West Philly's Baltimore Avenue

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Updated Jan. 3

It was just a few weeks ago that Cedar Park resident Corinne felt the need for change. Literally.

She was riding her bike down a tight one-way street and got hit by a car. She used to ride everywhere, she told attendees at a Monday night community meeting, but now she’s anxious to mount her two-wheeler at all.

For nearby West Philly neighbor Marie, the wake-up call came when a car smashed into the front steps of her house on 49th Street near Springfield Avenue. She has kids — and it wasn’t a far leap to imagine them playing on the steps when the accident happened, she said.

“It was broad daylight and I have small children, and there are more small children on the block,” she told the assembled group. “That really shook me up.”

Both women think their community’s transit network has to be made safer — and they’re not the only ones.

About a dozen concerned citizens came together this week to launch a hyperlocal transit committee. Branching off the Cedar Park Neighbors registered community organization, the group seeks to modify the local transit system and implement small changes to make the streets safer. Cedar Park is chock full of public transportation options — there are two trolley routes and two bus routes that run right through the small neighborhood.

Catherine Hofmann, the RCO vice president, brought the group together. She used to live in North Carolina, where she said she’d ride her bike all the time. Not so much anymore.

“I moved up here and now I’m scared shitless,” said Hofmann, 32, who relocated to Cedar Park two and a half years ago.

Trolley tracks on Baltimore Avenue Credit: Karen Christine Hibbard / Flickr Creative Commons

The most traffic fatalities in PA

The folks who banded together to form the new committee aren’t imagining the problem.

Compared to other cities — whether in Pennsylvania or elsewhere — Philly streets are relatively unsafe for pedestrians. So far this year, the city has seen 88 people killed in traffic incidents, including seven children, according to Bicycle Coalition tracking.

While the number of fatalities has gone down year after year statewide, it continues to increase in Philadelphia. In 2017, Philly had the highest percentage of traffic-related casualties among all counties, per PennDOT stats.

To combat the problem, Philadelphia implemented in 2017 a plan called Vision Zero, modeled on a Swedish program that had success reducing traffic deaths there by implementing better enforcement, engineering and education. But the citywide program has been slow going — leading neighborhood groups to take traffic safety into their own hands.

Similar to what just launched in Cedar Park, the Safety Committee of the Fishtown Neighbors Association started in 2015. Just a year later, the FNA committee was able to bring about the revamp of a popular Frankford Avenue intersection to add more crosswalks and stop signs.

Hofmann hopes the Cedar Park transit committee scores similar wins in her neighborhood.

“Seeing how many people have died in car-related deaths,” Hofmann said, “we want anything that can slow down cars in these residential areas and make getting to Center City easier and faster.”

Asking for a ‘slow zone’

So what does the group actually want? Judging by its first meeting, members have a handful of goals.

They want more curb cuts. They want to clean up the messy intersection at 49th and Baltimore Avenue. They want diagonal parking, which they hope will narrow streets and force cars to drive more slowly. And please, for the love of God, they want people to stop double-parking along the trolley tracks.

“There’s 40 people on a trolley being held hostage by one person,” Hofmann said.

Most of all, they want the entire neighborhood to be transformed into a slow zone — a program that Vision Zero is currently working to introduce into Philly neighborhoods.

The group will first get feedback by crafting a basic survey and distributing it to the entire neighborhood. To do it, they’re partnering with Jonas Maciunas, a Philadelphia urbanist who recently executed a similar survey regarding a public park in Old City.

The group will draft the survey through the new year, hope to have results within two months and get started making changes shortly thereafter.

“I hope that this is going to not only do really good work within the community,” Hofmann said, “but also engage a lot of people with Cedar Park Neighbors.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...