Tragedy struck twice on Roosevelt Boulevard this week as two separate accidents resulted in the death of a mother and three of her four young children, and left an 11-year-old girl who was hit while riding her bike, in critical condition.
The accidents have brought national attention once again to the issue of pedestrian and driver safety along the 12-lane highway that is frequently referred to as one of the most dangerous roads in the country.
Two major proponents of safety on the Boulevard, Mayor Michael Nutter and Representative for the 13th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, Allyson Schwartz have been outspoken in the past, but were not quick to jump in and react to these most recent accidents.
On Friday, Schwartz offered condolences to the families of the victims.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of Samara Banks and her children who were tragically killed this week and also the family and friends of the 11-year-old girl who was critically injured,” Schwartz said.
“Roosevelt Boulevard poses constant safety challenges to our community and all of us must use vigilance to ensure both pedestrians and motorists are safe.”
In 2008, Nutter and Schwartz teamed up to launch a safety awareness campaign that included advertisements on billboards and SEPTA buses as well as community outreach meetings. That same year, Nutter lauded Schwartz for having secured funding for a $440,000 project that included the installation of 488 pedestrian crosswalk timers at 46 intersections along the highway.
“In 2008, I secured $3.2 million for pedestrian safety measures on the Boulevard that were needed to help improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles. These were important steps to improving safety while incorporating enhanced law enforcement and traffic safety measures. That includes strictly enforcing laws against drivers engaged in illegal activities that endanger pedestrians and law-abiding drivers,” Schwartz said.
Nutter, who once described the Boulevard as "one of the most hazardous roads in America," has yet to speak on the recent tragedies or confirm whether the City has any new plans for taming accidents on the busy roadway.
Nutter was unavailable for comment.
Senator Mike Stack, who was also vocal about Boulevard safety in the past said the financial cost of safety improvements should not be a deterrent to preventing tragedies like the ones that occurred this week.
"We've come a long way on safety on the Boulevard, but it’s still very dangerous and fatal as we've seen this week so we have to do more,” he said. “Tragedies like the ones we saw this week and others like this are just unacceptable. The financial issue is relevant, but sometimes you’ve gotta look at these problems and say we can’t afford not to do something.”
In recent years, Stack assisted in securing funding for the now defunct Roosevelt Boulevard Initiative and in 2009, he helped facilitate a $199,978 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for the Philadelphia Police Department to ramp up traffic enforcement on the highway.
A 2007 Highway Safety Corridor designation permitted the doubling of fines for traffic violations on the Boulevard. The designation came after six pedestrians were killed in accidents on the Boulevard within a six month timeframe that year.
Stack suggested a number of ideas to improve safety including extending the safety corridor limits, reconstructing parts of the roadway, and cracking down on drag racers.
“One of the things we should look at is extending the hazardous zones, where traffic fines are doubled. We should extend that even further so it covers more of the Boulevard. Another thing we could try is to put parts of the road underground. I advocated for that years ago and they’ve done it in other cities; that could be helpful.” Stack said. “Drag racing is such a lethal and horrendous issue and I think we should look at that too. We should put these drag racers in the same category as repeat DUI people and that’s something I’m working on legislatively.”