In wake of pedestrian deaths, cameras proposed for Boulevard

Roosevelt Boulevard was the scene of an accident that killed a mother and three young sons.
Roosevelt Boulevard was the scene of an accident that killed a mother and three young sons. (MATT ROURKE / AP)
Posted: July 26, 2013

One week after a mother and three of her sons were fatally struck by apparent drag racers on Roosevelt Boulevard, a state senator has proposed lining the busy roadway with speed-enforcement cameras, the first technology of its kind in the area.

"A family has been decimated because reckless hooligans thought they could play Speed Racer in Northeast Philly," said Sen. Michael Stack (D., Phila.), who will introduce the legislation. "It's outrageous and we need speed-enforcement cameras to help us stop this senselessness."

The proposal, which received mixed reviews, comes after a string of pedestrian accidents, including the July 16 deaths of 27-year-old Samara Banks and three of her sons, ages 4, 23 months, and 9 months. They were struck crossing the middle of the 12-lane highway, on which more than 20 pedestrians have been killed in five years, according to records.

The century-old Boulevard has been labeled one of the most dangerous streets in the country and has been the subject of numerous changes over the last decade, including the controversial addition of red-light cameras in 2004. Despite a now-defunct safety task force and a $2.8 million project to install signals and signs and ramp up enforcement, pedestrian fatality rates remain high, making the roadway a logical place to launch the cameras, Stack said.

"I'm a person who has always been wary of Big Brother and government surveillance, but when you talk about families being killed and life and limb being at risk in a main artery of the city, extreme measures are at times necessary," he said.

The cameras are widely used in Europe and are becoming more common in the United States, despite critics who say they infringe on motorists' privacy and due process rights. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 133 communities in 13 states use photo radar. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York state do not have speed cameras but use red-light cameras.

Typically, cameras are outfitted with radar technology and snap photos of automobiles driving above the speed limit. Tickets are then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

The cameras yield big revenue for the towns and cities using them. In Washington, hundreds of cameras throughout the district will produce close to $80 million in ticket money in 2013, according to budget estimates.

But arguments that the cameras rob motorists of constitutional rights - and cash - have led to repeals and even bans on the technology in 12 states.

In Ohio's Elmwood Place - one of 15 cities using the cameras in the state - a judge outlawed the technology, calling the system "a scheme" showing "total disregard of due process."

Lawyer Mike Allen, who argued the case, said more than 6,000 tickets - triple Elmwood Place's population of 2,000 - were issued in the first month. Motorists had no defense against the sometimes-faulty technology, and in cases in which a car owner was not the driver at the time of the offense had to provide an affidavit and incriminate another person, Allen said.

Ohio's House passed a bill that would ban the technology, which awaits a state Senate vote.

Stack's proposal mirrors a transportation bill introduced in Harrisburg last year that would place speed cameras in construction zones along state highways. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Ronald Waters, a Democrat who represents parts of Philadelphia and Delaware County, said he would also support bringing the technology to the Boulevard, where a friend was killed crossing the roadway three years ago.

Response to the proposal, which would add cameras along the Boulevard from the Bucks County line to the Schuylkill Expressway, has been mixed.

Jim Lardear, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the organization would prefer increased law enforcement to new technology.

Since last week's accident, additional officers have been stationed along Roosevelt Boulevard and will crack down on jaywalking in the area, said Lt. John Stanford, public information officer for the Philadelphia police.

Former City Councilman Frank Rizzo, who spearheaded numerous efforts to make the Boulevard safer from 1996 to 2011, said exploring new technology was worthwhile but unlikely to curb reckless driving.

"The people that ride that boulevard are people who use it every day of their lives, and when they see the blue and red lights, all the sudden they behave," Rizzo said. "You get a violation in the mail two weeks later, that doesn't change the conduct the day they're cutting in and out of traffic."


Contact Julia Terruso at 267-639-8288, @juliaterruso or jterruso@phillynews.com.

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