Peter Javsicas, a beloved figure in Philadelphia’s small world of transportation engineers and planners and Mt. Airy resident, died Tuesday evening of injuries sustained after a motorist jumped the sidewalk curb near 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, striking Javsicas and two others. According to ABC6, the driver of a minivan apparently lost control of the vehicle, after a crash with an SUV, driving onto the busy sidewalk and into a newspaper stand. The other pedestrian struck is in stable condition, and the newsstand operator suffered minor cuts and bruises.
For over a decade, Javsicas, 76, served as the executive director of Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions, Inc., better known as PenTrans. The organization advocates for “balanced, multimodal transportation and mobility alternatives” as well as increased public transportation funding, and was comprised mostly of representatives from some of the region’s largest transportation engineering and planning consultant firms.
Richard Voith of Econsult Solutions said Javsicas would be dearly missed. “He was incredibly generous. He had a fabulous sense of humor,” said Voith. “Everybody loved him with good reason. He was just the most public spirited person imaginable.”
Javsicas was also one of the founders of the Northwest Village Network, a peer group organized to help older residents in Northwest Philadelphia continue living independently and in their homes as they age. Javsicas stepped down as the organization's president only last month, said neighbor and fellow network board member Sara Allen. “Peter was in many ways the spirit and the guiding light of the organization,” she said.
Sarah Clark Stuart of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia described Javsicas as a sweet and gentle man.
“He was always so dedicated to making transportation safer and more accessible. He was always thinking about seniors, the disabled, children—he always had in the mind the most vulnerable user,” said Stuart.
“It’s a terrible loss. And a terrible irony.”
Javsicas was struck midday Tuesday walking on the sidewalk along one of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the city. When PlanPhilly and Azavea mapped out the city’s worst areas for pedestrians crashes in 2015, 16th and JFK made the top ten. The boulevard’s four travel lanes encourage cars to travel at high speeds through the heart of Center City.
City planners proposed building bicycle lanes down JFK Boulevard back in 2008 and piloted the project in 2011. At the time, Center City District President Paul Levy said the project would have made the street more pedestrian friendly by reducing the number of travel lanes on JFK to three, which would encourage drivers to slow down. The proposed protected bike lane would not have physically prevented this crash — it would have been located on the opposite side of JFK.
Even though the pilot showed no significant impact on traffic flow, the project remains unbuilt. Some safety advocates have blamed Council President Darrell Clarke, who represents the area, for quietly shelving the project in response to local opposition from nearby residents who believed—contrary to assurances from the city’s transportation planners otherwise—that the bike lanes would make crossing JFK Boulevard more dangerous for pedestrians.
In the wake of the crash, and news of Javsicas’ passing, the Bicycle Coalition and urbanist PAC 5th Square both called on elected officials to build safety improvements at the intersection. Clarke’s office did not immediately respond to the criticism levied since Tuesday’s crash.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) released a draft Vision Zero action plan. Vision Zero is a traffic safety initiative that aims to reduce traffic crash fatalities to zero through a mix of improved street design, public education and traffic law enforcement. There were 101 crash fatalities in Philadelphia in 2016, 44 of which were pedestrians. Javsicas’ passing brings this year’s toll of traffic fatalities to 25. Every year, around 1,700 pedestrians in the city report injuries from car crashes. In recent years, more Philadelphians have been hit by motorists while walking than have been shot annually.
Despite the promise of coming improvements, some traffic safety advocates directed their opprobrium at Mayor Jim Kenney and OTIS following the crash, saying that change is coming too slowly. The mayor released a written statement in response: “The death of Peter Javsicas is, first and foremost, a tragedy for his family and friends, and my heart goes out to them at this difficult time. I know Peter devoted his life to improving all forms of transportation for Philadelphia and the region, and so his death from this crash is all the more wrenching to those who knew and worked with him. My Administration, through its Vision Zero initiative, remains committed to preventing all traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, and the death of Peter Javsicas is a stark reminder of the importance of that mission.”