Staff Photographer Ron Tarver’s photographs, taken at the funeral for Samara Banks and her three children, were enough to break your heart. Three white coffins–one holding Ms. Banks and her seven month old son, victims of the July 16th tragedy on Philadelphia’s Roosevelt Boulevard. Two suspects were arrested in connection with the incident. A clear picture of what happened that night is unlikely until the case goes to trial. But indisputable facts about the Boulevard already exist–many of them outlined in the Inquirer’s July 21, 2013 Editorial: Broken Boulevard. It seems some City and State officials missed that piece when it ran. What other explanation could there be for once again proposing more red light cameras and increased enforcement–neither of which fixed the problem in the past.
The Inquirer Editorial was crystal clear. The loss of Ms. Banks and her children brought the Boulevard’s pedestrian toll to more than 20 dead and 130 struck in five years. There have been decades of discussions, hearings and a multi-million dollar project adding signals and enforcement along the roadway. Those efforts have fallen short. According to the editorial, since the mid-nineties there has been no real drop in the number of pedestrians struck or killed on the Boulevard, because “…officials still haven’t done enough to slow traffic, ease safe pedestrian passage, and discourage unsafe crossing.”
My concern about this issue dates back to February 2000 when a 13-year-old was hit as he attempted to cross 12-lanes of Boulevard traffic near St. Vincent Street. He suffered traumatic injuries, including permanent brain damage. Four years later, on Easter Sunday, another 13- year-old attempted to cross near Princeton Avenue. She was struck and killed. I was the attorney for each of those families. While we successfully settled both cases out of court, I can assure you there is no victory for any family that loses a child.
Following those accidents, and in part due to the lawsuits we brought on behalf of those children, City Controller Alan Butkowitz wrote an urgent letter to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation calling for immediate safety improvements along the Boulevard, including the elimination of all pedestrian crossings without signals. Shortly after, a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission report entitled US 1 — Roosevelt Boulevard Corridor Study reached similar conclusions. In 2012, a full 12 years after one child suffered brain damage and eight years after the death of another, the crossings near St. Vincent Street and Princeton Avenue which were without traffic signals were finally replaced by a combined crossing near Friendship Street (between St. Vincent Street and Princeton Avenue). That new crossing location has a traffic signal, warning signs and pavement markings.
No such changes have been made at the intersection near North Second Street where Samara Banks and her children were killed. That crossing is not controlled by a traffic signal; there are no pavement markings and no warning signs to alert drivers that pedestrians may be crossing ahead. What currently exists are cement sidewalks across the medians separating the inner and outer drives of the Boulevard. During discovery in the previously mentioned cases my firm, Feldman Shepherd, received a document from a concerned citizen to the City of Philadelphia that described this type of configuration as an “invitation to death.” The Inquirer Editorial conveyed a similar sentiment and acknowledged that officials cannot prevent irresponsibility on the roads, but can “…see to it that the Boulevard stops inviting danger and death.” Removing that danger means adding traffic signals, warning signs and pavement markings at every unsafe pedestrian crossing along the Boulevard.
Incredibly, despite the recent tragedy over two (2) weeks ago, the crossing near North Second Street remains open to pedestrians to cross without any of the necessary safety improvements. Acting Streets Commissioner David Perri indicated in a recent media report that a traffic signal could be installed by next Spring. That is not soon enough, especially considering that this crossing was previously signalized and the City removed the traffic signal according to Mr. Perri, thereby creating the danger. If additional studies and time are necessary, the crossing should be closed immediately with “no crossing” signs and barriers to prevent other tragedies, pending those further studies.
No matter what officials say, budgetary constraints are not an acceptable excuse for inaction in this matter. Too many lives have been lost. Too many people have been injured. Too much time has passed. Adding more red light cameras and more enforcement won’t correct the situation either. State and local leaders should read the Inquirer Editorial. Maybe then they’ll understand that fixing a Broken Boulevard means fixing it once and for all.