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Safety on The Most Dangerous Road in America

J.Smith/Phila. – For a generation of Latin Jazz and Salsa fans in Philadelphia, Julio Cesar Marrero was the Keyboard player and leader of a ‘Latin Playboys’ band that brought those Caribbean rhythms every Thursday night to the venerable Five Spot Club.

   On a Tuesday night around 10:00 pm in early March of 2001, Marrero was struck and killed by a speeding car as he attempted to cross at 4th street along the Roosevelt Boulevard.

    According to Reporter Al Hunter of the Philadelphia Daily News, the founder of the Latin  Playboys was “knocked over the top of the vehicle and back three car lengths,” landing “face down in the far right lane.” The driver never stopped and Marrero died the next morning.

     The Pennsylvania Assembly’s Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Tuesday, over a proposal to slowdown automobile traffic and ultimately bring safety to pedestrians along a stretch of the Roosevelt Boulevard that Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says is “without doubt, the most dangerous (roadway) I’ve ever encountered.”

    Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. John Rafferty presided over a nearly three-hour session that heard testimony from law enforcement and transportation officials, researchers for an insurance industry think-tank and family members of victims over a bill authored by State Sen. Michael Stack.

   The legislation would introduce an automated speed enforcement (camera) system to Route 1, from the Bucks County line to the interchange with Interstate 76, impose a civil penalty of $100, and according to Peter Javsicas, Exec. Director of PEN Trans, “the technology pays for itself” and “fees from violations more than cover costs.”

   Between 2009 and this year there have been 17,769 accidents and fifty fatalities on a road that was built at the turn of the Twentieth Century and was originally called the Torresdale Boulevard.  In 1918 the multiple-lane road was renamed in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt.

   The busy thoroughfare that stretches some 3,389 miles across the country, beginning at Times Square New York, cutting across the heart of residential neighborhoods in North and Northeast Philadelphia, and then extends westward to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

  Discussing the design of a road that includes express lanes, local lane crossovers, and has a width of 300 feet, Commissioner Ramsey suggested that the sheer volume and “excessive speeds,” rendered ineffective even the  “most aggressive traffic enforcement  by police officers.”

   “The enforcement action against a few has done little to change the driving culture of the Boulevard,” added Commissioner Ramsey. “This culture where driving 60 and up to 80 miles per hour on this roadway is unacceptable and must change if we are going to save lives.”

  In supporting the “proven technology and constant vigilance” of photo speed enforcement, Commissioner Ramsey said he wasn’t interested in catching people speeding, but in saving lives and bringing “about cultural change.”

   “Speed Kills,” observed Rina Cutler, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Transportation.

   Ms. Cutler pursued the argument  for reining in the excessive speeding on the Boulevard by noting that a person struck by a car at 35 mph has a fifty percent chance of survival. Yet at 40 mph the survival rate “plummets to just 10 percent.”

  By contrast, 97 percent of pedestrians will emerge largely unscathed from being struck by a car moving at 20 mph.

   Looking at studies on the use of speed cameras, the Deputy Mayor for Transportation referred to the successful implementation cameras in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the number of drivers traveling 10 mph above the speed limit declined by 70 percent; while the number of injuries and crashes had declined by 20 percent.

   Data from studies on accidents and the link between speed and crash deaths, between 2001 to 2012, was offered by Michael Fagin of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Mr. Fagin said their findings demonstrated that every year between 30 and 33 percent of all crashes deaths can be attributed to speed.  

    In the year that Julio Cesar Marrero was struck on the Roosevelt Boulevard, State Farm Insurance issued a report that named the most dangerous intersections in the United States.  The Red Lion Road and Grant Avenue intersections of the Roosevelt Boulevard, respectively, were placed at the number two and and number three spots on the State Farm list. The only worse intersection was that of Pine and Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

    Research by Professor Richard Allsop of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Great Britain was cited by Jason Duckworth of Pen Trans, which similarly found that fatalities and serious injuries dropped by 10 to 50 percent on roads with speed camera enforcement.

    Ms. Cutler endorsed Sen. Stack’s proposed use of speed enforcement cameras as part of an “innovative and aggressive strategy to reduce speeds.”

  “It is unrealistic to dream that we could have a police officer at every corner,” she said.  “But we need to slow people down.”

     Then citing the growing number of cities and counties that are using speed enforcement cameras (35 communities in 2008 and more than 125 today), Ms. Cutler said, “Automated speed enforcement is a tool Philadelphia should have available.”