In a presentation that gave voice to the human toll of dangerously designed roads, Latanya Byrd ― whose niece and three young nephews were killed in July 2013 while attempting to cross Roosevelt Boulevard ― shared her family’s story in a webinar hosted on March 25, 2021, by nonprofit organization Smart Growth America. The webinar explored the findings of Smart Growth America’s annual “Deadly by Design” report, which addresses the rising number of pedestrian deaths across the U.S.
Samara Banks and her three young sons, ages 1, 4, and 7, had just visited an aunt and were walking home, crossing at 2nd Street on Roosevelt Boulevard when they were struck and killed by a 24-year-old driver who was street racing. A fourth son, who was 5-years-old, had been walking slightly ahead with Banks’ sister and both survived.
Byrd gave a heartbreaking account of arriving at the scene with her family and seeing clothes and shoes, but not the kids. She said the street-racing drivers were going so fast that drivers who subsequently came upon the scene thought they were just driving through trash and debris on the roadway and did not realize that a fatal accident had occurred.
Bryd also lamented how accepting Philadelphians have become of the Boulevard’s dangerous conditions for pedestrians. “People just take it as a norm. You know, you’re risking your life if you cross that Boulevard,” she said.
And pedestrians will continue to risk their lives because the urban mix of mini strip malls, department stores, restaurants and residential neighborhoods along the Boulevard gives people lots of reasons to walk, Byrd said. She noted that senior citizens, in particular, often cross the Boulevard to get to the pharmacy or supermarket, and it may take two to three lights for them to make it across the entire 12 lanes.
According to the Vision Zero Network, a nonprofit project which aims to help communities reduce traffic fatalities and severe injuries to zero, 2,695 crashes were reported on Roosevelt Boulevard between 2013 and 2017, with 139 people killed or seriously injured. Pedestrian deaths and serious injuries accounted for 30 percent of all crashes along Roosevelt Boulevard.
In 2018, 21 people died on Roosevelt Boulevard, 10 of whom were pedestrians, according to news reports. That year, 21 percent of all fatal crashes in Philadelphia happened on the Boulevard, and headlines splashed across the city decrying it as Philadelphia’s deadliest roadway.
The “Deadly by Design 2021” report states that between 2010 and 2019, drivers struck and killed 53,435 pedestrians in the U.S., more than 14 people per day on average. In 2019, there were 6,237 pedestrian fatalities across the nation, representing a 45 percent increase in people struck and killed while walking over the last decade. In 2010, there were 4,302 pedestrian fatalities.
The report states that over the past decade many states and localities have focused on enforcement, running ineffectual information campaigns, or blaming the victims of these crashes, while often ignoring the role of roadway design in these deaths.
The “Deadly by Design 2021” report cites six design elements that can improve roadway safety for pedestrians. They are:
Feldman Shepherd motor vehicle accident injury attorneys John M. Dodig and Jason A. Daria, who have represented four families ― including the Banks family ― in connection with fatal pedestrian accidents on Roosevelt Boulevard, said that dangerous roadway design was a critical factor in all of them.
With respect to the accident that took the lives of Banks and her children, the crossing they used was designated by cement sidewalks across the medians separating the Boulevard’s inner and outer drives. The sidewalks served as an invitation for pedestrians to cross at that location, with an assurance that it was safe. It was a false assurance, as the crossing was not controlled by a traffic signal, there were no pavement markings and there were no warning signs to alert drivers that pedestrians might be crossing ahead. Compounding the problem, an elevation in the roadway impeded the sight line for both Banks and the motorist who struck her and her children.
When deadly pedestrian accidents occur, there are a number of parties who could potentially bear legal liability, Dodig said. 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:
Also, legal claims may arise from failure to fix dangerous roadway conditions and to implement safety improvements following repeated, fully preventable tragedies.
Notably, the intersection where Banks and her children died previously had a traffic signal, but the City of Philadelphia removed it in 1983 without removing the concrete sidewalks on the medians. Buried in a mountain of documents obtained during the lawsuit, Dodig and Daria found minutes of an Engineering Subcommittee Meeting in 2009 that established that the City, the State and private-sector engineering consultants knew about the presence of the sidewalks in the medians, knew that they were to be removed as reflected in the meeting minutes, but inexplicably failed to follow up to ensure that the dangerous condition was improved.
As a result of the litigation involving Banks and her children, safety improvements were made at the accident site. The concrete sidewalk on the medians was removed, grass was planted in its place, and a “no crossing” sign was installed. The dangerous crossing was replaced with a new crosswalk that has pavement markings, a traffic signal, and signs further north with better sight distance. The new crossing is named “Banks Way.”
But some things can never be fixed.
Byrd described what life has been like since losing her loved ones. “We suffer every day when we don’t see my niece and my nephews,” she said. She described Banks as “the life of the party” who would take charge of the entertainment during holidays and family gatherings.
“She had all the boys practicing dances and songs. And she had all the girls practicing and dance,” Byrd said. “We haven’t had anybody to take over or take her place. You know, they say nobody can do it like she did it. You miss them every day.”
To watch Latanya Byrd’s presentation CLICK HERE.
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