A $2 million Vision Zero budget cut could imperil future Philly traffic safety projects

Current renovations will continue as planned, but capital funding is at risk.

A newly installed protected bike lane on Columbus Boulevard in South Philly

A newly installed protected bike lane on Columbus Boulevard in South Philly

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
michaelawinberg-2020-2

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Three Philadelphians have been killed while riding bicycles in the past month.

A 17-year-old boy was struck by a driver in Roxborough at the end of June, an 18-year-old died after being hit by a driver on Kelly Drive in early July, and a man in his 30s was killed a week later on Ridge Avenue after a driver ran into him and fled the scene.

Philly’s Vision Zero program is intended to make roads safer for cyclists, as well as pedestrians and everyone else who uses them — but its annual budget was recently cut.

It’s unclear exactly how the reduction will affect Vision Zero, which was launched by Mayor Jim Kenney in 2017. Current projects are still moving ahead, officials say, but future funding and planning work is in peril.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Philadelphia officials to make tough decisions. Facing a $750 million budget deficit, they rearranged the city’s spending plan with redacted funding for  everything from the city’s Office of Arts and Culture to violence prevention programming.

For Vision Zero, the biggest reduction was a $2 million line item slashed from the FY21 budget — a chunk that was designated for capital funding.

Usually, the safer streets program can leverage that money to get grants from state and federal government or private foundations. Without it, city officials estimate they could lose up to $8 million in cash infusions down the road.

“As we watch those programs and see how they’re shaking out, with the fallout economically across the country and the commonwealth, that’s where we’ll start to see some impact,” said Kelley Yemen, Philadelphia’s director of complete streets. “It’s hard to say right now.”

Yemen said infrastructure renovations are funded years in advance, and the Streets Department’s repaving budget was not affected. So lots of stuff will still happen as planned, including:

One mile of protected bike lane built with delineator posts is estimated to cost roughly $15k to $30k. Philly spends $450,000 on the traffic calming devices necessary for one neighborhood Slow Zone. More comprehensive projects, like redesigning Market Street in Old City to make room for bike lanes, rack up bills closer to $7 million.

Yemen also noted that she won’t be able to contract out new design work as freely in the coming years, because the city has limited Vision Zero’s professional services funding. She indicated her team is testing some digital programs to see how much they can handle in house.

“We’re good for this year, and we’ll be working on getting some good projects out in the next year or two,” Yemen said. “Then it’s anybody’s guess.”

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