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Philly Wins the Booby Prize for Drivability

For years, Philadelphia commuters have complained — or even bragged — about having the worst traffic in America.

And now it is official.

Data analysis by Wallethub.com ranked Philadelphia dead last on its list of ‘Worst Cities for Driving.’ The site’s study considered factors including traffic volume or congestion, infrastructure, and the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle. The ‘Bottom 10’ included Los Angeles, Seattle, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Detroit, and Philadelphia, in that order.

What makes driving in and around Philadelphia so angst-inducing? The sheer volume of traffic is an issue, of course. But other factors are in play as well.

Vince Paraveccchia works in the Juniata Park section of Philadelphia. Before this year he worked in the Oxford Circle section of the city. Paravecchia cites factors that make his daily commute from Bucks County a challenge.

“Traffic is awful,” he said. “I-95 is an absolute nightmare every morning and afternoon. There’s always a project which is barely being worked on, and it slows everything up and causes countless jams.

“Double the problems if it is raining. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather drive in a blinding snowstorm in Philly than a foggy, chilly rainstorm. Why? Because many of the bad drivers stay home in the snow.”

Paravecchia notes road conditions, including or especially those on major thoroughfares, add to drivers’ woes.

“There is no road in America I’ve been on worse than the Schuylkill,” he said. “I’ve driven (I-5) near Los Angeles and been a passenger in L.A. I’ve done the entire length of the Garden State Parkway, the George Washington Bridge, and New York City. The Taconic Parkway. I-287 (in New Jersey). Connecticut. Atlanta (been through with my brother but I wasn’t the driver). Florida. D.C., Boston. Pittsburgh. San Diego. They are all better than Philly. The only places that rival Philly are Delaware near Wilmington and the Maryland border (with lots of volume with nowhere to go) and parts of New York City and Boston. But in my opinion, Philadelphia is the most maddening.”

The cost of vehicle maintenance is another source of aggravation for drivers. Jill Gonzalez is a public policy expert for WalletHub.com.

“One of the reasons Philadelphia is the worst city to drive in is the high cost of ownership and maintenance,” she said. “For example, the city has the third highest average monthly car insurance premium at almost $300.”

Gonzalez cites other factors that add to the stress of driving in the city.

“Philadelphia doesn’t fare well in terms of infrastructure,” she said, “considering the poor quality of bridges where it ranks in the bottom 10. Plus, the city has a significantly higher accident likelihood compared to the national average more specifically, 67 percent higher.”

That accident rate is fueled in part by the sheer volume of traffic on narrow city streets. The problem is magnified by phenomena including drivers who engage in unique driving practices, notably abrupt lane changes, perhaps from the far right to the left-turn lane, often without signaling or refusing to pull forward into an intersection from a left-turn lane.

Vic Monaco, who resides in Bucks County, spoke to the latter issue.

“The constant thing that drives me nuts is drivers who don’t pull halfway into an intersection when waiting to make a turn,” he said. “Not sure if this is taught (it is) but it’s just common sense and courtesy. When they do this, nine times out of 10 they are the only ones who get to make a turn because others don’t get to pull forward either.”

Other common issues are trucks from Amazon, UPS, and other delivery services blocking a lane while the driver makes a delivery, traffic signals that are out of synch resulting in long delays at intersections, and motorists getting caught in the middle of an intersection when the light changes.

Drivers accept situations like those described above as things that go along with urban driving. Gonzalez suggests carpooling as a way to deal with the volume of traffic.

“Carpooling or using public transportation whenever possible are great ways to avoid and reduce traffic congestion,” she said. “That would not only lead to reduced travel time but can also lower the costs of a commute. Biking or walking to work where applicable are other ways to avoid congestion.”

For many drivers, however, carpooling is not an opinion. So, for the time being, motorists are advised to be patient, allow for extra travel time, and hope their patience lasts longer than their commute.

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U Penn Ranks Near Bottom in Campus Free Speech Survey

The University of Pennsylvania is America’s oldest university. It was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740.

But Franklin, an outspoken writer, printer, and one of the men who fomented the American Revolution, might have been disappointed to learn Penn is in the bottom five universities in the country for free speech. In fact, it came in second to last, ahead of its fellow Ivy League competitor Columbia.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), in partnership with College Pulse, released its third annual College Free Speech Rankings on Wednesday. Ranking the speech climates of 203 of America’s largest and most prestigious campuses, FIRE gave the University of Chicago top marks for the best campus climate for free speech.

“That so many students are self-silencing and silencing each other is an indictment of campus culture,” said FIRE Senior Research Fellow Sean Stevens. “How can students develop their distinct voices and ideas in college if they’re too afraid to engage with each other?”

A spokesman for Penn did not respond to a request for comment.

It was the largest survey on students’ free expression, with 45,000 students included, according to FIRE. It found many students are afraid to speak out on their campuses while others want to cancel the voices of those who do not share their points of view.

The top colleges for free speech behind the University of Chicago were Kansas State, Purdue, Mississippi State University, and Oklahoma State University. With Columbia and Penn at the bottom of the survey were Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Georgetown University, and Skidmore College.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican running for the U.S. Senate, holds degrees from Penn’s medical school and its business school, Wharton.

“Students and speakers at colleges and universities, like the University of Pennsylvania, deserve to have a platform to speak freely and have open and honest conversations. As Pennsylvania’s next senator, Dr. Oz will push back on cancel culture by protecting the First Amendment and defend individuals’ freedom to say what they see,” said Brittany Yanick, communications director for the Oz campaign.

