Clean Air Council Transportation Program Director Nick Zuwiala-Rogers spoke at a policy hearing held to address the rising numbers of vehicle-related pedestrian deaths and injuries. Senator Sabatina’s district surrounds part of Roosevelt Boulevard which is regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the country. Read our full testimony below.
(Philadelphia, PA-April 5, 2019)-Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on behalf of Clean Air Council today. My name is Nick Zuwiala-Rogers and I am the Transportation Program Director at Clean Air Council. Clean Air Council sponsors Philadelphia’s pedestrian advocacy organization, Feet First Philly. The Council and Feet First Philly are members of the Vision Zero Alliance, a diverse coalition working to reduce traffic deaths to zero.
The Council is a member-supported environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect everyone’s right to a healthy environment. Because transportation is the leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, the Council has a major focus on promoting sustainable forms of transportation, including walking. Feet First Philly works to promote walking as a form of transportation and recreation, protect the rights of pedestrians, and improve the pedestrian experience in Philadelphia.
News reports from earlier this year showed that pedestrian deaths in Pennsylvania were up 41% in the first half of 2018 over the same period in 2017, raising widespread concerns. While this trend is alarming, a lack of pedestrian safety is nothing new. Based on the last 5 years of publicly available crash data, pedestrians are 4-5 times as likely to be killed in a crash than non-pedestrians. On state roads, this increases to 6.5 times as likely for pedestrians to die in crashes. While state roads and local roads make up about the same number of crashes involving pedestrians, 75% of the ones that result in a fatal injury are on state roads. I say this to highlight the importance of the state taking a lead role in ensuring pedestrian safety. Local municipalities like Harrisburg, Bethlehem, and Philadelphia are engaging in Vision Zero policies, and the state should be a leader in these initiatives. This statistic also highlights that the most dangerous places to walk are the arterials that connect people to jobs, commercial corridors, healthcare, and public transit options. These state roads that are so critical to mobility are the same ones that are engineered with cars in mind first, and often provide no safe way for people to walk. This presents a clear and unfortunate equity issue where the lives of those who cannot afford a car matter less.
It is fitting we are holding this hearing in Northeast Philadelphia, not far from Roosevelt Boulevard, one of the deadliest roads in the country, which has been unfortunately referred to as “the Boulevard of death.” Roughly one person dies on this road every month, and about half of those people are pedestrians. On this road, last year, the state voted to allow an automated speed enforcement pilot in order to decrease the loss of life here. Expanded use of automated enforcement techniques, including for running red lights and speeding, are some of the tenants of Vision Zero that have worked well in other places. Vision Zero is the concept that fatalities as a result of traffic violence are avoidable, and none should be acceptable. The policy focuses on reducing traffic deaths to zero, with a focus on the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians.
Another tenant of Vision Zero is how we engineer our roads. Being a pedestrian can be a daunting experience, particularly on state roads where pedestrians are so much more likely to be killed. These roadways are clearly designed for cars not people, which is fundamentally wrong in my opinion, and I will guide you through the pedestrian experience walking in Pennsylvania. Being a pedestrian on a state road means you likely will not have a safe space to walk, like a sidewalk. Instead, you might be walking directly beside cars traveling at high rates of speed that will kill you in the event of human error. Even if you do have a sidewalk, you might have to walk up to a mile to the nearest safe crossing. When you get there, there may or may not be a crosswalk. If there is one, there is a good chance it is blocked by a parked car, or a car who did not stop behind the stop bar, as is the norm. When you get the opportunity to cross in that crosswalk, you will now be competing with turning cars who will race to get through the intersection before you have a chance to establish your right of way. As you cross a wide arterial road, you will quickly start to run out of time and could be stranded on the median as cars speed by you, if you are lucky enough to find refuge space in the center of the road. This experience is the result of decades of prioritizing designing roads to maximize how many and how fast we can move cars, and ignoring the safety of actual people. As a legislative body, you should task our state’s DOT with prioritizing safety over throughput – lives saved over moving as many cars as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means we get places a little slower, but that sacrifice means we save lives.
The good news is there are a few bills that are either already introduced, proposed in previous sessions, or soon to be introduced this year that can help to improve pedestrian safety. I will outline four of them here, and the ways they would protect pedestrians. Two of these bills will specifically target two of the most dangerous behaviors identified by PennDOT’s crash data – speed and distracted driving.
RADAR for Local Law Enforcement (previously SB 251) – Simply put, speed kills. A pedestrian hit at 40 mph has a 10% chance to survive. That number increases to 50% at 30 mph, and a pedestrian hit at 20 mph has a 90% chance to live. In the absence of other automated enforcement techniques, radar should be implemented as a minimum way for officers to objectively track speed. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country not to use this basic technology.
Hand Held Ban (HB 37) – Distracted driving is a major cause of pedestrian fatalities in the state, and is one of the most dangerous behaviors according to crash data. Preventing distracted driving from cell phone use is common sense. According to AAA, 85% of people think cell phone use is a threat to safety, and all of our northeast neighbor states have cell phone restrictions. The gravity of the danger cell phone use generates cannot but overstated, we cannot allow drivers to be distracted by these devices while operating on our public roadways any longer.
Vulnerable Highway User Protections (previously HB 1646) – PA has a minimum 4 foot law for passing cyclists, and this bill would put the same protections on pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, and raise the fines where careless driving results in the death of a vulnerable user. Vulnerable road users do not have the same protections as those in a vehicle, including air bags and other safety features. Many parts of the state do not have sidewalks, especially on the particularly dangerous state roads. When pedestrians are not afforded a safe distance when cars pass them, it creates a lack of human dignity and speaks to equity concerns of whose lives matter. An important piece of this legislation is that it considers the principle of Vision Zero that human error is inevitable, and we should control for it.
Protected Pedestrian Plazas and Pedalcycle Lanes (previously HB 1657) – Legislation is needed to allow cities like Philadelphia who are interested in implementing Vision Zero strategies to do so. One of the best ways to protect pedestrians is by installing protected bike lanes, which is often done by using parking as the protection area. This actually has a greater impact on pedestrian safety than bicyclists because it shortens the crossing distance of the road, allow pedestrians a “head start” to establish themselves in the crosswalk before turning cars, and overall calms speeds by narrowing the cart way.
In closing, I want to bring this back to the foundation of the issue, and that is people and their dignity. Everyone at some point is a pedestrian. People – whether, drivers, transit users, pedestrians, children, seniors, people with a disability – however they use the road, should have the dignity to know they can make it to work, or to a family member’s house, or to the store, and back home again without dying, no matter how they are getting to those places. Currently, that is not true for Pennsylvanians who walk in our public spaces. Pedestrian safety cannot wait any longer and requires this legislative body to take action.
Thank you for your time today, and I look forward to working with all of you to move these policies forward.