Law Would Put Speed Cams Along Roosevelt Boulevard in Hopes of Reducing Injuries, Deaths

Every time she hears of someone injured or killed in a crash on Philadelphia's Roosevelt Boulevard, Latanya Byrd's heart breaks all over again.

It was three years ago this week that her niece, Samara Banks, and three of Banks' four sons died on the Boulevard when a drag-racing driver plowed into them as they crossed near 2nd Street.

Banks and her three boys, ages 9 months, 23 months and 4 years, were among 36 pedestrians struck by cars that year on the Boulevard, and among 13 people who died on the road that year. With an average of three people injured in some kind of crashes on the Boulevard every day, Byrd and the rest of Banks' family are dogged by daily reminders of the deadly road that took their loved ones.

"My stomach just turns. I really just feel sick anytime I hear Boulevard, crash, death," Byrd said Tuesday morning as she stood along the Boulevard near Adams Avenue, a few blocks from where Banks and her sons died. Byrd joined local lawmakers and advocates along the Boulevard for a news conference as state Rep. John Taylor and City Councilman Al Taubenberger called for legislation to create a pilot program for speed cameras along the highway.

"It's so difficult. So many lives have been lost," Byrd said. She said Banks' surviving son, who narrowly avoided being hit the night his entire family died in an instant, went through therapy and is doing as well as can be expected. He's 8 years old now.

The crosswalk where Banks and the boys were struck, which previously did not have a light, has since been named Banks Way for the family. A traffic light was installed after the crash.

Taylor said the speed-camera law he's introducing would create a pilot program for cameras that log speed and automatically send a ticket to drivers who exceed 11 mph above the speed limit. The limit on most of the Boulevard is 40 mph. Officials said the initial proposal calls for a $150 fine for speeders, but that advocates from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, who have consulted on the legislation, suggested a sliding scale of increasing fines.

The cameras would work similarly to several red-light cameras installed in the last several years along the Boulevard, and would target the same area stretching from 9th Street in Hunting Park to the Bucks County line. According to PennDOT, the Boulevard served as the scene for 61 traffic-related deaths from 2011 to 2015 -- an average of one a month -- and 4,670 more injuries in the same span, or about three people injured per day on average.

Of the crashes in the last five years, 159 have involved vehicles striking pedestrians. Just last month, 17-year-old Markaylah Jackson died crossing the Boulevard at Adams Avenue late one night after leaving work. The driver of the van that struck her took off, leaving her to die on the pavement. She would have graduated high school the next day.

At one point during Tuesday's news conference, the sound of screeching brakes cut the air along the 12-lane highway.

There is a push to make the Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia safer by adding automated speed cameras, drivers speeding would automatically receive tickets.

AAA Mid-Atlantic also supported the legislation, saying that a poll of area motorists showed that 52 percent supported the use of speed cameras, but more than half of those polled also reported that they recently drove in excess of 15 mph over the speed limit.

"Many people believe these crashes are inevitable," Jana Tidwell, of AAA Mid-Atlantic, said. "We're here to tell you that these crashes are preventable."

Officials said studies of red-light cameras showed that they work, with violation numbers decreasing as people become aware the cameras are there. They expect the same would happen with speed cameras. Like red-light cameras, speed camera violations would carry only a fine and not license points.

Taylor vowed to see the measure's passage through, as he and Taubenberger both rejected any arguments around the cameras being a violation of civil liberties.

"Maybe they ought to see what we see," Taubenberger said. "Maybe we should publish all the pictures of people who die here. That would [them] up."

The driver responsible for Markaylah Jackson's death has not come forward or been located. If you have any information on the incident, contact Philadelphia Police's Accident Investigation officers at 215-685-3180.

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