Inquirer Editorial: Broken Boulevard

A woman runs across Roosevelt Boulevard a day after four were killed nearby.
A woman runs across Roosevelt Boulevard a day after four were killed nearby. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: July 22, 2013

A photograph by The Inquirer's Michael Bryant last week revealed most of what one needs to know about Philadelphia's Roosevelt Boulevard. The day after an alleged drag racer killed a woman and three children trying to cross the thoroughfare, it shows another woman clutching a child as she runs through traffic on the same stretch of road.

The multilane Boulevard has exacted an inordinate pedestrian death toll for decades, and officials have promised to deal with it for almost as long. But as the photo illustrates, the road continues to encourage recklessness among drivers and pedestrians alike.

Last week's deaths, sadly, were only an especially horrific example of the predictable consequences. Fatally struck were Samara Banks, 27, and three of her sons, ages 4, 1, and 9 months; only her eldest boy, a 5-year-old, survived. Khusen Akhmedov, a 23-year-old from Lancaster who apparently counts reckless driving among his hobbies, was accused of racing with another man before striking the family. That brought the Boulevard's pedestrian toll to more than 20 dead in five years and more than 130 struck.

Designed more than a century ago, the Boulevard comprises up to 12 lanes, four roadways, and three medians. A 2011 report by the reform group Transportation for America noted that such arterials contribute heavily to pedestrian deaths nationwide by encouraging speeding and affording insufficient opportunities to cross safely.

Over the past decade, Roosevelt Boulevard has been a focus of City Council hearings, a multiagency task force, red-light cameras, and a $2.8 million project to add signals, signs, and enforcement. But statistics dating to at least the mid-'90s show no consistent drop in the number of pedestrians struck or killed on the street. The region's total pedestrian toll has also held steady for a decade, according to Transportation for America, even as overall traffic deaths have dropped by more than a fifth.

Some of the work on the Boulevard was completed only recently, but last week's deaths suggest officials still haven't done enough to slow traffic, ease safe pedestrian passage, and discourage unsafe crossing, such as with fencing. The crash took place at North Second Street, where median walkways indicate a crossing despite the absence of traffic signals. State officials described it as an unmarked but legal crosswalk - a ridiculously perilous notion.

Officials can't prevent all irresponsibility on the roads. But they must see to it that the Boulevard stops inviting danger and death.

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