Philly Must Listen to Concerns About Pedestrian Safety

May 1, 2018

In December, an 83-year-old woman was crossing Washington Avenue at 24th Street when she was struck by two vehicles. She died at the accident scene.

Residents of the area held a small demonstration following the accident, demanding the city do something to make Washington Avenue safer. Numerous meetings in recent years have sought to develop a plan to improve the road’s safety, but city planners, business owners, and residents have been unable to reach a consensus. As development continues in this mix of residential, commercial, and industrial spaces, the city will need to prioritize a plan to keep pedestrians safe.

An Outdated Design

Washington Avenue has four east-west travel lanes, a parking lane on both sides of the street, and a center lane that doubles as a turn lane. Residents of the area say traffic signals allow barely enough time for pedestrians to safely cross the street’s seven lanes – and elderly people, or people with limited mobility, likely can’t cross in the allotted time.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has been actively involved in lobbying for updates to make the road safer. They point out that most streets intersecting Washington are one-way, which means at most intersections, there is no need for both an eastbound and a westbound turn lane. The coalition would like to see the unnecessary turn lanes converted into pedestrian islands.

Since 2013, multiple community meetings have failed to establish how to move forward with roadway improvements. In the meantime, developers who anticipate Washington Avenue’s becoming a trendy destination have begun buying land for development. Last year, a developer bought a vacant lot on the street, with plans to build a mixed-use residential and retail space, including 1,000 apartments. If those plans come to life, foot traffic in the area will likely increase significantly.

Conflicting Interests

In 2015, Inga Saffron, architecture critic for The Inquirer, described Washington Avenue as a chaotic and dangerous road where triple parking is routine and bicyclists share the road with forklifts.

The people who use this road every day, and those who depend on it to bring customers and shipments to their businesses, have competing priorities. Bicyclists and pedestrians might welcome traffic islands, but business owners may be reluctant to see the loss of a travel lane.

The issue of conflicting interests is not unfamiliar to city leaders – efforts to implement roadway changes that are part of the city’s Vision Zero plan haven’t been well received in some instances. Motorists last year expressed anger about a proposed bike lane on Chestnut Street, saying it would extend their commute times and lead to traffic jams.

Change can be difficult, especially when it involves disrupting routines and familiarity. But change can also mean growth – growth that benefits everyone, in the long run.

City leaders must listen to residents’ concerns about pedestrian safety. It’s leadership’s role to build consensus in the community about how to make Washington Avenue a safer road.