The results of that study could override any concerns about street length and existing traffic control measures.
“The Streets Department goes based on data,” Montanez said. “So if we see that there’s a crash problem or there’s a speeding problem, we do try to address those issues.”
“Try” being the operative word. Even after a three-month study, residents could end up with nothing. The slow wheels of progress frustrate many.
“Just come do your job,” said an exasperated McNeely to the department. “That’s what you’re getting paid for.”
Should the study echo speeding complaints residents have made for years, there’s still one big step. At least 75% of residents have to sign a petition in favor of the measure, though it may be the easiest hurdle for the block to overcome.
Dayton’s traffic experiment
One of the best documented and more successful cases of fighting crime with a traffic intervention came out of the Five Oaks neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio, which raised almost $700,000 to close off 24 streets and 26 alleys to traffic in 1993.
The racially diverse neighborhood, according to a federal analysis written years later, experienced a rise in crime in the late 1980s and leading into the ’90s prompting drastic action.
“Not only was crime increasing at a maddening pace, but drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes had brazenly taken over the streets,” wrote Oscar Newman.
Speeding cars and gun violence, he said, were also plaguing the mix of working-class homeowners and low-income renters.
When police increased their presence “every few months,” wrote Newman, the problems would temporality subside.
That all changed after the city installed iron gates cutting off traffic.
By the time the New York Times profiled the neighborhood in 1994, violent crime had plummeted by 50% and nonviolent crime had fallen by 24%.
Not everyone was happy with the gates. Those living on the remaining through streets complained about bumper to bumper traffic. But overall, the neighborhood bought into the planning process. Researchers said the strong sense of community paired with the maze created by the gates, made people committing crimes from outside the neighborhood stay out.
A smaller traffic experiment in Philly is only the first step
Back on 200 N. Simpson Street, neighbors are all in agreement that truly stopping gun violence will require addressing the root causes.
Residents like McNeely, a self-described “old-head,” try to mentor young people on the block. When McNeely’s not at work, she’s part of the handful of neighbors keeping their eyes peeled for troublemakers, and she helps the block captain with events like the back to school book bag giveaway they had last week.
Still, McNeely said the block desperately needs reinforcements.
“Now you gotta worry about your child going to school, COVID, you trying to get finance for your child to get a babysitter,” said McNeely of challenges families are facing this summer. “How your child going to eat and how you going to keep an eye on your child while you’re at work?”
Add to that this year’s grim violent statistics. Despite a drop in overall violent crime, police have recorded 270 homicides, including Zamar, and more than 1,200 shootings in the city – both a more than 30% increase from this time last year.
McNeely wants investment in free lunch programs, child care help for families, and jobs for young people, but she’ll take a speed cushion, too. As will neighbor Caesar Grant, though he doubts speed cushions can do more than slow cars down.
“These young kids out here are just angry, and these little things set them off, and they’ve got these guns – I don’t know where they’re getting them from – speed bumps got nothing to do with that,” Grant said. “If speed bumps could stop shootings, the whole city would have speed bumps.”