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How Dangerous Road Design Impacts Philadelphia’s Most Vulnerable Residents Who Live Near Roosevelt Boulevard

June 21, 2021

While most Philadelphians denounce Roosevelt Boulevard as a confusing, chaotic stretch of road that is lying in wait for crashes, the people most affected by the Boulevard’s poor roadway design are seldom talked about.

A new report may change that.

One out of every three people who live in Philadelphia live within one mile of the Boulevard, according to a report issued in May by the Roosevelt Boulevard Route for Change Program, which seeks to make the Boulevard more safe, accessible and reliable for all users. The report, a joint effort by the City of Philadelphia, SEPTA and PennDOT, found that compared with the rest of Philadelphia and the region, the Boulevard has a very high concentration of people who are ethnic minorities, foreign-born, and who speak limited English, making it one of the most diverse areas in the region.

Specifically, 18 percent of the corridor’s residents were born in a foreign country and almost one-third speak a language other than English at home as their primary language, according to the report. Compared with previous decades, there is a greater level of poverty within the one-mile area surrounding the Boulevard and a higher number of aging individuals living on fixed incomes. The lower portion of the Boulevard has the “highest concentrations of lower-income, youth, and minority residents, as well as lower rates of car ownership.”

The new data is but one more example of how dangerous road design disproportionately impacts people who are not well-positioned to advocate for reform. It comes on the heels of a report released in March by urban planning nonprofit Smart Growth America which found that the tragedy of pedestrian deaths is disproportionately falling upon people of color, people from lower-income communities and older adults. For more information about the Smart Growth America report CLICK HERE.

While the Route for Change report offers a thorough examination of the Boulevard’s safety issues, and a framework for addressing them, it also shines a spotlight on the treacherous conditions that Philadelphians who live near the Boulevard must navigate when they engage in common daily activities such as going shopping, or going out to eat, or going to work, or visiting with friends and family.

What It’s Like to Walk on Roosevelt Boulevard

Between 2011 and 2020, there were 279 crashes on Roosevelt Boulevard involving pedestrians, according to data from PennDOT. For those who must traverse Roosevelt Boulevard by foot, the risks, as set forth in the Route for Change report, are as follows:

  • Limited Sidewalk Buffers: People walk along a sidewalk with a limited buffer between a high volume of drivers traveling at high speeds.
  • Long Distances Between Signalized Intersections: There are a significant number of intersections that are spaced over 1,000 feet apart.
  • Numerous Driveways and Access Points: Driveways and other access points bisect sidewalks, creating more conflict points between people driving and people walking.
  • Long Crossing Distances: Because of long crossing distances, people walking need more than one traffic signal cycle to cross the Boulevard. This is especially challenging for people who are seniors, disabled or walking with children. At many intersections, people walking often do not have a comfortable amount of time to cross the Boulevard and must wait on narrow medians between lanes of moving traffic until the next signal cycle. In addition, the amount of time that the DON’T WALK warning signals flash to warn people that the WALK interval is about to end is brief. As a result, people walking must rush to take refuge in the narrow medians.
  • Complex Intersections: Complex turning movements and non-perpendicular intersections, combined with heavy traffic volumes, create more opportunity for conflicts between people walking and people driving.
  • Minimal Pedestrian Refuge Areas: Certain segments of the Boulevard only provide minimal refuge islands for pedestrians, putting them at risk. Existing refuge islands at many locations along the Boulevard are narrow and expose people walking to higher-speed drivers.
  • Sidewalk Gaps: Significant sidewalk gaps north of Welsh Road restrict pedestrian access to key destinations. On the west side of the Boulevard between Plaza Drive and Bennett Road a sidewalk gap creates a situation where people must either plan ahead or double-back to continue walking in a northbound direction. Other areas lack sidewalks altogether.

