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Read Sarah Clark Stuart’s Vision Zero Testimony

There was a long-awaited Vision Zero in City Council on Tuesday. The Bicycle Coalition and many other members of the Vision Zero Alliance were in attendance, testifying in favor of changes to make Philadelphia’s streets safer. Among those who testified: Becca Refford, Anne Javsicas, Regan Kladstrup, Christopher Puchalsky (OTIS), Jana Tidwell (AAA), Shari Shapiro (Uber), Nick Rogers (Clean Air Council) Suzanne Hagner, and Sarah Clark Stuart (Bicycle Coalition).

Here is Sarah Clark Stuart’s testimony:

Good Afternoon Chairwoman Reynolds-Brown and Chairman Johnson and members of the Environment and Transportation and Public Utilities Committees.  My name is Sarah Clark Stuart, Executive Director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and I’m here to testify today on Resolution #171055, on the status of the City of Philadelphia’s Vision Zero action plan, which is designed to reduce traffic crashes, improve performance of the street system, and promote active transportation, including bicycling, within the City.

As you have heard and will be hearing again, approximately 100 people die every year in traffic crashes in Philadelphia.  Approximately 60% of those are motorists or motorcyclists and 30-35 percent are pedestrians, with the remaining being bicyclists.  The number of those killed has not budged substantially for over 5-10 years. Just as other cities around the world and our country have started to pay attention to this issue, Philadelphia has begun to as well.   

In November of 2016 Mayor Kenny signed an executive order adopting Vision Zero and setting the goal to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2030.  This E.O. is a direct result of the advocacy of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. We called for this E.O. in a platform that we prepared along with many other organizations including the Clean Air Council, Feet First Philly, Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Chamber of Commerce, among others during the 2015 Mayoral Primary. We called on all candidates to make a commitment to adopt a Vision Zero policy and to prepare an action plan, which Mayor Kenney committed to before he was elected and afterwards in his transition papers.  

We believe that Mayor Kenney’s E.O. makes a strong commitment to Vision Zero and holds the City accountable to meet the goal of zero deaths by 2030.  The three year Action Plan developed by the Office of Complete Streets is a solid start. As part of the Vision Zero Alliance, a coalition initiated by the Bicycle Coalition in 2016, and which consisted of 25 groups including AARP Pennsylvania, AAA Mid Atlantic, Clean Air Council, APM, Northeast Chamber, City Avenue Special Services District, and 10000 Friends, we submitted comments on the Action Plan in July 2017, which I have attached.

We do believe that the Mayor’s efforts to make progress on Vision Zero needs more support from City Council.  After years of disinvestment in our roadways, Mayor Kenney has begun to increase resources and focus on the needs of our most vulnerable road users. But, more is resources are going to be necessary.

NYC is spending $1.6 billion over 5 years on Vision Zero.  Last year, on the 6,000 miles of roads in the five boroughs, 214 people were killed in crashes; 101 of them were pedestrians.  This is lowest level of traffic related deaths since record keeping began in 1910. Measured against 2016, the drops are 7% and 32% respectively.

Go back to 2013, and the declines work out to 28% and 45%, respectively — made all the more remarkable because nationally, many such trends are going in the wrong direction.

In January of this year the NY Daily News Editorial Page gave Mayor di Blassio a glowing review of his Vision Zero program saying, “It’s now clear beyond any reasonable doubt they are saving lives.

Mayor Kenney’s budget has dedicated $6.5 million over five years (2019-2024) to the Streets Department for Vision Zero capital projects; an increase of $1.5M from last  year’s budget $5 million b/w 2018-2023. There is some additional funding dedicated to Vision Zero that is allocated to the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure; although we are not aware of exactly how much.  There is additional funding secured by the City’s Streets Department and oTIS for Vision Zero projects from state and federal grants.

Philadelphia has a traffic crash death rate per 100,000 that is double that of New York City and a capital budget that is orders of magnitude less than NYC’s.  We have our work cut out for us. While its a fact that Philadelphia doesn’t have the financial resources of New York City, the Bicycle Coalition and the Vision Zero Alliance encourage Council to find ways to increase financial support in future budgets in order to see the kinds of impressive results that New York has seen.

Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Action Plan has identified evaluation, engineering, education, and enforcement goals. I would like to focus on three topics in particular.

