Z is for zero: Philly to teach Vision Zero traffic safety curriculum in city schools

Activity books aimed at children in Pre-K through 5th grade will be used to bring the Safe Routes Philly program to William Cramp and other elementary schools. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Activity books aimed at children in Pre-K through 5th grade will be used to bring the Safe Routes Philly program to William Cramp and other elementary schools. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia is bringing traffic safety into the classroom with a new curriculum designed to educate students from pre-K to high school about how to walk and bike safely on city streets.

“As a major urban school district, it should come as no surprise that the majority of our students walk or take public transportation to schools,” said Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia William Hite at a launch event Monday outside of William Cramp School in Fairhill. “Because of this, it’s vitally important that our students and their families have as much access as possible to resources around safety.”

Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite speaks about bringing bicycle and pedestrian safety education to students throgh the city’s Safe Routes Philly program, officially launched Monday at William Cramp Elementary School. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The new Safe Routes Philly curriculum includes everything from a pre-K-friendly song, “Crossing the Street,” — sung to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down” — to bike safety lessons designed for middle and high schoolers and an intro to Indego, the city’s bike-share system.

The educational program is part of Vision Zero, a city initiative aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities by 2030, and comes after a particularly dangerous year on Philly’s roads.

Philadelphia lost a record 155 people to traffic crashes in 2020.

“We have the highest number of traffic fatalities in quite a few years, and it’s happening in a year in which we have reduced driving,” Erick Guerra, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies crash data told PlanPhilly. “It’s deeply concerning.”

The professor attributed the spike in part to COVID-19, both because of increased alcohol consumption and, paradoxically, the temporary decrease in auto usage under coronavirus restrictions. Petroleum use, which generally correlates to a reduction in miles driven, fell to its lowest levels in decades during the first wave of the pandemic, resulting in less congested roadways, allowing the remaining drivers to reach higher traffic speeds.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announces the launch of Safe Routes Philly, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian safety education program, at William Cramp School. He is joined by (from left) Mike Carroll, Deputy Managing Director for Transportation, Deanda Logan, Principal of William Cramp School, and Superintendent William Hite. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Eight of the fatalities in 2020 were people under 18, including two infants and a three-year-old. This year the total traffic death count so far is 27, including one infant.

During the launch ceremony at Cramp, Mayor Jim Kenney issued a plea to city drivers.

“Just slow down,” Kenney said. “It could be your kid. It could be your brother or sister. It could be your niece or nephew. So just do us all a favor and take the foot off the gas, just a little bit, and look around you and care about other people for a change.”

Deanda Logan, Principal, William Cramp School, holds an activity book that will help bring the Safe Routes Philly program to children in Pre-K through 5th grades. The school hosted the mayor and other local dignitaries for the launch of the pedestrian and bicycle safety campaign. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Cramp Elementary sits in the middle of two “neighborhood slow zones” designated under Vision Zero.  These slow zones are the city’s hyperlocal approach to slowing cars and relieving dangerous traffic patterns.

Funded by dollars that come to the city from drivers caught on camera running red lights and designated in response to neighborhood applications, it sets up traffic-calming measures in affected areas. The city expects to open up the program for a new round of applications this spring.

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