A graduate of the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine said he was surprised by the results of the survey. He also asked DVJournal not to use his name for fear of repercussions.

Several other Penn alumni contacted by DVJ declined to comment.

Stevens told DVJournal that cancel culture and social media play a role in creating an anti-free-speech environment on campus. But students also fear what professors might think of them or that they might receive lower grades if their views do not jibe with a professor’s. Some 40 percent of students are uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor—in public or a written assignment, the survey found.

The FIRE survey began in 2020 with 55 colleges and universities. This year it surveyed 203 campuses in 49 states, with only North Dakota not included.

Stevens said the group hopes to continue each year and increase the data available to researchers.

Students were asked how comfortable they felt talking about their opinions, he said. And even some students at the more liberal end of the spectrum, who comprised the majority of those surveyed, were fearful.

While the goal is to let prospective students and parents take this indicator into account when selecting a college, FIRE also hopes to make university administrators more aware of this issue, Stevens said.

Some administrators contacted FIRE after previous reports to see what they could do to improve their scores, he said.

While the rankings rely heavily on student responses, each school’s speech code rating also factored into the scoring. Most schools without any policies that imperil free speech rose in the rankings, while those with restrictive speech codes fell, according to FIRE.

This year, FIRE also took into account which schools sanctioned faculty for their speech or disinvited guest speakers based on viewpoint since 2019, giving the institutions that did lower marks.

Self-censorship is pervasive across top-ranked and bottom-ranked schools alike; 63 percent of respondents worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstood something they said or did. Disturbingly, an equal percentage said that students shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus was acceptable to some degree.

Other findings from the report include: Conservative students are most likely to feel they cannot express their opinions freely, with 42 percent reporting that they “often” feel uncomfortable speaking freely, compared to 13 percent of liberal students. Some 40 percent of students are uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor — in public or in a written assignment. And the three most difficult topics to discuss on campus are abortion, racial inequality, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

FIRE is a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia that is dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought.

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Chesco, Better Business Bureau Warn of Possible Scam Survey

In response to questions from residents, the Chester County communications director sent out tweets and a Facebook post warning about official-appearing surveys that arrived in the mail but did not come from the county government.

“We understand that many Chesco residents have received a Chester County Opinion Survey sent by Sequoia Research, LLC,” Rebecca Brain, a spokeswoman for the county said in the tweet. “This survey is NOT connected with Chester County government. The @bbb *Better Business Bureau advises ‘extreme caution in completing this & similar surveys’ from this company.”

A spokeswoman for Montgomery County also said these official-looking surveys did not come from the county.

“The surveys were not sent by the county. They were sent by a research firm and are political in nature,” said Kelly Cofrancisco, Montgomery County spokeswoman.

The survey directs recipients to a website where they are asked a variety of general and political questions. At the end they are offered $2 at the end if they will type in their email and consent to further surveys.

Residents in Northampton and Lehigh counties have also received the surveys, according to The Morning Call. A Bucks County spokesman said he had not been contacted about any surveys and the Delaware County spokeswoman said that she has not heard about this from any residents.

A Minnesota BBB warning said this in 2020: “According to information provided by consumers, an entity calling itself “Sequoia Research LLC” is sending a “(name of state) Opinion Survey” letter to residents of various states, directing them to a website with the promise of $5 gift cards after completion of “follow-up” surveys.

‘Sequoia Research’ itself is registered as a corporation in Delaware, and its name is registered as an LLC with the California Secretary of State. It appears Sequoia rents post office boxes to be able to associate a ‘local’ address with each state survey.

“As the site’ privacy policy’ indicates that filling out the survey requires providing personal information such as full name, email, and year of birth — and that this information can be shared with third parties — BBB would advise extreme caution with this and similar survey offers.”

“Understand who the survey is coming from before sharing any personal information. Check the return address and Google it if unsure. According to information provided by consumers, an entity calling itself “Sequoia Research LLC” is sending a “(name of state) Opinion Survey” letter to residents of various states, directing them to a website with the promise of $5 gift cards after completion of “follow-up” surveys.

‘Sequoia Research’ itself is registered as a corporation in Delaware, and its name is registered as an LLC with the California Secretary of State. It appears Sequoia rents post office boxes to be able to associate a ‘local’ address with each state survey. As the site’ privacy policy’ indicates that filling out the survey requires providing personal information such as full name, email, and year of birth — and that this information can be shared with third parties — BBB would advise extreme caution with this and similar survey offers.”

Kelsey Coleman, spokeswoman for the BBB, recommends that people beware of prize offers.

“Political survey companies rarely use prizes, so that is a red flag (especially if they ask you to pay for shipping or taxes in order to claim it),” she said.

“Don’t give out personal or banking information: Political pollsters may ask for information about your vote or political affiliation, and even demographic information such as your age or race, but they don’t need your Social Security number or credit card information. Understand who the survey is coming from before sharing any personal information. Check the return address and Google it if unsure.”

Also, she advised reporting suspicious activity to BBB’s Scam Tracker.

Tracy English, who is listed on the Sequoia survey as the local manager, did not respond to an email asking for comment. The Delaware Valley Journal was not able to locate a website or phone number for Sequoia Research LLC, which filed a San Francisco address with the California Department of State.

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