Philadelphia’s Roosevelt Boulevard is receiving much needed traffic safety improvements thanks to the work of local lawmakers and community activists like Latanya Byrd, who lost four family members in a pedestrian accident on the road.
Philadelphia resident Latanya Byrd never intended to become an activist. But after an accident on the city’s Roosevelt Boulevard took the lives of four of her family members, she felt she had to make her voice heard and advocate for safety improvements to the notoriously dangerous road.
Byrd, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia, has been working tirelessly with Pennsylvania lawmakers and traffic safety advocacy groups like Vision Zero since that 2013 pedestrian accident that killed her 27-year-old niece Samara Banks and three of Banks’ children: 4-year-old Saa’deem, 23-month-old Saa’sean, and 9-month-old Saa’mir. Banks’ fourth child, 5-year-old Saa’yon, was the only one to survive the accident.
So it was fitting that Byrd stood beside Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D) recently when he announced that Roosevelt Boulevard will receive $78 million in federal funding for traffic safety improvements from President Joe Biden’s 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill. The grant, which will help subsidize the city’s Route for Change program aimed at improving safety conditions on the dangerous stretch of road, will help fund an expansion of public transit infrastructure, along with the addition of pedestrian islands and curb extensions, a realignment of lane configurations, and a reworking of nine crossover sections along approximately 12.3 miles of Roosevelt Boulevard, from North Broad Street to the Bucks County line.
“I smile because of the progress,” said Byrd of the infrastructure grant, “I know that… okay, Samara you can smile now, you didn’t die in vain, the babies didn’t go in vain. We’re trying to save some more lives along the way.”
Roosevelt Boulevard stands today as one of the most congested and deadly arteries in the nation, accounting for 6% of all crashes and 14% of all fatal crashes in the city between 2013 and 2017 according to a 2021 Route for Change report. During that time span, 62 people were killed and another 81 were seriously injured in traffic accidents. Senator Casey noted that the funding from Biden’s infrastructure bill will provide a necessary boost to safety improvements for community members who travel the road daily, whether by car, bicycle, or on foot.
“This huge investment will make Roosevelt Boulevard safer for drivers and pedestrians alike, protecting the many Philadelphians who live nearby and use this major artery to get to work and school,” said Casey, in a statement. “This funding will invest in the transportation backbone of the corridor, better connecting marginalized communities and improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians. I was proud to advocate for this investment in one of Philadelphia’s busiest and most important corridors — it’s a game changer for Philadelphia drivers and pedestrians alike.”
Route For Change’s full plans for Roosevelt Boulevard call for $134 million in safety improvements. With more than half of that amount now secured thanks to Biden’s infrastructure law and the efforts of lawmakers like Casey, Byrd is eager to see upgrades that have been in the making for years finally get underway.
“This is the fruit of our labor,” Byrd said. “You just don’t know how appreciative we are with this administration looking at the infrastructure. This is what we need to do to prevent (a tragedy like Byrd’s family suffered) from happening again.”