Renewed effort to slow Lincoln Dr. speeders

By Kia Gregory
Inquirer Staff Writer
On Easter afternoon, Sharon Boyd was standing on her front lawn in West Mount Airy, smiling at her husband and son as they moved new 10-foot columns onto their once-enclosed porch.
After nearly two years of dealing with insurance adjusters, lawyers, building inspectors, and contractors, the Boyds were finally rebuilding the porch - wrecked when a speeding SUV rammed into a traffic pole on Lincoln Drive, launched into the air, and crash-landed inside it.
As Boyd eyed the traffic, her dog, Peaches, in her arms, she thought, "Not again."
Boyd saw a blue car traveling east on Hortter Street sail through the red light and slam into a tan sedan heading north on Lincoln Drive.
She felt Peaches' heart quicken, and her own, as the two cars spun toward the house.
Boyd shouted for her husband, Larry, and her son Kevin to run.
The blue car knocked over a fire hydrant and took out some irises and shrubs on the side of the house. The tan one ripped the curb, then slammed into a utility pole in front of the house.
Yet again, there was a scene of screaming and crying passengers, swirling police lights, ambulances, and tow trucks, and broken glass on Lincoln Drive. In just the last two weeks, there have been six crashes on the drive - all in the residential area north of Johnson Street, with no fatalities.
"I can't trust being out there and having another car in my house," Boyd said a few days after the accident, pointing to the hydrant lying in her flower garden. "You're not safe on your own lawn."
Boyd thought of one of her neighbors, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and said: "If he was home that day, I would have knocked on his door. It's getting so treacherous."
Since Ramsey became commissioner last year, he has grumbled publicly about speeders on Lincoln Drive, which winds through Fairmount Park into the city's northwest neighborhoods.
After learning about the latest accident outside the Boyds' home, Ramsey said: "People just drive too doggone fast. Even when surfaces are wet they do not slow down. They slide into your lawn, your porch, anything because they lose control of their car."
To slow down drivers entering Lincoln Drive from Kelly Drive, a traffic-unit patrol car has been stationed for more than a year at the side of the road, a police spokesman said.
Last year, to improve tire traction, a stretch of asphalt in the northbound lanes between the Kelly Drive entrance and Gypsy Lane - where a two-car crash killed a woman on Christmas Eve 2007 - was replaced with "rough lines," Ramsey said.
One problem with enforcing the drive's 25-m.p.h. speed limit is that, for the most part, there's no shoulder for a patrol car to lie in wait, he said.
North of Johnson Street, where houses line the drive, the Police Department is looking into adding traffic signals.
"They don't have to be long stops," Ramsey said, "just 10, 15 seconds, but it would slow people down."
Ramsey would also like to see speed cameras on Lincoln Drive. He said state law doesn't allow city police to use radar.
"We're working to get that changed, for one, because it just doesn't make any sense," Ramsey said.
Since Memorial Day weekend 2007, when the SUV, operated by an intoxicated driver, sailed into Boyd's porch, she hasn't felt particularly safe inside her house, a three-story stone Victorian where she and her husband have lived for 27 years, raising their children and grandchildren.
The SUV accident sparked a group of neighbors to form the Northwest Traffic Calming Committee to find ways to slow speeders.
"Everybody drives at least 40 or faster," said founding member Kittura Dior, who lives across from the Boyds. "People don't respect that this is a neighborhood where people live, work, and go to school."
Based on the committee's study of police reports, Dior said that between 2004 and '07, an average of three car accidents a week occurred on the drive's residential stretch, a distance of a little more than a mile.
From her porch, Dior has taken pictures of some of the wreckage to raise community awareness and support.
Last year, committee members took crash photos and statistics to meetings with elected officials and to their representatives to discuss traffic-calming solutions.
"It's not clear who's supposed to address it: the city or the state," Dior said, noting that the drive is a state highway. "Everyone seemed to have an interest, but it wasn't a focused interest."
In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation owns and does major reconstruction of the drive, mayoral spokesman Luke Butler said. The Streets Department is responsible for regular maintenance, and Fairmount Park crews plow part of the road.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) said he believed Lincoln Drive was a city highway but said: "In either instance . . . we're going to work with the community to make sure they get the resources they need to get it done. The city has tried a number of things over the years as far as staging entry on the drive, but further up is still a problem."
Hearing about the Easter crash, Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller said: "Don't tell me that house was hit again. Boy, that's an unlucky corner."
Miller said she would call the Streets and Police Departments for an assessment, adding: "People have to change their behavior while driving on Lincoln Drive."
Several residents along the drive have posted "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" signs on their lawns and placed large boulders around their properties to thwart wayward cars.
Ramsey said that about five months ago a car crashed into one of his boulders. "Again, somebody driving way too fast. Ruined their car . . . their undercarriage, anyway."
The Northwest Traffic Calming Committee is working with similar groups in East Falls and South Philadelphia and hopes to get a grant to study the impact of such measures as well-designed traffic circles and raised intersections on Lincoln Drive.
In light of the Boyds' recent brush, Laura Siena, executive director of West Mount Airy Neighbors, said the organization planned to look immediately into red-light cameras, such as those on Roosevelt Boulevard.
For Sharon Boyd, speeders have cost her family three trees, many plants, an enclosed porch, and peace of mind.
On Saturday - the day before the latest crash - she went online to browse for boulders.
Her husband, Larry, looking over her shoulder, had laughed:
"Hollywood couldn't do it again."