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On Roosevelt Boulevard, frequent deaths are the cost of inaction

Not just bikers, but pedestrians too need increased street safety, Metro's bike columnist writes.
Family and friends of a pedestrian killed on Roosevelt Blvd. hold up 'slow down' signs to traffic on Feb. 12. (Randy LoBasso)

About 15 of us stood in a circle on the grassy median of Roosevelt Boulevard on Monday, February 12, reciting the Lord’s prayer. We were led by Daniela Gabay’s mother, who had been grieving over the past week, after losing her 21-year-old daughter to another bout of traffic violence on the Boulevard.

Daniela Gabay was killed by a driver while crossing Roosevelt Blvd. at Large Street on February 5. Wreckage from the crash was still noticeable on the Boulevard’s grassy median this week -- pieces of bumper and a headlight were strewn about -- and a small memorial with flowers and tokens from Gabay’s life had been set up to remember her.

As of this writing, Gabay is the latest victim of the Boulevard. And unfortunately, these sorts of incidents are commonplace on this small stretch of street. A long-term solution is still being planned and funded. A short-term solution sits in the state Capitol collecting dust because of the cynical nature of politics.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, where I work, had set up a small memorial for Gabay as part of our advocacy for zero traffic deaths in Philadelphia. Gabay’s family, several advocates, and a Fox 29 producer, joined us for the short event, in which we put up the first of what will inevitably be numerous signs all over Philadelphia to note where a pedestrian was killed. It won’t be our last trip to the Boulevard.

As Streetsblog reported in a recent story called “Philadelphia’s Boulevard of Death,” “Roosevelt is a death trap. At 12 lanes wide, it’s basically an at-grade highway through densely populated city neighborhoods. Every year, there are about 700 crashes and 10 traffic fatalities on this single street.”

More than 10 percent of all of Philadelphia’s road fatalities happen on Roosevelt Boulevard, even though it represents just 0.6 percent of city streets.

Here’s the thing: We can begin curbing those deaths now. But first, the Pennsylvania Legislature has to pass Senate Bill 172, which would create a speed camera Pilot program on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Speed cameras have been proven to reduce crashes along corridors like Roosevelt Boulevard, and, even when there is a crash, reduced speed often lessens its severity. People make mistakes while driving and walking, but they shouldn’t die because of it.

Unfortunately, the legislation has been stalled in the House because politicians from outside Philadelphia have decided Philadelphia shouldn’t get to choose how to promote safer streets. The bill has yet to receive a vote in the House.

“It is a too frequent tragedy that lives like Daniela Gabay's are cut short crossing Roosevelt Blvd,” tweeted State Rep. Jared Solomon, who attended Monday’s event. “The [Pennsylvania House of Representatives] must bring SB172 up for a vote and save lives in Northeast Philly.”

The City is planning a longer-term, re-engineering of the roadway. Public Open Houses are scheduled for late February. But something has to be done now. Speed cameras are a short-term solution that would help pedestrians and drivers stay safer.

It’s unfortunate to know that many, many more of these signs will be hung around Philadelphia in the coming months. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 172 sits in Harrisburg, collecting dust as the Boulevard collects lives.