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April 16, 2024

Philly police to crack down on North Broad Street traffic violations

Officers will be issuing more citations on an eight-mile stretch from City Hall to Cheltenham Avenue.

Transportation Traffic
North Broad Street Jon Tuleya/PhillyVoice

North Broad Street looking south.

Philadelphia police have begun an aggressive campaign to deter traffic violations on North Broad Street, targeting an eight-mile stretch that runs from City Hall to the county line at Cheltenham Avenue, authorities said Tuesday.

Over the next month, motorists who use North Broad Street can expect to see an increased police presence along the corridor. The northern stretch of Route 611 has become notorious for dangerous driving, both during heavy traffic and when the roads are relatively clear. 

"It's no secret to anybody that drives around this city that driving conditions are a little crazy," Michael Cram, deputy commissioner of patrol operations, said at a news conference outside police headquarters at North Broad Street and Callowhill Street. "People just are not following traffic rules and regulations."

From the beginning of April 2023 to the end of last month, there have been more than 1,600 car crashes on the stretch that will be the target of the initiative, according to police department data. Of those crashes, 52 involved pedestrians and nine people were killed. Since 2019, 44 people have died in crashes of all types along the corridor.

"We're starting a strict enforcement — and I do mean strict," Cram said. "It means no warning. If you are committing a traffic violation, you will be issued a citation."

In addition to speeding, Cram said common violations include blowing through red lights, double parking, and blocking intersections and crosswalks. Police also have observed more drivers entering opposing traffic lanes to get around jams.

"We've seen people go up and across the island (to) go around," Cram said.

About 8,000 traffic citations have been issued citywide already this year, which Cram said should dispel the belief that traffic violations get ignored in Philadelphia. The 30-day initiative on North Broad Street was spurred by a series of community meetings in which police received persistent feedback about traffic violations.

"A lot of quality of life topics come up," Cram said. "One of the top ones, in addition to the usual ATV and dirt bikes, is the crazy driving in the city."

Addressing quality of life concerns has been an early mantle of Mayor Cherelle Parker, whose policies have diverged from those of her predecessor, Jim Kenney.

In 2021, the city passed a law preventing police from pulling over drivers for minor traffic violations such as broken brake lights or headlights, bumper issues, driving without inspection or emissions stickers and having improperly fastened license plates. The intent of the law was to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops. Officers were instructed to send out minor citations via mail, but they were still permitted to pursue high-risk violations like speeding.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 5, which represents Philly police officers, later sued to have the ban rolled back, but the case was tossed out in court. In its first year, the program decreased traffic stops by 54% for minor violations, but the proportion of Black drivers pulled over did not change.

This year, facing mounting calls for action, police have increased their citywide enforcement of laws prohibiting ATVs and dirt bikes on city streets, including along the eight-mile drag of North Broad Street that has long been a hot spot for groups of people riding the illegal vehicles. The police department's enforcement efforts are weather dependent, Cram said, but the wider traffic violation initiative will be continuous over at least the next month.

The new focus on North Broad Street could be a sign that the city will look to install speed cameras on the corridor, much like the program that was implemented on Roosevelt Boulevard that began in 2020. The program has been credited with reducing crashes on the Northeast Philly thoroughfare by 36% between 2019 and 2021, compared with a 6% decline in the rest of Philadelphia during that timeframe. Speeding violations decreased 88.5% between June 2020 and November 2022, according to a report from the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

While traffic violations remain a regular problem on Roosevelt Boulevard, Cram said the camera system has helped. It also has diverted more traffic to nearby streets.

"We've seen traffic get pushed onto Castor Avenue and Bustleton Avenue, which become race tracks themselves," Cram said.

City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At-large), who wrote the 2021 law to limit traffic stops, has been gathering public feedback on the city's appetite for more speed cameras. In December, state lawmakers approved the expansion of the speed camera program to an additional five corridors in the city. They have yet to be selected. Each will require its own legislation and approval from PennDOT. Broad Street is expected to be among the top choices to add cameras.

Cram said the police department would be in favor of bringing speed cameras to North Broad Street.

"Anything that helps us calm traffic and make it a safe environment for pedestrians and other drivers, absolutely," he said.