First, there is opportunity for Council to help the Administration figure out how to better regulate large private haulers by incentivizing the use of sideguards and voluntarily work in zones to minimize the amount of racing around the City to meet time constraints. It was a trash truck rushing early in the morning that killed Emily Fredricks and we think there are common sense voluntary actions that garbage companies could take to increase safety and reduce their negative impacts on the City.

Second, we do believe that the transportation engineers and planners employed by the Streets Department and Office of Transportation and Infrastructure should be the decision makers about how to make Philadelphia’s streets safe for all road users.  We concur with the Action Plan’s recommendation that the Chief Traffic Engineer should be authorized by City Council to implement traffic calming and traffic safety improvements through changes to road markings.  The Chief Traffic Engineer should be the final arbiter of safety decisions after ample and robust community outreach. We strongly encourage City Council to work with the Kenney Administration to work on this kind of legislation.  

Third, I would like to address equity.  Streets should be safe for all road users no matter what neighborhood.   

To better understand how Vision Zero intersects with race and poverty, the Bicycle Coalition undertook some geospatial analyses of where crashes are happening. The City’s Vision Zero Action Plan has highlighted that 50 percent of traffic deaths and severe injuries occur on just 12 percent of city streets. We identified Census Tracts where the percentage of residents living in poverty was greater than the overall percentage of Philadelphians living in poverty (25.9%). Next, we determined which of these Census Tracts have a higher percentage of nonwhite residents than Philadelphia as a whole (58.7%).

Our work revealed that while roughly 35% of Philadelphia’s street miles are located in these Census Tracts, this same geography accounts for almost 46% of the High Injury Network.

So, almost half (46%) of the High-Injury Network lies in impoverished communities of color.

We encourage the City to conduct further analysis of the High Injury Network as it relates to indicators of disadvantage, especially race, which is not addressed in the action plan at all; our analysis of race and the High Injury Network is narrow in scope and we know additional analyses are possible.

While there is a commitment to equity throughout Philadelphia’s plan, we hope that moving forward the City will be transparent and specific about how equity is defined, how the benchmarks (pg. 42) will include equity, and how equity will shape the plan’s implementation.

Furthermore, we think it is imperative that the Vision Zero Task Force closely examine the impacts of police enforcement, looking at the issue from multiple angles. A key concern is the use of enforcement in communities of color.

In closing, we consider traffic safety a critical public health issue that Philadelphia must address comprehensively and with bold moves to make greater progress as soon as possible.  Philadelphia should not accept 100 people dying each year as inevitable, or normal, or the price of moving around the City. Philadelphia should have a zero tolerance for anyone dying in a traffic crash.  And City Council has an important role in helping to move the City toward that goal.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

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Topics: Featured, Vision Zero

One comment on “Read Sarah Clark Stuart’s Vision Zero Testimony

  1. John Baxter

    All very interesting. The only problem is: Nobody is trying to optimize travel for all three modes. These aggressive Vision Zero initiative slow traffic substantially. If we worked toward safety from all angles and not just from a speed perspective, we could have the same results with far less inconvenience for motorists. I’m not against all aspects of Vision Zero, but I firmly believe a form of the concept based on a broader and more accurate view of crash causes would, first of all work at least as well and, secondly, be much more palatable to the majority of road users. As far as allowing the City’s transportation engineers to make all the decisions–it’s clear they have a bias toward aggressive Vision Zero road design. Politics has for years influenced PennDOT decisions on speed limits in defiance of traditional traffic engineering standards. Going too far in one direction will anger many who mostly drive through Philadelphia, in spite of the fact that more palatable changes could be made to work just as well. Politics has a legitimate role in influencing these decisions–it just needs to be dampened by data and common sense. A more balanced view of Vision Zero would clearly sail over political hurdles and allow the City to reach safety goals much more quickly. This means more attention to avoiding things like lane elimination and using more subtle approaches that will still virtually eliminate speed as a crash cause, and will improve safety by working in every relevant direction. It’s fascinating to me that one environmental engineer who favored bike riding in cities years ago had found that turning over large areas of streets to bikes actually increases air pollution because the amount of space required for protected bike lanes is all out of proportion to the actual number of users. Let’s work toward a more even-handed approach that is less anti-car and anti-driver, and more objectively pro safety!

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