In July, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
decided it was time to take action on a plan that has long been in the works. The goal is to make a stretch of Washington Avenue, the site of over 1500 crashes in the last five years, a safer ride.
In spring 2014, after a lengthy process, the Planning Commission proposed a new pavement marking plan
, but nothing further has been accomplished. Sarah Clark Stuart, deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition, offers some background on the problem, what residents and city officials have done to tackle it so far, and why action on the current plan seems stymied.
To begin with, "the pavement markings have long been faded out," she explains. The 2.9-mile Washington Avenue corridor "is a major arterial for the city…it has a lot of very different uses," including driving, parking, loading zones, walking and biking, "and some of those uses conflict with each other."
According to Stuart, there’s also a big gap in the bike lanes on Washington between 7th and 11th Streets, and the pavement markings from 16th Street to 25th Street and from 13th Street to 4th Street have almost disappeared.
According to a July 21 blog post
from the Coalition (which requested data from PennDOT and the Police Department), between 2010 and 2014, there were 1,425 non-reportable crashes (between all kinds of vehicles, including bikes) and 212 reportable ones, resulting in the injuries for 234 people and the deaths of four. That means a total of 1,637 Washington Avenue crashes in a five-year period, averaging out to 327 crashes per year.
The difference between a non-reportable and reportable crash is that the latter requires an ambulance for the victim(s) or a vehicle to be towed away. In these types of incidents, the Police Department files an additional report for PennDOT. Comparatively minor run-ins such as fenders-benders -- which may get a police filing but let those involved walk, drive or ride away -- aren’t reported to PennDOT.
With so many crashes happening on this multi-use strip of South Philly, why has it taken so long to address the problem?
According to Stuart, the city had plans to simply re-stripe Washington Avenue a number of years ago, but the Planning Commission saw the opportunity for a traffic study and an associated community outreach process to determine if rethinking the thoroughfare could make things safer for everyone.
A consultant and numerous steering committee and advisory meetings happened over the next few years, culminating in the current Washington Avenue Transportation & Parking Study
, and "that’s where things got complicated," says Stuart.
The new plan proposed a road diet and changes to parking and parking regulations, but these couldn’t be implemented without new ordinances from City Council, and the plan has languished since last year. So on July 17, the Coalition launched an e-mail campaign
to help Washington Avenue users tell City Council members, Deputy Commissioner Michael Carroll and Mayor Michael Nutter that it’s time to move forward with the plans. As of mid-August, the page has garnered over 370 e-mails to city officials.
The goal is simple: "What we think the City should do is re-stripe a safer Washington Avenue by the end of [2015’s] paving season," explains Stuart. That is when the temperature dips below 40 degrees. "We want to make it safer. What we want to avoid is just the status quo."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia