It has been a decade since the Philadelphia Parking Authority first installed red light cameras on the treacherous Roosevelt Boulevard, and now our state legislators are considering whether to add speed enforcement cameras to the roadway. But it turns out that the red light camera program hasn’t exactly been a wild success.
According to data provided by PennDOT, there has been a not-insignificant increase in total crashes along the Roosevelt Boulevard since the installation of those cameras, while crashes involving pedestrians have remained virtually the same.
From 1998 through 2007, there were 5,350 total crashes on the road, an average of 535 per year. From 2008 to 2012 (the last year for which complete data is available), there were 2,794 total crashes, or 558.8 crashes per year, an increase of 23.8 crashes each year.
As for crashes involving pedestrians, there were 267 from 1998 through 2007 (26.7 per year) and 135 from 2008 to 2012 (27 per year), so no notable increase there — but no decrease, either.
Where you do start seeing a decrease is in the severity of the overall crashes. Total crashes may be up, but fewer of them are resulting in deaths and major injuries.
Between 1998 and 2007, there were 110 fatal crashes resulting in 124 fatalities (11 fatal crashes per year), as compared to 40 fatal crashes resulting in 43 fatalities between 2008 and 2012 (4 fatal crashes per year). And overall crashes resulting in major injuries saw a similar decrease.
But — and this is a big but — crashes resulting in pedestrian fatalities have remained exactly the same. From 1998 to 2007, 34 pedestrian fatalities were reported, or 3.4 each year. That yearly number remains 3.4 from 2008 to 2012. 17 pedestrians were killed by drivers on the Roosevelt Boulevard between 2008 and 2012. And who can forget the mother and three children struck and killed on the road in 2013?
No one can say with certainty why the number of crashes has risen, but texting-while-driving is seen as a likely culprit. And some of the crashes are, no doubt, due to drivers slamming on their brakes to avoid getting a red light ticket.
"No matter what you put out there as far as technology is concerned, something else comes out and negates it to some extent," bemoans Lou Belmonte, PennDOT's local District Traffic Engineer. "And then things don't go down like you had hoped they would."
PennDOT also pointed out that the cameras are only part of the solution: Problematic crosswalks have been eliminated; speed advisory signs have been installed ("Your Speed: 82 mph"); increased traffic violation fines on certain sections; a recent $2 million grant earmarked for enforcement; crosswalk countdown timers; and a public safety awareness campaign.
But none of it seems to be working in the way that was expected. Drivers are still driving recklessly on the Roosevelt Boulevard, and many pedestrians are still crossing the roadway in unsafe ways.
"The primary issue is, you have residential and commercial areas intertwined along an entire roadway, and it's a major commuter road," says Belmonte. "Often, they don't fit together easily."
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