Last month’s pedestrian death toll began Nov. 11 when a man was killed by a SEPTA trolley in Eastwick, and then 23-year-old Erin Wilson was killed on her way home from work as a psychiatric illness intern after being struck by a Honda Civic in Kensington. That was a Friday. By Monday somebody else died.
Anna Gonzalez, 27, was hit by a Dodge Ram at 11th and Market and died immediately. Jayanna Powell was next. The 8-year-old was holding her brother’s hand on the way home from school when she was killed by a hit-and-run driver in a Nissan Altima. The same day a 23-year-old was killed while walking near Roosevelt Boulevard. Then, Monday, a 64-year-old grandmother was struck and killed by a SEPTA bus at 23rd and Chestnut; the 9-month old she was pushing in a stroller survived.
That’s six deaths in a month, a number that’s high… but not too far out of the ordinary. In an average month, Philadelphia sees in an average of about three pedestrians killed, so every month is bloody.
The bad news is these death totals have been consistent for years. The good news is this awful month of November coincides with the beginning of Philadelphia’s first major effort to reduce pedestrian deaths.
It’s not getting better
The count for 2016 so far is 35, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. And since 2006, the death count for pedestrians has topped 30 every year except for 2015, which after this year’s total appears to be an anomaly and not the beginning of a downward trend.
Philadelphia’s consistency mirrors Pennsylvania. The state has seen a drop-off in pedestrian injuries in crashes the last 10 years, but not pedestrian deaths, which have been between about 150 and 170 since 2006.
Other big cities have lowered their death totals in recent years. New York City, for instance, experienced a record-low number of pedestrian deaths in 2014 and 2015, at 139 and 133.
NYC’s pedestrian death rate rate per 100,000 for 2015 was 1.58. Philadelphia’s for 2015, with its lower than average total of 26, was still 1.66. This year’s rate will be at least 2.2. San Francisco had a rate of 2.85 in 2015 and Washington DC’s was 2.27.
In 2014, the National Complete Streets Coalition ranked the Philadelphia area the 34th-most dangerous metro for pedestrians in the U.S. In terms of the 10 largest US cities, it ranked fifth.
What’s being done
In 2014, the Bicycle Coalition and other advocacy groups began lobbying for Philadelphia to follow a Swedish-based plan called Vision Zero that is supposed to make streets safer for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists through better speed enforcement, more bike lanes and larger pedestrian crosswalks. These groups wanted Philadelphia’s next mayor to bring Vision Zero to Philly, and that’s exactly what’s happened: The city’s Vision Zero Task Force meets for the first time next week.
The long term goal is for Philadelphia to have zero pedestrian deaths by 2030. And during his mayoral campaign, Jim Kenney wrote in a paper on transportation and the environment he wanted Philadelphia to cut in half its number of serious traffic injuries and deaths.
But what about the near-term? Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition and a member of the city’s Vision Zero task force, said installing speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard could significantly reduce pedestrian traffic deaths. One of November’s six deaths happened on Roosevelt Boulevard and at least three other pedestrian deaths have happened on the street this year.
“Speed,” Stuart said, “is at the core of most of those deaths.”
The city also recently hired Kelly Yemen to be Philadelphia’s first Complete Streets Director. She started on November 7. Her job is to improve transportation safety throughout the city.
And Yemen, Kenney and others involved with the Vision Zero task force got a stark reminder in November of how much work needs to be done.