Inquirer Editorial: Lower speeds aren't high-tech

A memorial to a woman and three boys killed trying to cross the boulevard last summer.
A memorial to a woman and three boys killed trying to cross the boulevard last summer. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: April 26, 2014

Of all the ways Roosevelt Boulevard could be made safer, a cynic might guess that officials would fixate on the one that promises substantial government revenues and contracts. Hence the push for legislation to allow the state's first speed-enforcement cameras on the deadly dozen-lane thoroughfare.

The cameras, which automatically photograph speeders so they can be cited by mail, could well help tame the boulevard if their implementation avoids a host of potential pitfalls. But so could a number of low-tech, low-cost, and already-legal safety improvements.

Roosevelt Boulevard has drawn renewed attention since a suspected drag racer killed 28-year-old Samara Banks and three of her sons as they tried to cross its broad swaths of asphalt last summer. The family's fate was only a particularly horrific example of the street's dangers. More than 20 pedestrians have been killed on the boulevard over the past five years, and more than 130 have been struck.

But speed cameras could "dramatically change the driving culture" on the boulevard, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told a state Senate committee this week. Sen. Mike Stack (D., Phila.) is backing legislation to allow the cameras there and possibly elsewhere in the city and state.

Speed cameras have been widely used in Britain and Australia, as well as in U.S. cities such as Washington. Research shows they can indeed reduce average speeds, and therefore prevent injuries and deaths, if they're deployed with the proper emphasis on safety rather than revenue generation.

However, New York officials have managed to dramatically reduce the pedestrian death toll on Queens Boulevard, a similarly dangerous super-street traversing dense urban neighborhoods, with improvements such as fencing and signs to discourage jaywalking, highly visible crosswalks, retimed traffic lights, and reduced crossing distances. Philadelphia officials haven't begun to exhaust the simpler safety measures that are well within their existing powers.

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