What It’s Like to Bike on Roosevelt Boulevard

According to the Route for Change report, the challenges of biking along and across the Boulevard are similar to the challenges of walking. The Boulevard’s design does not provide any separation between high-volume, high-speed drivers and bicyclists. Moreover, while there are 14 side streets with bike facilities that connect to the Boulevard, they do not connect to each other and are spaced too far apart to create a bike network. Bicyclists are often forced to ride on side streets and through parking lots, putting themselves and walkers at risk. For those who are fortunate enough to safely arrive at their destination, they will find that there is nowhere to park their bike. That includes at bus stops.

How Can Roosevelt Boulevard Be Made Safer for Walkers and Bicyclists?

The Route for Change report describes five types of improvements that can be implemented by 2025 to make the Boulevard safer for people who walk or bike. They are:

  • Changing Traffic Signal Cycle Times: Increase the 90-second signal cycle to 120 seconds in order to provide more time for people to cross the Boulevard and to reduce the chance of them getting caught in the middle of travel lanes while crossing.
  • Realigning Crosswalks and Curb Ramps: Many of the Boulevard’s side streets are skewed, resulting in a longer crossing distance for pedestrians and longer exposure to vehicles when crossing the Boulevard. The report recommends straightening or realigning the pedestrian crosswalks and adjusting curb ramp locations to allow pedestrians to walk in the most direct path possible. Curb ramps — which make sidewalks and street crossings accessible for people with disabilities and people pushing strollers — require updating at more than 150 locations.
  • Building Curb Extensions: Curb extensions are recommended for 10 signalized intersections with crosswalks in order to reduce pedestrian crossing distances.
  • Closing Sidewalk Gaps: A complete sidewalk network is critical to ensure safe access to and from businesses and institutions and allows transit riders to safely access bus stops.
  • Extending the Bicycle Network to the Boulevard: The report recommends bicycle network improvements based on the two overarching goals of increasing connections to the Boulevard, especially at existing and Direct Bus stations; and developing a strategy to fill in key bicycle network gaps on roads adjacent to the Boulevard.

The report also offers two long-term plans that could be implemented by 2040 to improve the Boulevard’s overall safety for pedestrians and drivers. One is for a “Partially Capped Expressway,” which would include four below-ground high-speed lanes. The other is for a “Neighborhood Boulevard,” which is similar in concept to the Ben Franklin Parkway. It further makes recommendations with respect to improving bus travel.

What Should I Do If I (Or a Loved One) Is Hit by a Vehicle on Roosevelt Boulevard?

Feldman Shepherd attorneys John M. Dodig and Jason A. Daria said that regardless of socioeconomic status, pedestrians have an absolute right to expect that roadway conditions in areas that they might be expected to walk or bike do not cause or contribute to a crash. They recommend contacting a motor vehicle accident attorney as soon as possible in all cases where an accident while walking or bicycling on Roosevelt Boulevard results in serious injury or death so that a full investigation can be promptly commenced.

“In catastrophic motor vehicle accident cases, it is imperative to act quickly to gather important evidence from the accident site before it disappears forever and to interview witnesses before memories fade. Diligent investigation and preparation are critical to the success of these cases,” Daria said.

Dodig and Daria said there are a number of parties who could potentially bear legal liability for accidents involving walkers or bicyclists. They include all drivers, as well as parties responsible the evaluation, design, construction, maintenance and repairs of the roadway.

Legal claims may be based upon:

  • Dangerous pedestrian crossings
  • Inadequate traffic control signals and signage
  • Poor lighting
  • Improper speed limits
  • Failure to warn of dangerous conditions
  • Defective guardrails
  • Pavement edge drop-offs

Also, legal claims may arise from failure to fix dangerous roadway conditions and to implement safety improvements following repeated, fully preventable tragedies.

“Too often, when pedestrians are catastrophically injured or killed, they or their families do not receive full and fair compensation because legal claims are filed against the striking driver and no one else. Roosevelt Boulevard is one of the deadliest thoroughfares in the U.S. Every pedestrian accident on the Boulevard that results in serious injury or death deserves a full investigation by counsel experienced with dangerous road design cases,” Dodig said.

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