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Roosevelt Blvd Speed Camera Bill Passes: How We Got Here

Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Sarah Clark Stuart speaks out for speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard

After several years of work, Senate Bill 172—which legalizes speed safety cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard for a five year pilot—passed the state Senate on Tuesday. This was the final hurdle it needed to hop before heading to Governor Wolf’s desk. The governor is expected to sign this bill into law.

Senate Bill 172 will have a positive effect on Philadelphia’s speeding and aggressive driving culture, making streets safer for pedestrians, drivers and, eventually, cyclists.

But this bill did not get passed overnight. It was a years-long effort, sparked by tragedy.

It began in July 2013 when two drag racers killed Samara Banks and three of her four sons on Roosevelt Boulevard.  Because of this horrific crash, Senator Stack introduced legislation in 2014 to put speed cameras on the Boulevard, but the bill did not budge during that legislative session.

Things changed in April 2016. The Bicycle Coalition had just received the sort of news that runs dread and sadness throughout our small office.

Jamal Morris, an engineer who lived in West Philadelphia, had been struck by a hit-and-run driver in West Philadelphia, according to news reports, and had died as a result of his injuries.

Being an advocacy organization, when we get this sort of news, we don’t sulk or cry. Even if we want to. We get to action.

Within a day, we would meet with Channabel Morris, Jamal’s mother; and several of his friends; to figure out what we could all do, together, to make streets safer for Philadelphia’s road users.

State Rep. John Taylor speaks with Channabel Morris in 2016

In our discussions, two bills in Harrisburg raised eyebrows: An extension to the state’s red light camera program, and the creation of a speed camera pilot in Philadelphia. Morris’ family felt, as we did, that red light cameras and speed cameras could help stop Philadelphia’s culture of reckless driving, and we had years of statistics from other states to back us all up. Not to mention, perhaps if there had been a speed camera or red light camera at the intersection where Jamal had been struck, there would have been more evidence to catch the perpetrator(s) who, to this day, in 2018, have not been caught.

Morris’ family and friends joined the Bicycle Coalition and several volunteers on trips to Harrisburg, where we spoke with state legislators about the benefits of automated enforcement. Red light cameras have been shown to reduce crashes at intersections where they are located by 24 percent. And speed cameras have been shown to reduce crashes by between 17 to 39 percent and fatalities by between 58 to 68 percent.

Heading to Harrisburg several times that spring, we met with at least a dozen legislators, many of whom were on the fence about cameras. AAA-Mid Atlantic participated in those meetings as part of the auto club’s long standing advocacy efforts related to this issue on behalf of motorists, because when implemented with AAA-supported motorist protections as outlined in SB 172, speed cameras can contribute to the goal of reducing unnecessary fatalities and promoting traffic safety for all road users. After our advocacy, and the help of our members sending emails and making phone calls to their state representatives and senators, the bill to extend the program in Philadelphia for ten years passed that spring.

Morris would continue working with the Bicycle Coalition on a variety of issues, and continues her advocacy in our emerging Families For Safer Streets Greater Philadelphia group. You will hear more about that soon enough.

But Philadelphia’s culture of speed was not subdued with the red light camera legislation’s passing. And later that year, we could continue traveling to Harrisburg to advocate for this issue.

Now, to be fair, we don’t think automated enforcement is a panacea. Philadelphia’s streets need to be re-engineered to accommodate everyone, cut down on speeding, and put the priorities of pedestrians and cyclists front and center. And not just Center City streets, either. From Cheltenham Avenue to Packer, the Delaware River to Cobbs Creek, each and every street in Philadelphia needs to be made safe for everyone no matter what mode of transportation they’re using.

But re-engineering our streets costs money. Lots of it. And in the meantime, until Philadelphia can garner the resources to fix everything, we believe automated enforcement can be a force for good in the city.

For one thing, cameras change culture. Don’t believe me? Wait at the red right arrow one evening at the corner of York and Aramingo Ave. in Fishtown. You won’t see anyone make a right on red. Why? Because lots people have done it, gotten a ticket, paid the ticket, and decided to never, ever do it again. When you get a ticket for running a red light or speeding on a certain street, and you receive a picture in the mail of yourself actually doing it, there’s not much you can say.

Second, we believe automated enforcement is a better option than police enforcement. Cameras cannot discriminate, and cut down on potential negative interactions between law enforcement and citizens. We wrote more about that issue on our Vision Zero Equity Statement, which you can read here.

Third, the money brought in from automated enforcement tickets does not go into a general fund. It has to be spent on street safety improvements! That’s a good thing, and every year, the governor makes an announcement showing how much money is brought in, and where it goes.

