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June 20, 2023

Speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard could become permanent under new bill

And school districts could receive cameras to enforce the law that prohibits passing a school bus while students get on and off

Transportation Government
Roosevelt Blvd Speed Cameras Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

A state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make the speed camera program on Roosevelt Boulevard permanent and expand it to other roadways in Philadelphia.

Three years after traffic-monitoring speed cameras were installed at intersections along Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia, officials have boasted that the program has led to fewer crashes on the notoriously dangerous roadway. 

With six months before the program is set to expire, Rep. Ed Neilson, a Democrat serving portions of Philadelphia, has introduced a bill in the Pennsylvania House that would make the speed camera program permanent on Roosevelt Boulevard, with the potential to expand it to other Philly roadways.

Automated speed enforcement cameras were placed on Roosevelt Boulevard in June 2020, detecting and recording drivers who exceed the speed limit by 11 miles per hour or more. Within the first seven months, crashes declined by 36% (compared to 6% citywide) and traffic deaths declined by 50%, city officials said.

"The numbers show that these programs work to stop reckless driving and save lives," Neilson said earlier this month. "The safety of drivers, construction workers and our students are a huge priority of mine; we must eliminate these expiration dates to preserve the safety of Pennsylvanians while on our roads and highways." 

Roosevelt Boulevard was chosen because it has one of the highest rates of crashes in the city. When cameras were introduced, 220,000 violations were given to drivers traveling over the speed limit. Only 15,000 were issued this January, a 93% reduction in speeding violations. 

"The speed by which folks are driving through work zones has declined as a result of the presence of those cameras... that regiment has really helped prevent loss of life or injury in work zones," acting PennDOT secretary Mike Carroll told The Center Square. "I believe it has made that transit better, and we do need to renew these programs by the end of this calendar year." 

Neilson will introduce a separate bill to eliminate the deadline for a separate speed camera program that was approved to monitor traffic around active worksites. (The provisions were originally included in the Roosevelt Boulevard bill but were cut during committee hearings earlier this month.) That program, launched in March 2020, has led to a 17.8% reduction in speeding through work zones, according to a PennDOT report. The program is set to expire in 2024. 

Neilson's Roosevelt Boulevard bill would also allow school districts in Pennsylvania to use cameras to enforce the law prohibiting passing a school bus while students are getting on or off. If passed, a five-year pilot program for speed cameras in active Philly school zones would be implemented, pending approval from city officials and PennDOT. 

"The safety of our students is of utmost importance," Neilson said. "Many students who walk to school have to cross dangerous roads and intersections; this legislation expanded to school zones would potentially save student lives." 

Mayor Jim Kenney included the speed camera program as part of the city's Vision Zero Plan, which seeks to make Philly streets safer and reduce traffic-related deaths by 2030. The plan has focused on roadway improvements, expanding bike infrastructure and reducing speeding on dangerous corridors. 

A recent report on Vision Zero's progress, released in October, found that traffic fatalities fell to 121 in 2021, down from a 10-year high of 152 in 2020. Despite fewer fatal crashes, crashes involving serious injuries rose from 401 in 2020 to 438 in 2021. The total number of crashes also increased from 7,799 to 8,120, though both numbers are lower than the number of crashes five years ago (9,192)

"Yes, the city believes expanding the automated speed enforcement program will benefit drivers and pedestrians," a city spokesperson said. "Achieving zero traffic deaths on Philadelphia streets requires action and the need has never been greater. The (Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory) committee endorsed the renewal and expansion of the program, citing the program's success. We have been working with state and local officials to make that happen and ensure these life-saving cameras remain beyond the pilot program sunset date in December." 

The spokesperson explained that the city has called on legislators in Harrisburg to expand the speed camera program to other high speed corridors like Cobbs Creek, Henry Avenue, Lincoln Drive and Broad Street.

If passed, any roads that would receive cameras would need to be approved by City Council and PennDOT, Neilson said in a cosponsorship memo last month.

After advancing out of the House Transportation Committee last week, the bill heads to the House Rules Committee for further deliberation and a vote before being voted on by the House of Representatives later this year.