opinion

3 things Pa. legislature can do right now to make Philly streets safer | Opinion

Sarah Clark Stuart, For Philly.com

Updated: Thursday, November 9, 2017, 11:43 AM

When you’re traveling around Philadelphia, you should feel safe on the streets whether you’re walking, riding or driving.

It’s been a long, strange budget season in Harrisburg. But with the recent passage of Pennsylvania’s budget, the legislature can now turn its attention to passing other legislation that would significantly improve the lives of all Pennsylvanians. There are three pieces of legislation that the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Vision Zero Alliance believe should be passed as soon as possible, to help make Philadelphia’s streets safer.

Pilot automated-enforcement cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard

The idea of cameras overlooking our streets can be a bit daunting. But as Philadelphia moves forward with its Vision Zero policy, more deliberate measures are needed to reduce aggressive driving, which is, according to the Police Department, responsible for 53 percent of the city’s traffic fatalities. The place to start is on Roosevelt Boulevard. This 15-mile stretch of roadway makes up only 0.6 percent of Philadelphia’s streets, but is where 13 percent of the city’s traffic deaths occur annually.

Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states and localities take stronger action to address speeding, which is responsible for the same number of traffic deaths as drunken driving nationwide. Among those recommendations: All states without auto-enforcement programs, such as Pennsylvania, should pass authorizing legislation.

That’s why the Bicycle Coalition and other transportation groups are advocating for passage of Senate Bill 172, which would authorize an automated-enforcement pilot program on nine miles of the Boulevard.

The Boulevard is in desperate need of engineering changes, and a planning effort is underway to lay the groundwork for a new roadway. In the meantime, a simple and well-proved automated-enforcement program would help reduce the number of speeding motor vehicles and save lives now rather than later.

The bill awaits a full House vote.

Prioritize vulnerable users

Earlier this year, Reps. Brett R. Miller and John Taylor introduced the “Vulnerable Highway User Protections” bill, which would increase the penalties for careless drivers who inflict bodily injury or, worse, death, upon others. Today, a careless driver who kills a pedestrian is fined $500, and one who causes serious bodily injury, $250.

Vulnerable users, according to the bill’s language, are defined as pedestrians, bicyclists, people in wheelchairs, motorcyclists, skateboarders, horseback riders, horse and carriages, and farm equipment.

“They are relatively far more vulnerable to the dangers present on our highways but lack any extra protections under the law,” the lawmakers wrote in their cosponsorship memo.

Introduced in July, the bill raises fines for people whose careless driving results in death or bodily harm. The House passed it in mid-October and the Senate now must take it up for a vote.

Toughen the cellphone ban

Texting on the phone while driving a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania is illegal. But talking on a cellphone is permissible. Make sense? Not really.

The National Safety Council has found that using a cellphone while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year in the United States, which is nearly one in four crashes.

And it’s not just texting or talking on a phone while driving that’s caused America’s crashes to increase over the last several years. According to a 2015 AT&T survey, 27 percent of drivers ages 16 to 65 report using Facebook while driving; 14 percent report using Twitter. Ten percent claim to use video chat while driving, 17 percent take selfies, and 28 percent surf the web. Remember: These are just the people who openly admit it. The numbers may very well be higher.

Such irresponsibility has the potential to make matters very bad for all road users using Pennsylvania’s streets for transportation.

That’s why Pennsylvania needs House Bill 1684, which prohibits those older than 18 to talk on cellphones without hands-free accessories, prohibits those under 18 from using a cellphone at all, and adds three points to the $50 penalty for violating the law. The House passed it unanimously in early October and it’s the Senate’s turn to make Pennsylvania’s roads safer.

Sarah Clark Stuart is the executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which is part of the Vision Zero Alliance, a network of organizations dedicated to supporting Philadelphia’s Vision Zero policy and action plan.

Sarah Clark Stuart, For Philly.com

Read full story: 3 things Pa. legislature can do right now to make Philly streets safer | Opinion