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Tragedy & Activism  

The Role of the Fierce Family Advocate

This year’s Vision Zero (VZ) conference held at Temple University was hosted by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia for the third time.  Attendance and participation were strong, reflecting solid community support for better road safety in the city.  Many themes of the day bubbled up including how hard change is, how long advocacy takes, and how many lives are at stake in the meantime. This post, however, is not about the conference per se, but rather, the important role of family advocates in creating lasting change.   While there are many family advocates working on pedestrian and cycling safety, we will shine a light on two warrior families, Latanya Byrd and The Fredricks. Bike accident attorney Joe Piscitello of Bike Law PA is honored to work alongside both families in our shared commitment to safer roads. 

Latanya Byrd and Speed Cameras

Latanya Byrd, Co-founder of Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia (FSSGP), helped to open the VZ conference by sharing her family’s tragedy which took place on July 16, 2013 on Roosevelt Boulevard.  Latanya’s niece and her three young children were killed by a speeding car while walking across the dangerous Philadelphia Boulevard. It was a preventable tragedy.  Each time she recounts the details of the horrific crash, she is visibly shaken, but her resolve to create lasting change is always unwavering.

Byrd-Lawson Traffic Tragedy

Since her family’s tragedy, she has made the case for road safety personal, by presenting her story at numerous conferences and before Pennsylvania state and Philadelphia city officials. Over the past seven years since the crash, she has made it her mission to make the Boulevard safer for pedestrians and cyclists.  Thanks to her, along with the Families for Safe Streets and the Bike Coalition, change is happening.  Automated speed cameras will be installed on the Boulevard by the summer of 2020.

Mike Carrol, the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability also spoke at the VZ Conference and shared expectations that the new speed cameras will impact driver’s behavior, ultimately reducing driving speed along the Boulevard.  He also pointed to the Mayor’s recent budget proposal which includes funding for more traffic safety officers.  Joe Piscitello of Bike Law PA notes that this win for road safety involved many stakeholders, but  “there is no doubt that Latanya’s persistent and personal advocacy helped tip the scale on this legislative victory.” He witnessed her fierce advocacy firsthand during a lobbying visit to the state capital in Harrisburg, PA in 2018.  

In a recent interview, Latanya was asked what keeps her going in this advocacy work: 

“I am driven to advocate for safer streets to prevent families from the pain my family has endured. We lost 4 people, 2 generations, our lives were shattered. I feel sick every time I hear about a crash. I know our loved ones did not die in vain. Change to prevent more deaths on our roads is inevitable.” 

Vision Zero Philadelphia

Bicycle Coalition: Bob Previdi and Sarah Clark Stuart (Bicycle Coalition), Dr. Ivan K. Cheung (National Transportation Safety Board), Latanya Byrd & Joe Piscitello (Bike Law PA) at the 2018 Vision Zero event.

Laura and Rich Fredricks and Bike Lane Delineators

Our second example of the important role of family advocates shines a light on the Fredricks family, their tragedy and their effective and persistent advocacy.

During the VZ conference, speakers addressed the issue of protected bike lanes in Philadelphia.  Currently, the city has only five miles of protected bike lanes including a corridor along Spruce and Pine Street. While the city planned to install bike lane delineators from east to west, somehow a small civic association managed to interrupt complete installation of the city project.  The Society Hill Civic Association (SCHA) quietly lobbied Philadelphia City Council reps to not install the bike lane delineators along Spruce and Pine Street in their neighborhood, from Front Street to 8th street.

Philadelphia Bike Lane

The SCHA actions were taken unilaterally without engaging public comment by their residents. The issue drew wide- spread criticism and was captured in this November 2019 article aptly titled “When did Society Hill become a city state onto itself?”  Key objections by a handful of residents in the SHCA include the appearance of the bike lane delineators and inconvenience.

Laura and Rich Fredricks, co-founders of Families for Safe Streets added their strong voice of support to complete the bike lane delineator project. Their daughter, Emily Fredricks was killed in November 2017 while riding her bike to work on Spruce street. Laura and Rich consider whether a bike lane delineator in that area could have prevented their daughter’s death.   In an interview with the Fredricks, Laura admonished that:

“The city has an obligation to protect all of its residents and no one person or civic association should have the ability to opt out of a proven safety measure. We need to use all measures available to prevent these traffic deaths. Our daughter, Emily, was killed at the corner of Spruce and 11th Streets on November 28, 2017.  We miss her every second of every day and we still cannot believe that she was taken from us.”

The Fredericks

Over several months, residents in Society Hill (over 60+) mobilized to push City Council and the SHCA to complete the installation of the bike lane delineators and to create community engagement for future initiatives.   Included among the resident activists was Joe Piscitello, as his Law offices are located in the Society Hill neighborhood.  In an open letter to SHCA, the supporters note that the “installation hold” has caused unnecessary dangers to residents. 

When the Fredricks got involved, they were uniquely suited to speak with City Council representatives who were familiar with their family’s loss and their commitment to create safer streets. In a recent communication, Laura shared this compelling and personal statement: 

“The repaving/bike lane switch project is a direct result of her death. Emily would have traveled along a section of the street that does not have the delineators installed.  We are requesting that these delineators be installed as soon as possible for the safety of all. Please do not allow the Civic Association to make the rules.”

As a result,  we do anticipate that the bike lanes delineators will ultimately be installed this spring.   Additionally, SHCA created a new process to secure resident input which we expect will be utilized for future initiatives impacting road safety.

While public policy change does indeed come slowly, and often spans several years, we have witnessed the important role of the fierce family advocate. Often the most compelling voices are our family advocates who have endured the ultimate tragedy of losing a loved one to traffic violence.

Piscitello Law is honored to work alongside these courageous and fierce family advocates. Thank you, Latanya Byrd, Rich and Laura Fredricks for your tireless advocacy to make our roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.  Your work inspires us. We salute you and Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia.

Bike Law PA

Marissa Perrone & Joe Piscitello (Bike Law PA) stand with Laura and Rich Fredricks Vision Zero conference (March 2020).

Emily Fredricks Foundation info here.

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