‘This is definitely a crisis’: Will adding more speed cameras make Philly’s streets safer?

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For Latanya Byrd, driving on Roosevelt Boulevard is a necessary evil.

Each weekday, she has to navigate the dangerous 12-lane road to get to her job at Orleans Technical College near the Northeast Philadelphia Airport. Alternative routes simply take too long.

The boulevard is also a source of deep pain for Byrd. A decade ago, a drag racer struck and killed her niece, 27-year-old Samara Banks, and three of Banks’ four sons while they were crossing the road around 2nd Street.

Her sons were 4 years old, 23 months old, and 7 months old.

“That was just totally devastating,” said Byrd. “There were two generations of our family that we lost in one snap of a finger and I just kept feeling like there was something I needed to do.”

Latanya Byrd’s beloved niece and three of her children were struck and killed crossing Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia in 2013. Byrd has been fighting for safer streets for all since then. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In her grief, she turned to traffic safety advocacy, first joining a successful push to get automated speed cameras on the boulevard, then another to expand the program to other corridors around the city.

Legislation signed into law last month authorizes adding five new corridors and five new school zones to Philly’s speed camera program. It also makes permanent a pilot program launched on the boulevard.

Byrd, who co-founded a local chapter of Families for Safe Streets, couldn’t be happier.

“The cameras are a big part of the solution,” said Byrd. “I don’t know exactly whose lives we have saved, but I do know that those crashes have been reduced since those cameras went up.”

Latanya Byrd’s beloved niece and three of her children were struck and killed crossing Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia in 2013. Byrd has been fighting for safer streets for all since then. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Eager to expand

The expansion comes as Philadelphia continues to experience what advocates consider a traffic safety crisis.

City-held data shows that at least 40 people died in hit-and-runs in 2023, the majority of them pedestrians. That’s more than double the total recorded in 2019.

The city’s traffic death rate outpaces other big cities in the country, including New York and Chicago.

“We are not the only city that saw a spike in traffic fatalities in 2020, but we have had a harder time reducing that number compared to other cities,” said Nicole Brunet, policy director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, adding that increased speeding and reckless driving are the main culprits for the sustained uptick.

In the coming months, the city will work with PennDOT to select new corridors for the speed camera program, considered a critical part of Philadelphia’s broader strategy for making roads safer for drivers and pedestrians.

The locations will be picked based on speed data and speed-related crashes involving vehicles or pedestrians, according to the legislation. Separate engineering and traffic investigations will also be conducted for each of the proposed roadways.

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the choices before they are finalized. And City Council must pass a bill for each corridor before the cameras can be installed.

Once they’re up, there will be a grace period during which drivers will be issued a written warning instead of a violation. A driver must be traveling at least 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit to receive a violation, which can run $100 on corridors and up to $150 in school zones.

Possible locations for the expanded program include Henry Avenue, North Broad Street, Cobbs Creek Parkway, and Kelly Drive.

“We’re definitely eager to get these out as soon as possible because the longer they’re not there, that’s lives that are not being saved,” said Marco Gorini, who manages Vision Zero, a program launched by the Kenney administration to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and severe injuries in Philadelphia.

Traffic safety advocates and experts say they’re confident the new automated speed cameras will save lives, largely as a result of the pilot on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Since 2020, the year cameras started going up, speeding has been down 95% at those intersections, according to PennDOT. The cameras, managed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, are also credited with saving 36 lives during that span.

  • January 4, 2024
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