Congestion pricing may come to Philly streets

Philadelphia traffic

After New York City approved congestion pricing last week, Philadelphia officials are looking into whether such a policy could be applied to Philly’s traffic-choked streets.

The city is considering congestion pricing for the first time, watching the process unfold in New York “to see how this can help improve equity, safety, sustainability and mobility,” said Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, in the New York Times on Tuesday.

Beginning in 2021, New York City will charge drivers to enter Manhattan’s most congested neighborhoods. The tolls are intended to reduce gridlock and raise billions of dollars for public-transit improvements.

Population growth, ride-sharing services like Uber and a boom in e-commerce deliveries have put more vehicles on the streets, causing Philly’s arteries to become increasingly clogged.

In February, four traffic bottlenecks in the region made a list of the 100 worst in the country, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. 

“When you look at our road system, it’s old. There are some new components — 476 is only 28 years old — but it’s tough to add capacity,” transportation expert Dick Voith told KYW News Radio, warning that congestion could have financial consequences. “You have all these people waiting, and their time really is money. We’re competing with other regions. And that is an economic consideration when people locate.”

According to a February study by transportation analytics firm INRIX, Philadelphia tied with San Francisco for the second-slowest downtown business district speeds, at 10mph. Only New York City was slower, coming in at 9 mph. Overall, Philly ranked ninth among U.S. urban areas in congestion: Last year, residents wasted an average of 112 hours stuck in traffic, a cost of $1,568 per driver and $3.3 billion citywide.

An earlier analysis by INRIX showed that average midday vehicle speeds in Philly’s downtown core slowed 8.2 percent between 2015 and 2018 — the second-worst slowdown among the country’s 10 most populated cities.

Next month, Philadelphia voters will determine whether the city will create a special police force dedicated to traffic. Civilian Public Safety Enforcement Officers would assist the regular police force, monitoring streets for Vision Zero infractions, traffic problems and quality-of-life violations. They would not carry firearms or have the authority to make arrests. A similar class of officers already exists in cities such as New York and Washington, D.C.

Philly’s police union opposes the measure. They claim it violates state law specifying that traffic enforcement must be conducted by state and local police.

But if voters approve the “public safety officer” bill on May 21, the city will have a year to get the program off the ground.

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