Of course, the goal is to raise no money through the program, because everyone becomes good drivers.

Anyway, it was 2017, and automated speed camera legislation had still not passed. We had recently gotten into contact with Latanya Byrd, a Northeast Philadelphia woman who had experienced tragedy because of speeding, first-hand. Byrd’s niece, Samara Banks, and three of her children, had been killed by drag racers while crossing the Boulevard.

The men who killed them would be prosecuted by the City of Philadelphia. So, Byrd’s family had gotten some justice for her niece and Samara’s children.

But it wasn’t enough.

As Byrd would explain it to us, every time she heard of another crash on the Boulevard, it reminded her of the tragedy she endured, and she was determined to do something about it.

Philadelphia resident Latanya Byrd speaks out for automated enforcement on Roosevelt Blvd.

She began joining us on our trips to Harrisburg to work for safer streets. Working with Bob Previdi, she would visit dozens of legislators and members of the Transportation Committee leadership.

Meanwhile, we had an ally in Republican State Rep. John Taylor, who had fought for speed cameras for several years, and Taylor had recently announced his retirement. Living near the Boulevard and being a member of the majority party in Harrisburg, Taylor went to bat for us in the Capitol Building, working with colleagues to support the automated enforcement bill that would eventually pass the Senate, SB 172.

That bill would create a speed camera safety pilot on Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia’s most dangerous road. While we do not urge cyclists to use Roosevelt Boulevard under any circumstances, it was important to fight for this bill. Pedestrians were being killed at a high rate on the Boulevard, and, we felt, if Philadelphia were able to make things safer for itself on this road, we could begin utilizing this technology elsewhere, too.

In Spring 2018, the Vision Zero Alliance—a group of organizations and people around the Philadelphia Region dedicated to reaching zero traffic deaths in Philadelphia—began fundraising for SB 172. AARP-Pennsylvania played a pivotal role in getting the word out about our fundraising goals, as did Jason Duckworth of the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance. Together, our alliance hired a lobbyist to help get this legislation passed.

In May 2018, a group of Vision Zero Alliance members headed to the State Capitol, again, and held a press conference, calling for the passage of SB 172. Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Sarah Clark Stuart, as well as Nick Rogers of the Clean Air Alliance and State Rep. John Taylor, and Latanya Byrd, would all speak at the event. We’d follow up by visiting legislators, then attend the Ride of Silence later that evening.

The bill would eventually pass the Senate, overwhelmingly, 44-4, with State Sen. John Sabatina, who had once championed the speed camera issue, voting against.

It would then head to the House, where it was amended in Committee.

Then … nothing.

It would not come up for another vote that spring. The state Legislature would recess for the summer before passing the bill. Horrifically, five people were killed on Roosevelt Boulevard this summer, while the Legislature was on recess. And the Boulevard is actually on course for its deadliest year in some time.

But fall would eventually come. And the House passed an amended version of the bill. Which meant it went back to the Senate—again.

As frustrating as this process was, it’s not abnormal for legislation to be amended, passed, then amended again, and passed again, until the Legislature feels they’ve gotten it right.

Finally, on Tuesday, the bill came up for a vote in the state Senate. The legislative body voted for it, again, overwhelmingly, 47-1 — with Sen. John Sabatina casting the singular nay vote.

And now it heads to Governor Wolf’s desk, and he is expected to sign SB 172 into law. The Philadelphia Parking Authority expects to begin installing the cameras in January 2019, at which time there will be a grace and warning period.

Advocacy is not easy. Not in the least. There’s tragedy, frustration, anger, and defeat along the way. There are naysayers who believe you’re pushing too hard. There are naysayers who believe you’re not pushing hard enough. People will tell you the legislation you’re fighting for doesn’t matter. There are people who will tell you the legislation will ruin their commute, and contribute to even more crashes and deaths throughout Philadelphia. They’re all there, and they’re always there.

But the Vision Zero Alliance, the Bicycle Coalition, the Byrd Family, the Morris Family, we all knew what we were fighting for.

And while this bill has taken a long time to pass, our advocacy on this issue is not over. There’s a lot of work to do to make sure Philadelphia is a safe place to travel, and that all residents have access to safe, equitable, automated enforcement technology.

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Topics: Featured, Vision Zero

One comment on “Roosevelt Blvd Speed Camera Bill Passes: How We Got Here

  1. James C. Walker

    Significantly more safety could be achieved with engineering, but that is a cost factor for the city government. They prefer for-profit enforcement that will achieve less.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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