50 other pedestrians and motorists have lost their lives in traffic crashes.
By bringing up S.B. 172 for a vote, the House could do its part to bring the commonwealth one step closer to controlling one of its most dangerous roads and reducing the kind of reckless behavior that took the life of Samara Banks and three of her four sons. The technology exists now to curb speeding on Roosevelt Boulevard. Missing this opportunity to start saving lives on the Boulevard or highway construction zones is not an option.
On behalf of LaTanya Byrd and her family, the General Assembly should choose safety, because the most important thing government can do is protect its citizens.
Sarah Clark Stuart is executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.