Roosevelt Boulevard Still Deadly for Pedestrians

A simple act like crossing the street shouldn’t be so daring, but when your porch steps are less than six feet from a busy highway, Philadelphia resident Tyesha Terry said it can be downright deadly.

“It’s so dangerous.  It’s always accidents out here and it’s sad that people die in them or really get hurt,” she said.

Terry, 22, is a resident of the 200 block of Roosevelt Boulevard. Her home sits less than a block from where a deadly accident claimed the lives of a mother and three of her young children late Tuesday night.

Having a young child of her own, Terry says she tries to avoid walking along the road all together.

“I can’t walk with my daughter out here. Some people just drive crazy; they might jump the pavement, you just can’t trust it. I’ve been living here for three months, but I’ve been living in the city all my life and I know the Boulevard has been a problem for a long time.”

Roosevelt Boulevard, a 111 year-old 12 lane highway that runs 12 miles through parts of northeast and north Philadelphia has become notoriously known as an unsafe road for pedestrians and drivers.

A 2001 State Farm Insurance study ranked two Roosevelt Boulevard cross streets, Red Lion Road and Grant Avenue, as the second and third most deadly intersections in the country. While we don't exactly know how those intersections rank today, as the insurance agency no longer tracks the most deadly intersections in the country, the listing definitely left a stain on the road's history.

Over the past several years, Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has injected more than $8 million into Boulevard safety, installing pedestrian countdown timers at crosswalks, working with the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) to install red light cameras, doubling fines for certain traffic violations and brightening pedestrian crossing signs, it seems all to no avail.

According to PennDOT, over the past five years there were 2,715 crashes and 43 fatalities on the Boulevard. 147 of those crashes involved pedestrians. Roughly 100,000 drivers and thousands of pedestrians, SEPTA riders and bicyclists use the Boulevard every day.

PennDOT spokesman Gene Blaum said ensuring safety along the busy highway is a continuous challenge.

“It’s a complicated road. It’s a residential area with commercial strips, business, and stores and we’ve tried to market to bring awareness to specific areas for people to cross safely,” Blaum said.

“It’s a very difficult situation and not only that, it is so heavily traveled.  That heavy vehicular volume combined with a road that’s in a residential area is just difficult. That’s why it’s important to use extreme care, no matter how you travel.”

Newly appointed acting streets commissioner David Perri said he believes the safety measures implemented to date have been very effective.

"The safety program, over the last ten years, has had a positive impact. I know we were having around 14 fatalities a year and that has dropped to an average of 10 fatalities a year now. The efforts we’ve implemented so far are paying off. We’re still not where we need to be but we’ve definitely made significant strides to make it safer,” he said.

Some have questioned whether the highway needs a complete reconstruction overhaul, a potential fix that could possibly be most effective long-term. Despite a Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's brief study of opportunities for lane reduction and consolidation of express and local lanes on the road, Blaum says a reconstruction project would be too big and too expensive.

"Re-configurations of Roosevelt Boulevard have been studied but the enormous cost, complexity and time projected for a project of that magnitude to be delivered have prevented them from advancing beyond the study stage," he said. 

"Pennsylvania’s statewide gap between transportation needs and revenue is substantial. The funding study by the State Transportation Advisory Committee identified over $3.5 billion in annual unmet needs and that only continues to grow over time."

Another frequently posed suggestion is that pedestrian bridges be built along the Boulevard, but Perri said it is unlikely that this would happen any time soon.

“It hasn’t been discussed recently, to my knowledge. The issue with pedestrian bridges is that you have to build a series of ramps to get people up to a certain height to clear the trucks that would pass underneath. It makes it very difficult because it just takes a huge amount of area to put up a pedestrian bridge," Perri said.

“It’s been discussed but it’s a matter of location; where they would be located, and how many because it’s a road that’s 12 miles long. That would be a big challenge. Have we discussed it, yes. Are there any plans to build them now, no,” Blaum said.

Terry says she wants a new stop sign installed near her home, so that she and her daughter can cross the street safely.

"I really think they should have a stop sign or something here because it's a hill right here, so we can’t really see the cars coming up, especially when its dark. I don't know, I just hope they do something."

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