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November 14, 2023

Kelly Oubre Jr. hit-and-run sparks outcry over pedestrian safety and reckless driving in Philadelphia

The 76ers shooting guard was struck by a car and injured on Saturday. To many, the incident highlights longstanding problems plaguing the city's roadways

Social Media Pedestrian Safety
Kelly-Oubre-Jr-Hit-And-Run-Sixers Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Philadelphians are criticizing the city's lack of pedestrian safety in a car-centric area in the aftermath of the SIxers' Kelly Oubre Jr. being struck by a motor vehicle on Nov. 11.

The recent hit-and-run accident involving Philadelphia 76ers forward Kelly Oubre Jr. has sparked a public outcry about the safety of the city’s roadways – especially for pedestrians.

Oubre suffered a broken rib and other injuries Saturday night when a vehicle struck him as he walked near Broad and Locust streets. The driver of the vehicle then fled the scene. While Oubre's injuries were not life-threatening, they are expected to keep him off the basketball court for a significant amount of time. As of Tuesday, the driver was still at large as police continued to investigate the incident.

On social media, the response to the hit-and-run was equal parts sympathy for Oubre and blanket condemnation of Philly drivers. 

Oubre's ordeal was a high-profile illustration of issues Philadelphians know well. Whether it's erratic and careless drivers, poorly enforced traffic laws or flaws in urban design, the consensus is clear: Philadelphia's roads often feel uniquely dangerous.

That feeling is backed up by facts. Across the U.S., pedestrian deaths are at a 40-year-high, according to data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. In Philadelphia, which experiences a higher per-capita rate of traffic fatalities than other East Coast cities, pedestrians are particularly at risk of dying on the city's roadways. According to the city's 2023 Vision Zero report, Philly pedestrians are more likely to die in traffic accidents than motorists or cyclists.

Hit-and-run accidents are a common occurrence in Philadelphia, where police say there have been 640 hit-and-run traffic crashes so far this year, 38 of which were fatal. As if these statistics weren’t troubling enough, this year’s Vision Zero report offered another one: In Philadelphia, five children are struck by cars every week.

So when news broke on Saturday that Oubre had been struck by a car near Broad and Locust streets – and that the driver had fled the scene, no less – many were shocked, but few were surprised. As one person tweeted, the notion of a player for the 76ers falling victim to a hit-and-run was "the most Philadelphia s**t of all time."

Across X, formerly Twitter, the immediate response to the incident was rife with criticism of Philadelphia’s unsafe roadways and its drivers’ apparent disregard for pedestrians and other motorists.

The reaction – both online and off – has also included its share of analysis about the reasons why Philly is so dangerous for pedestrians. As easy as it may be for some to dunk on Philly's "crazy" drivers, there also are more systemic, longstanding issues at play. 

Conrad Benner, the social media influencer behind the Philly public art blog Streets Dept., sees Philly's pedestrian safety issue as both a design problem and a public policy problem. 

As pedestrian safety may indeed be a design issue, it could addressed through design-focused solutions. One example Benner points to is the recently installed public art painted onto a crosswalk at an intersection in Fishtown. Such crosswalk art installations have been shown to help reduce traffic accidents and improve the safety of pedestrians walking through them. That's before even getting into Philly's infamous parking woes and the controversial action, or lack thereof, from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, leading to blocked wheelchair ramps, crosswalks and more with vehicles left unchecked.

Whatever its root causes or longterm solutions may be, Philly's pedestrian safety problem is clearly a real one that arouses concern among the city's residents.