*This article was originally written by Thomas Fitzgerald and published in the Philadelphia Enquirer.
Speed cameras in Philadelphia have been successful at changing driver behavior, improving safety, and saving lives, a new report says.
A network of speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard has reduced crashes, fatalities, and serious injuries so much over two years that the “unblinking eye” should be used elsewhere in the city and across Pennsylvania, a new state study of the program has concluded.
Crashes on Roosevelt Boulevard dropped 36% from 2019 to 2021, compared to a decline of 6% in Philadelphia overall, the Transportation Advisory Committee found.
Collisions with fatalities or serious injuries declined 11% on the Boulevard in the period studied, while at the same time such crashes were increasing by 16% in the city as a whole.
“Objective evaluation … quantifies the program’s success at changing driver behavior, improving safety, and saving lives,” the report said.
If lawmakers don’t renew the program by Dec. 18, the Roosevelt Boulevard experiment would end.
Speed cameras went up in mid-2020 on Roosevelt Boulevard, an arterial road that runs 14 miles through Northeast Philadelphia to the Bucks County line. Revenue from violations can by law only fund road safety projects.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced $14.5 million for work in Philadelphia, funded by the first installment of speed-camera enforcement money.
Much of it is intended for Roosevelt Boulevard, including extended curbs so pedestrians don’t have to walk as far to cross the busy road; realigned lanes and turning lanes; and new, better timed traffic signals — as well as more bus shelters.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority, which runs the enforcement cameras, also found that average speeds were reduced, and the number of speeding tickets plummeted after the machines were installed.
Amid an increase in fatal crashes in the city since the pandemic began in early 2020, including pedestrian hit-and-runs, the cameras have proved popular with safety advocates. People in a number of neighborhoods are asking for them on their dangerous roads, such as Lincoln Drive, Ridge Avenue, and Cobbs Creek Parkway.
“We have the data now, and the data is very powerful,” said Nicole Brunet, policy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which advocates “complete streets” road design. That approach emphasizes slowing vehicle speeds and building safety features for pedestrians and cyclists.
“This conversation is not happening in a vacuum,” she said.
Currently 19 states and the District of Columbia use automatic cameras to catch speeders, though some limit them to school or highway work zones. Speed cameras are posted in about 150 municipalities.
State legislators passed the law authorizing the Roosevelt Boulevard cameras only after years of wrangling. Automated enforcement still generates plenty of opposition — including from the National Motorists Association — some of it focused on belief that governments install cameras to generate revenue.
“The commonwealth has taken necessary steps to ensure that our automated enforcement programs are focused on the holistic approach of improving safety, with transparency and accountability,” PennDot spokesperson Alexis Campbell said.
Pennsylvania has allowed camera enforcement of red-light violations since 2010. The state also uses speed cameras in highway work zones, authorized until 2024.
Restrictions were written into the speed-camera law to prevent abuse that cropped up in earlier programs elsewhere, said the Transportation Advisory Committee, which studies issues and makes recommendations to PennDot and lawmakers.
For instance, vendors get only a flat fee for each camera, plus maintenance support. Incentives for vendors or PPA to issue more tickets are prohibited. Cameras can’t snap photos of the front of a vehicle to protect driver privacy.
In addition to extending and expanding the program, the study recommended that criteria for placement of the cameras should be written, and formal engineering studies required.