Roosevelt Blvd Needs Speed Cameras, and So Do All of Philly's Busiest Streets

22Apr
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A few months ago we ran a series of posts on street safety problem areas in Philadelphia, based on maps created by Daniel McGlone at Azavea using PennDOT crash location data collected between 2008 and 2012.

One of the key takeaways was that Roosevelt Blvd has an aggressive driving problem.

Interestingly, the data revealed that Roosevelt Blvd is not having all of the problems. One problem it is not really having is a pedestrian crash problem - probably because few people are so adventurous that they'd try to cross this monster on foot, which is a different sort of problem for the area. Roosevelt is the big blue line snaking across the northern part of the map:

Roosevelt Blvd is also not a car crash hotspot in general when you normalize for traffic volume. That means it has fewer crashes than you would expect, given the amount of traffic: 

That doesn't mean it doesn't have a lot of crashes in an absolute sense - just that there aren't an unusual amount for how many cars drive on it every day.

Really stare at this map for a minute or two and think about how much money people wasted on car repairs and hospital bills and property repairs over this 5 year period:

Any non-zero number of crashes is a problem, but the really big problem that Roosevelt Blvd is having is aggressive driving. This road was the number one stand-out on the map of aggressive driving hotspots:

One problem with Roosevelt Blvd is the way lanes are configured for people trying to turn. But another problem is that the travel lanes are just too wide, encouraging too-fast speeds. It badly needs a road diet.

Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler says fixing this problem would cost billions of dollars. We're not so sure about that. Surely there's an interim restriping solution that would slow traffic in the short-to-medium run for much less money.

But while we're waiting on city officials to get an interim road diet plan together, there's an even quicker fix: state lawmakers need to pass S.B. 1211.

S.B. 1211 is Philadelphia Democratic Senator (and Lt. Governor candidate) Mike Stack's bill authorizing the use of speed enforcement cameras on 15 miles of Roosevelt Blvd, that would catch every speeder traveling 10 mph above the speed limit, and send them a $100 ticket in the mail.

Paul Nussbaum reports that the bill is supported by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, Republican Senator John Rafferty, Rina Cutler, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, and a coalition of parents and neighbors who live nearby, and recently shared their horror stories with the State Senate Transportation Committee about what it's like to deal with this road as non-drivers:

Speed-enforcement cameras would "dramatically change the driving culture" on Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey told state lawmakers on Monday, urging passage of a bill to legalize such cameras.

A relative of a woman and three children killed by a speeding car also called for speed cameras, saying pedestrians now risk their lives every time they cross the 12-lane Boulevard.

Ramsey and Tara Banks were among those testifying before the State Senate Transportation Committee in Center City, in support of a bill to authorize cameras that would generate $100 tickets for speeders on the notoriously dangerous highway in Northeast Philadelphia.

The cameras, which currently are not allowed in Pennsylvania, would photograph the license plates of vehicles moving faster than the permitted speed and generate a ticket that would be reviewed by police before being mailed to the vehicle's owner.

The more traffic enforcement is automated in this city, the better off we'll be. As Commissioner Ramsey says, the purpose of this effort is to change the culture of driving on Roosevelt Blvd - a cultural change we need all over the city, not just on Roosevelt.

Driving fast is fine for highways, since they block access for pedestrians and cyclists, but for areas with a mix of modes including pedestrians and cyclists, slow driving should be the norm and the expectation. And if we're taking Bill DeBlasio's Vision Zero approach to traffic injuries, it should be the law.

Ramsey also makes an excellent point that human police officers can only stop one speeder at a time, whereas the cameras can catch every single one.

This shouldn't be about maximizing revenue, which speed camera opponents claim is the goal. If it's about maximizing safety, then we'll collect much less than the maximum potential amount of revenue, and that's fine. The purpose should be to discourage speeding.

Where the effort will help the city budget though is that it will allow us to boost police productivity. With camera technology readily available, it makes no sense to pay a few officers to sit in a car all day and pull over individual speeders. Cameras can do that job much better. So we need to expand the focus beyond just Roosevelt Blvd to all of the city's arterial roads. These cameras should be everywhere.

Because once the cameras go up, all those traffic police can be redeployed and retrained to serve the areas where we need more police in the community. Automating the traffic enforcement allows us to stretch our police dollars further. And having some additional revenue from catching more of the speeders won't hurt.

Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April 2014 @ 13.01
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jongeeting's picture Jon Geeting About the Author:

Jon Geeting is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist and policy researcher. His writing also appears at Next City, Primary Colors, and Keystone Politics, where he covers politics and elections, land use and transportation, and urban economic policy. He also writes a monthly Political Machine column at Philly City Paper.