By Larissa Mogano, For 5th Square
On Thursday, newly elected Register of Wills and 50-year resident of Southwest Philadelphia Tracey Gordon held a press conference at the entrance to the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center to address traffic safety concerns along one of Philadelphia’s most dangerous roads: Cobbs Creek Parkway. Jokingly dubbed “NASCAR” by other longtime neighbors, the topic of the press conference was definitely no laughing matter. We gathered to remember yet another young life lost in a completely preventable incident. 25-year-old Avante Reynolds leaves behind a 2-month-old baby after she was violently killed by a driver who left the scene. While we are frustrated with the careless and callous actions of one individual, the responsibility is not theirs alone.
Cobbs Creek Parkway, which extends from Market Street to Woodland Avenue, goes through several city and state legislative districts. That means that multiple elected officials represent communities that Cobbs Creek Parkway touches: city council, state legislative, congressional, and senatorial districts. Having more political power behind any issue of safety should make it easier, not harder, to prioritize a comprehensive and sustainable strategy to advocate for a safer roadway.
In 2017, neighbors of the parkway - including Ms. Gordon and myself - thought we might see movement towards making such a plan when State Representative Joanna McClinton heeded our concerns and convened a walk-through of the lower portion of the parkway. It included representatives from multiple public offices as well as The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), Parks and Rec, PennDoT, OTIS (The Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability) and the Streets Department.
Following the snowy walk-through where we pointed out the long-neglected mangled guardrails, DVRPC conducted a two-year study to identify consistent problems along the parkway: high rates of speed, repeated and often deadly crashes, flooding at even the lightest rain, short dumping, years of disinvestment, and a shortage of safe pedestrian crosswalks. Multiple data-driven articles have been written about this just this week, so there’s probably no need to repeat the stats, they can be found at these links:
Sadly, as Ms. Gordon expressed yesterday, no action was taken following the study to carry out any of the recommendations made by the community and DVRPC.
I first met Tracey Gordon almost a decade ago over our shared concern about the safety of our respective neighborhoods. At the time, mangled guardrails sat on the south side of the road, ignored by PennDoT (the agency ultimately responsible for the road) for a decade or more. To both of us this was a clear metaphor for how long the needs of already disenfranchised communities can go neglected by those who represent them.
As a neighbor in nearby Cobbs Creek, I visit the parkway almost daily to run, bike and walk my dog along the trails, to visit Mount Moriah Cemetery, the park, the environmental center, and Cobbs Creek Library. As the co-founder of Cobbs Creek Neighbors, Tracey kindly invited me to speak at Thursday's press conference but I declined because I felt it was important to prioritize the voices of the longtime neighbors who’ve been begging for improvements for decades.
As I understand it, there were people critical of why the Register of Wills would be holding a press conference about an issue seemingly unrelated to her new, elected role, but I for one fully support Ms. Gordon for using her platform to highlight an issue she’s been advocating for to deaf ears for too long. I can only hope that the next step is for all of the elected officials who represent the parkway to rally around Ms. Gordon to collectively prioritize the safety of all of us who use it.
Larissa Mogano is a volunteer with 5th Square, graduate student in Drexel University's Urban Strategy program and the co-founder of the Cobbs Creek Neighbors Association in West Philadelphia. She works full-time as a Senior Media Specialist at Drexel University.