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Philly unveils Vision Zero plan to make streets safer

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How the city plans to wipe out traffic deaths by 2030

Philly wants to eliminate traffic-related deaths by 2030.
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Every year, 100 people are killed in a traffic-related crash in Philly. Every day, four children are involved in said traffic crashes. These are just some of the statistics that makes Philly one of the deadliest cities for traffic deaths in the U.S. Now, the city has an official plan to make its streets safer.

It will involve more protected bike lanes. Intersections will be improved for pedestrians. And yes, “Some streets are going to be slower,” says Michael Carroll, director of the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure and chair of the Vision Zero Task Force.

Today Carroll, the Vision Zero Task Force, and city officials released the city’s first-ever Vision Zero Action Plan, a three-year roadmap to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries from Philly’s streets by 2030.

It focuses on six key areas, including evaluation and data, engineering, education, enforcement, fleet management, and policy. The plan also makes the case that Philly’s high traffic fatality rate of 6 per 100,000 residents—two times higher than New York City’s—is not just a streets issue, but also a public health issue.

“First, it’s going to reduce the number of people who die or are seriously injured. That’s an obvious health benefit,” says city health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “But if we have safer streets [...] we’ll have more more people who will walk and bike.”

The action plan comes six months after the Vision Zero Task Force released its first draft. It spent half the year collecting data and public input, receiving more than 20,000 responses for a Vision Zero Safety Map, and attending 44 community events.

“As I suspected, the public was not shy about offering comments on making our streets safer,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. Specifically, 85 percent of those surveyed agreed that Philly is not a safe city for all travelers (drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians) to share roads together.

The action plan will first focus its attention on its High Injury Network. The task force found that 50 percent of traffic-related deaths and severe injuries occur on just 12 percent of Philly’s streets.

Half of traffic-related deaths occur on 12 percent of Philly’s streets. View the full map here.
via Vision Zero Action Plan

One street included in that high injury network is Roosevelt Boulevard, which accounts for 13 percent of all fatalities. The city is already half-way through its program to make this boulevard safer, but data will continue to be collected here and in other high-injury areas to determine what specific improvements each site needs, said Kelley Yemen, director of Complete Streets.

Those improvements will include everything from installing the first two bicycle signals in Philly within the High Injury Network to new LED street lights to putting in pedestrian countdown timers at 13 intersections per year. Plans for more protected bike lanes are also a component for the three-year plan, despite some recent pushback from City Council members.

“Change is hard,” acknowledged Caroll. “We’re being deliberate and we want them to be supportive.”

But the action plan’s biggest goal to wipe out traffic deaths may be the toughest to implement: Lowering speed limits.

In Philly, 53 percent of traffic deaths are the result of aggressive driving, which includes speeding.

The plan calls for the city to work with state officials to gain city control of priorities like automated speed enforcement (there’s no state-wide program in place for this) and use of radar guns to monitor how fast or slow cars or going. The city also wants to be able to set its own speed limits.

Yemen and Caroll acknowledge that these efforts will have their fair share of critics, especially in a majority-driver city. Already, opponents like the National Motorists Association have voiced their concerns about speed enforcement efforts, saying it’s a “misguided policy.”

But, says, Yemen, the goal is to benefit all drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, even if it means tacking on a few extra minutes to one’s commute. “We want people to get where they’re going efficiently and reliably, and maybe slowing down will make that reliability better.”