In the dark hours of Sunday morning, Polina Kadiyska did something that’s become increasingly dangerous in Philadelphia—she tried to cross the street. The stunning 22-year-old ballerina from the prestigious Rock School for Dance Education might have seen the Audi A4 bearing down on her at Broad and Ellsworth and figured it would stop. Maybe she didn’t see it at all, since the driver, 19-year-old Deandre Barnes, was drunk and blew through a red light, according to police. Not long after being rushed to a nearby hospital, Kadiyska was taken off life support.
The dancer’s death made headlines this week, thanks to the outpouring of grief from her friends (a candlelit vigil sits beneath a photo of her in an impossible mid-leap at the Rock School), her talent and her beauty (leave it to the Daily News to promote their “sexy dancer” story with a photo of Kadiyska in a skimpy outfit that’s definitely not ballet attire—stay classy, folks). But the hit-and-run accident that took her life should be a wake-up call. Some intersections of Roosevelt Boulevard are like Russian roulette for pedestrians and drivers alike. Much has also been written about renegade bicyclists, and I’ve seen plenty of two-wheeled terrorists around town. What gets less attention is how many reckless drivers see Center City as their personal Autobahn, a place where speed limits don’t apply and pedestrians are little more than speed bumps.
Anyone who lives or works downtown will likely have at least one story of a near-death experience on the streets here. I’ve had a few in the past year alone. One day, while crossing 5th Street at Lombard on a green light, a cabbie made a hard right in front of me, so close that I had to stop walking to avoid ending up on his trunk. I yelled at the guy—something about my right-of-way. He pulled to a stop and shouted back that I was lucky he didn’t throw his cab in reverse and run me over.
A couple months earlier, I was crossing Broad Street at Pine—not far from where Kadiyska was killed—when a car came flying around the corner, headed north. It all happened in a matter of seconds, but I could see three young males inside, and the driver was looking up Broad Street, not at me. In one of those adrenaline-fueled moments, like when a mother finds the strength to lift a compact car off her child who’s trapped beneath, I leaped backward out of its path. As they sped up Broad Street, I was stunned for a second, wondering if that was as close a call as it seemed. Then I heard the cries from some nearby parking garage attendants who were yelling at the car and looking at me in shock. If I had frozen, or assumed the driver would see me and swerve, I doubt I’d be here today.
Though this city has far greater problems than reckless driving downtown, residents and visitors shouldn’t have to worry about becoming a hood ornament when they try to (legally) cross the street. Many of these incidents are likely the result of hazardous drivers. In Kadiyska’s case, however, the kid who struck her was allegedly drunk. It’s not uncommon to see DUI checkpoints in the suburbs; aside from the crowd-control units in Old City on Friday and Saturday nights, I’ve never seen a DUI stop in Center City. That might be a good starting point for a conversation about how to send a message to dangerous drivers—and how to save the life of the next Polina Kadiyska.