Oh look it’s the traffic committee pushing their same agenda while collisions continue on Henry.
I wanted to write an open letter to East Falls Community Council’s traffic committee chair, but I don’t know who that is. Former chair Ray Lucci resigned last month after he was unable to halt PennDOT’s safety improvements for Henry Avenue.
But why would our traffic committee have an issue with better lighting, signals and signage on one of our neighborhood’s major arteries? PennDOT’s plan includes raised medians, a southbound left-turning lane (and arrow). They’re even proposing a walking/biking path from School House to Walnut Lane.
So what’s the problem? We’ve been puzzling over this for years…
At a packed community meeting in 2017, the traffic committee refused to accept any of the five plans PennDOT presented for Henry Avenue. They tried to shut down neighbors, as well, arguing that most of us don’t know enough to have an informed opinion. Regardless, we had to do something – and EFCC didn’t have a plan of their own (except to refuse PennDOT’s).
So the people of East Falls went ahead over their objections to vote on a plan allowing PennDOT to move forward asap. And it’s happening – work is set to start this summer. But wait!
Late this spring, at the last minute, East Falls traffic committee put out a survey and prepared a big presentation for June’s Community Council meeting, inviting Pam Delissio, the Streets Department, the Bicycle Coalition and others to hear new concerns they feel must be addressed before any construction begins.
NOTE: For those keeping score, this’ll be their second attempt to delay progress. The first time worked – PennDOT funded extra studies just for our stretch of Henry Avenue. But that’s all been done, the plan’s been amended. Cars are crashing, we need to start upgrades asap.
What a relief, then, to see Pam (and everyone else called to the carpet) defending PennDOT’s position and refusing to mollify a handful of (self-)glorified volunteers: retired school teachers, lawyers, and managers who fancy themselves world-class traffic engineers. Frankly I can’t see them resting until PennDOT lets them personally direct every penny of funding to whatever pet projects they have in mind.
Think I’m kidding?
Both Ray and longtime traffic committee member Meg Greenfield criticized Philly’s policy to require signatures from 75% of a block’s residents for road alterations like speed bumps and roundabouts. “That doesn’t make any real sense,” Meg said, regarding community input obligations, “We don’t set speed limits that way.” Yeah but traffic committees don’t set speed limits either. That’s what traffic engineers are for.
As Sarah Clark Stuart (Bicycle Coalition) gently but firmly advised traffic committee members: their mission isn’t to create traffic calming plans but to educate and advocate for better funding and more community support. “There is an important role you play, which is to heighten that these issues are terribly important and need to be prioritized,” she said, “And that’s where your elected officials come in.”
Another misunderstanding in their survey suggested that the wheels of progress could turn faster on demand. “Most of you think there should be a response within a year,” EFCC president Emily Nichols said as she read the results aloud, “Let’s make note of that to our invited guests on this call, that we don’t expect things to be done tomorrow, but we do expect within a reasonable amount of time….”
Oh you do, do you..??
We’ll let Pam take it from here. State Representative Pam Delissio’s response to the Community Council presentation does not mince words. Comments below have been edited for brevity & clarity. View video clips here or watch the whole 90+ minute meeting on Youtube where we post all this stuff as public documentation. Thanks for your interest in civic process! We welcome your thoughts in the Comments field below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
REP PAM DELISSIO:
I wish the survey had included whether or not folks were aware of the safety improvement plan that PennDOT has had in the works for Henry Avenue. People who call my office with similar concerns are often pleasantly surprised when we update them on all the activity that’s occurred since 2012. There’ve been 13 meetings and 31 communications from my office about this project – all of this info is on my website.
In fact, there’s been so much input from the East Falls community that PennDOT split the project in two. From Port Royal to the Wissahickon Creek Bridge is one part of it, and then the second part goes from that bridge down to Abbotsford Avenue. Specifically to allow for all the input from the East Falls community. Which, in fact, delayed construction for safety improvements that were being incorporated into the plan at their request.
As recently as a month ago, I’d touched base with the traffic committee about the project – we’ve been working together all along. Now we get a letter from East Falls. They’re weighing in with an evaluation of a plan that wrapped up in 2017. You know, traffic calming on a major thoroughfare isn’t like redoing your kitchen, you can’t just call a general contractor to adjust your estimate. This is a coordinated effort between the Philadelphia City Streets Department and PennDOT for Henry Avenue, which is in fact, a state-designated route.
These projects have to meet federal standards, state standards, it has to pass muster with the City plans. These are incredibly involved projects. So at some point, the discussion has to end unless there’s an egregious oversight. And then the design and all the stuff that goes with design has to happen. And those plans need approvals by many, many, many different agencies.
So now at the 11th hour — I would even say half after the 11th hour — for folks to want that process halted so other considerations could be put into place? That’d be further delaying this months and months and months. Plus the affiliated costs. The new additions to the East Falls portion of the plan cost additional funding over and above what PennDOT had budgeted for this already.
Ray, I’m not sure about what may need to be done to implement radar speed signs. I myself am sensitive to our tree canopy but choices need to be made, we have to weigh costs and benefits. If a few trees have to get cut back for public safety, I would be surprised if the community doesn’t find that to be a fair trade-off.
We know that this is an important project. We’re very grateful for all of the community meetings, we want to hear from the folks who traverse this road daily. But PennDOT and the City have to reconcile that feedback with standards and a budget. And these are the realities that we face.
Emily, we may want to respond more quickly and see faster outcomes, but there’s a legislative process we must follow. No matter who you are or what you’re advocating for, there’s a process and you have to follow it. There’s also a budget, and we can’t afford to drastically redesign every roadway.
David, have I missed anything that would help folks understand here that best efforts have been made all along?
DAVID DLUGOSZ (Streets Dept):
The one thing I would add, though, that when it comes to traffic calming measures, all the things that were added into the East Falls section of this Henry Avenue project, were purposely chosen because they are proven tactics. I’ll leave it there.
I wish we could hammer out a plan that speaks to something somewhere on the horizon where we can see some authentic solutions to deal with these historical patterns of speeding and disregard for traffic rules. As a retired school teacher this is terrible to see. What can be done? How can we educate folks to listen to their higher angels and obey laws as they should. These are personal issues between drivers and their god.
So can we get some follow-up session where the traffic committee can meet, perhaps with PennDOT, Streets Dept, our elected representatives and try to flesh out a long-term plan that can successfully address these issues?
Until this is in place, I’m not sure what we’re discussing. We’re happy to ask PennDOT for some backup info but the idea of convening again in 4 – 6 weeks on the plan? This IS the plan. We need to give this plan an opportunity to be implemented, evaluated and then we can say what works or doesn’t work.
Nobody has a crystal ball here but I have every confidence that these agencies are using standards that are well-established and, in fact, well-tested. We’re always happy to meet but I’d like the topic to be something other than another review we’ve already been over.
*PLEASE VIEW UNEDITED MEETING VIDEO FOR FULL CONTINUITY*
(traffic presentation starts at the half-hour mark)
Let’s remember, too, that East Falls is not the only neighborhood affected by traffic on Henry Avenue. All the other sections of the roadway are moving forward on PennDOT’s plan. How fair is it to them, to keep holding this project up?
BIG THANKS TO PAM for keeping our safety plan on track.
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