Speed cameras on Roosevelt Blvd., so people have ‘the liberty of not getting killed’

A new bill would mandate cameras on the dangerous Philly strip, but supporters expect pushback.

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From 2011 to 2015, more than four dozen people died in traffic accidents on Roosevelt Boulevard. That equates to 13 percent of traffic fatalities during that time in the entire city — all on one road. Since 2005, more than 100 people have been killed there. It’s known as the most dangerous road in Philadelphia.

Safety along that stretch of highway-like street has been an issue for more than a decade, and the city has already spent millions trying to ameliorate it. 

Pa. Rep. John Taylor, whose 177th District includes much of the notoriously dangerous roadway, has called the situation “a long-term, unresolvable matter.” Before he steps down after 17 years in office at the end of this term, Taylor hopes he can enact new legislation that would help.

How? By instituting automated enforcement zones with speed cameras along Roosevelt Boulevard.

At Taylor’s urging, the Pa. House Transportation Committee last October voted to approve an amendment that added the Boulevard to a statewide enforcement zone initiative known as Senate Bill 172, which is now pending before the full House. However, despite the bill’s good intentions, there are challenges to getting it passed.

Specifically, some are concerned traffic cameras are a violation of their privacy.

Last week, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the Vision Zero Alliance hosted a meeting to generate support for the bill and illuminate the challenges ahead.

A morbid history

According to the Vision Zero Alliance, from 2011 to 2015, Roosevelt Boulevard saw 3,384 traffic accidents — 6 percent of Philly’s total recorded crashes.

“I don’t need the stats to know how bad it is,” Taylor said last week at an informational meeting hosted by the VZA and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. He lives about 200 yards away, he explained, and when helicopters buzz overhead, “my wife always notes that something terrible has happened on the Boulevard.”

Philly resident Latanya Bird was also at last week’s SB 172 info session. In 2013, Bird’s niece Samara Banks and three of Banks’ four children were killed when a driver barreled into them as they were walking across the Boulevard.

“It’s hard for us,” Byrd said. “But what’s even harder is when I wake up in the morning and I hear on the news that someone else was killed [there].”

How this bill would help

SB 172 would establish a three-year pilot program to determine whether automated enforcement zones actually deter speeding.

Under the legislation, drivers caught exceeding the speed limit would face a $150 fine.

In Philly, Roosevelt Boulevard would become one of the test zones, so data would be collected to determine if the cameras (and threat of fine) actually does anything to decrease accidents, especially fatal ones.

Studies about the effectiveness of speed cameras have returned varying results over the years, but many examinations of data have shown a noticeable increase in safety for pedestrians, bikers and motorists after camera installation.

Why some are against it

Despite the chance that it could reduce accidents, Taylor still expects SB 172 to field some opposition from the public.

“We have the opposition that’s built in,” he said, “about Big Brother and privacy.”

Taylor knows there’s a contingent that will see this as government overreach. He expects constituents to ask, “Where is this going? Why are you taking pictures of us?”

At first, Jana Tidwell was one of the skeptics. Tidwell, the public and government affairs manager at AAA, worried that speed cameras were just another way for the government to earn extra revenue.

To earn AAA’s official endorsement, traffic enforcement “must be clearly focused on safety, not on ‘gotcha,'” Tidwell said. “This isn’t the Dukes of Hazard.”

But Tidwell has since come around in support of the bill — with the caveat that Roosevelt Boulevard is clearly labeled with signs advising drivers they’re approaching an automated enforcement zone.

Taylor hopes constituents with privacy concerns can also see how this might increase their freedom.

“It’s all about liberty,” he said. “We want you to have the liberty of coming to Philadelphia and not getting killed.”

What’s next?

Jason Duckworth of the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance said that right now, SB 172 has momentum and support within the Pennsylvania Legislature.

However, he noted, Taylor is in his last term as part of the deliberative body. If the bill isn’t passed before Taylor leaves office, Duckworth suggested, there’s no telling what could happen to it.

“[Taylor] is our great leader in the General Assembly on this issue,” Duckworth said. “We must capitalize on this moment of opportunity this spring and see this bill become law.”