Transforming Pain into Power: Philadelphia Launches a Families for Safe Streets Effort

by Vision Zero Network June 11, 2019 in Families for Safe Streets, News

Photo: Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Each day, the efforts of advocates – like those of us at the Vision Zero Network and others working to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries – consist largely of routine phone calls, meetings, various communications and ongoing strategizing for change. But for the members of Families for Safe Streets, nothing is routine about their advocacy. Each day is a labor of love, pain and catharsis for these unforeseen advocates.

First launched in NYC in 2014, Families for Safe Streets grew from dozens of ardent friends, family members, spouses and community members to what is now hundreds of members in nine chapters across North America. They are united by surviving crashes or by experiencing the trauma of losing a loved one to traffic violence. They are working to channel their grief into action to turn the tide on the urgent public health epidemic claiming 40,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

In the first of a new series of profiles on Families for Safe Streets chapters, we spotlight the newest addition — in Philadelphia. Other chapters include: Alexandria (VA), Central Texas, NYC, New Jersey, Oregon and Southwest Washington, San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and Toronto.

How Philadelphia was Inspired

The momentum to create a Philadelphia chapter was set in motion during the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s (BCGP) March 2018 Vision Zero Conference in Philadelphia. Guests Latanya Byrd, Anne Javsicas, Laura and Richard Fredricks and Channabel Morris were inspired to channel their individual advocacy on behalf of their family members into forming a Families for Safe Streets chapter. The Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for a connected network of streets safe for bicycling and walking, agreed to host the first meeting in May 2018 and continues to support the new chapter. In February 2019, BCGP sent out the chapter’s first press release announcing Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia and sharing the details of the group’s first public event in which FSS members announced “several demands to the City, the state and law enforcement to make Philadelphia’s streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.”

Although the chapter just formed a few months ago, nearly two dozen members, including family members and advocates, were quickly united through their grief and previous advocacy efforts for improved traffic safety and increased awareness. The Byrd and Javsicas families were joined by the Fredricks Family, Channabel Morris and the Daley Family – families that had been advocating for traffic safety measures and increased awareness prior to the launch of Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia. Sadly, their stories are not dissimilar; each of their family members was killed by a reckless or aggressive driver. For these families, their loved ones are the motivation and inspiration for their advocacy.

Latanya’s niece, Samara Banks and her three children, were killed by drag racers on one of Philly’s notoriously deadly streets, Roosevelt Boulevard, where more than 2,600 crashes and 139 fatalities and injuries have occurred just between 2013-2017. Anne’s husband, Peter Javsicas, was killed when an out-of-control driver hit him while he was walking on the sidewalk. Jamal Morris, son of Channabel Latham-Morris, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike in West Philadelphia. Emily Fredricks, Laura and Richard Fredricks’ daughter, was killed by a private trash truck while riding her bike to work.

Now, their collective advocacy, supported by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, is amplifying their voice, efforts and impact. Much like the NYC chapter of FSS is a project of Transportation Alternatives, FSS of Greater Philadelphia is supported by BCGP which provides communications support (for e.g. the FSS webpage is hosted on BCGP’s website), shares data analysis and offers legislative and policy expertise to guide the members’ campaigns and asks. This support is especially critical for new chapters who have been thrust into this advocacy realm, often without training or experience on media communications or policy-making.

Priorities for Philadelphia

Photo: Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s newly formed FSS group has mobilized mainly to support the addition of automated speed enforcement on Roosevelt Boulevard, more pedestrian plazas and protected bicycle lanes, as well as legislation to discourage distracted driving.

Other areas of focus include providing support to those affected by deadly crashes in the community, educating college students about safe driving and establishing good working relationships with the district attorney and law enforcement.

Signs of Progress

Though only recently launched, the nascent chapter is already showing signs of progress. Many FSS members had already been at the forefront of powerful and successful advocacy campaigns prior to forming the chapter and were able to leverage their experiences advocating for speed cameras, reduced speed limits and increased funding for bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure into a broader public campaign. For instance, Philadelphia FSS member Latanya Byrd had been a vocal traffic safety advocate in the six years since the death of her family members, including working for legislation to allow safety cameras to discourage speeding. Thanks to her and others’ advocacy, cameras were just approved in May 2019 for Roosevelt Boulevard and will be installed by the end of this year. Additionally, members have advocated for an extension to Pennsylvania’s red-light camera program, improvements to safety standards for trash haulers and more funding for safe streets initiatives.

Members harness their loss and pain by attending rallies, press conferences and vigils, as well as penning opinion pieces in the media. Sharing their stories of loss directly with policymakers, media and other influencers has been a particularly compelling and undeniably effective advocacy strategy for the cause of Vision Zero in Philadelphia.

Beyond Advocacy: Creating Space for Healing and Support

For members of Families for Safe Streets, one of the most important aspects of coming together as a group is the opportunity for sharing and healing. Laura Fredricks describes her involvement in the Philadelphia chapter as a form of group therapy with others who have suffered the same loss, pain and tragedy. The shared grief turned into collective action and advocacy has been a powerful force of change.

For FSS members in every chapter, they harness their pain into action in hopes that others should not have to experience the same loss. Thanks to their brave advocacy, these are not deaths in vain. They are lives honored and celebrated at each FSS meeting, public event, vigil, rally, testimony and sign of progress in cities across North America.

How can you support Families for Safe Streets?

  • If you have lost a loved one or been injured in a traffic crash, email info@familiesforsafestreets.org to be connected with a chapter or with other FSS members.
  • If you’re interested in starting a chapter in your community, review the resources provided by Families for Safe Streets including how to start a FSS chapter.

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