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Bicycle Coalition Report Shows Neighborhood Road Vulnerability

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia spent the better part of 2014 and 2015 compiling, and recently releasing, its neighborhood-centric Vision Zero report, detailing the most dangerous intersections and corridors in the city — and focusing on what can be done to make them safer.

About 100 people die in 10,000 Philadelphia traffic crashes each year. Between the lost economic activity, vehicle, funeral and hospital costs, crashes cost the city and its residents $1 billion every year.

No neighborhood is immune to traffic injuries and deaths but sections of the city, corridors and intersections are more dangerous than others.

The report breaks down traffic crashes and statistics by region, neighborhood, and Councilmanic district. The bitter truth is that no neighborhood or district is doing particularly well on this issue; traffic violence affects all Philadelphians.

In our report, the Coalition put a particular focus on pedestrians — our most vulnerable road users, and the only group (between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) that has seen an uptick in crashes and deaths over recent years.

There are, of course, patterns as it pertains to intersections: Broad Street, unsurprisingly, has the most dangerous intersections in the city. Of the top 12 crash sites in Philadelphia, five are on Broad. North Broad, specifically, is the most dangerous corridor in the city, with 161 pedestrian crashes between 2009 and 2013.

The second-most dangerous for pedestrians: Frankford Avenue. There were 155 pedestrians struck by cars along the street during the 5-year time period. Philadelphia’s Riverwards, including parts of Kensington, Fishtown and Port Richmond, have seen a sharp increase in vulnerable road users since 2009, including a 42 percent increase in bicycle commuters.

Several streets in or surrounding the Philadelphia’s Riverwards, including Roosevelt Boulevard, Torresdale Ave., and Cottman Ave., round out the top 10 most dangerous corridors for Philadelphians. And it’s getting worse: While automobile fatalities are down 15 percent in Philadelphia over the five year period, pedestrian fatalities — like 2-year-old David Alicea, who was tragically killed when he and his mother were struck in a hit-and-run crash on Mascher Street in Kensington earlier this year — have actually risen by 15 percent.

Something needs to be done to make our streets safer.

Among the tested, proven strategies for bringing down the death and injury toll in Philadelphia is a strategy called Vision Zero. First developed in Sweden in 1997, Vision Zero is a series of planning, education and enforcement strategies that are intended to calm traffic and make all road users more visible. The idea that traffic violence, injuries, and death is “inevitable” (to the point that our society calls them “accidents”) is wrong.

One major factor identified in Philly crashes is speed. If we can lower the speed at which cars travel, we can lower the chances of a collision and death. When a cyclist or pedestrian does end up on the front hood of a Honda Civic, lower speed means a greater likelihood of survival. According to a UK Department of Transport study, the pedestrian risk of death at 50 miles per hour is 78 percent, while the death rate at 20 miles per hour is a mere 1 percent.

There are many ways to reduce speed; speed cushions, roundabouts, bulb-outs, signal timing and speed cameras (like red light cameras but measuring and issuing tickets for speed; currently illegal in Philadelphia) are tools to consider. The goal is to get drivers slow down and be more prepared to see and react to pedestrians and cyclists.

In all of Philadelphia, the best example, and case, for speed reduction and a road diet are Pine and Spruce Streets in Center City. After the buffered bike lanes (10 foot lanes, which take up an entire lane of traffic) were installed, the crash rate declined by 25 percent—in all cases (car-on-car, car-on-ped, car-on-bike, bike-on-ped).

This happened even as car volume stayed the same, via 20 mile-per-hour timed lights from the Delaware to the Schuylkill, and vice-versa.

A Vision Zero policy for zero deaths and serious injuries in traffic assumes human beings are prone to making mistakes when operating heavy machinery—and you don’t need to look too far beyond . We need to make sure that when those mistakes are made, it doesn’t involve the loss of life.

You can read the full Vision Zero report online at BicycleCoalition.org.

Randy LoBasso is the communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

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