Creating corridors within Philadelphia neighborhoods to improve residents’ ability to travel by foot, by bicycle, and by public transit is the goal of our Safe Streets, Healthy Neighborhoods campaign. This campaign began in 2011 by studying South Philly with the Community Design Collaborative. Late last month, the Philadelphia Streets Department was awarded $250,000 to create “Neighborhood Bikeways” on 13th & 15th Streets from South Street to Oregon Avenue. This grant is the culmination of three years of work on improving this corridor through South Philly.
The Process and the Goal
South Philadelphia has some of the highest rates of bicycling in Philadelphia. There is an immediate need for better facilities to accommodate all that bicycling because currently, bicyclists in South Philly share narrow roads through intersections with poor sight lines. Although the City’s pedestrian/bicycle plan proposed “bicycle friendly streets” on either side of Broad Street between South and Oregon, that plan did not suggest in detail what a such a street would look like.
With professional design work donated by the Community Design Collaborative (CDC), we held a series of community meetings in 2011 and 2012. We asked residents what kinds of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements they wished to see made to their South Philadelphia streets. 1
The result of that outreach process and CDC’s work was a 45-page conceptual plan, which you can download here. It contained short and long-term proposals for making 13th and 15th Streets more welcoming to bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as the thinking that went into selecting those specific streets. 2
After the report was finalized, we convened a working group made up of staff from the Streets Department, the Planning Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, and the Water Department. The group discussed the CDC report’s recommendations and which could be implemented. Once agreement was reached about the design elements that would constitute a Neighborhood Bikeway, we helped the Streets Department seek funding. The City’s paving budget is extremely tight and carving out funding for this project without outside funding was not possible.
What This Money Will Do
Ultimately, the Streets Department secured the $250,000 Transportation Alternatives Program 3 grant to cover the project. The money will pay for green-backed sharrows, solid parking lines delineating the parking lanes from the vehicular travel lane, new crosswalks at each intersection, signage on Broad Street directing people to the bikeways, and new signage along 13th and 15th Streets from South to Oregon (4 miles and 20 blocks in total.)
The goal of these Neighborhood Bikeways is to draw bicyclists off Broad Street and other parallel streets. Attracting a large number of bicyclists to 13th and 15th will in turn change the culture of how people use these streets. Drivers in a hurry will come to expect high bicycle volume and, if they have a desperate need for speed, they will take another route. When bicyclists set the pace for travel, it calms the streets in a way that is safer for all users.
Culture change is important. The infrastructure and environment on 13th and 15th Streets, to date, have encouraged a driving culture less hospitable to bicyclists and pedestrians. These Neighborhood Bikeways are Philadelphia’s first attempt at changing that culture.
The Long-Term View
Our long-term goal for South Philadelphia is to get north/south bike lanes to the east and west of Broad. This project does not get us to that goal, but it is a step in the right direction. (It also does not impede implementing the CDC’s long-term recommendations; see the rendering farther below.)
In researching how to make this South Philly corridor more bike-friendly, we looked for other American cities that had implemented bicycle infrastructure on streets with profiles similar to 13th and 15th Streets (23′ wide, parking on both sides). We found no city that had installed bike lanes on streets like these.
This approach to making 13th and 15th Streets more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly is a pilot and, if successful, more streets can receive similar treatments. Like all such projects, funding will need to be obtained. Fortunately, when it comes to transportation projects, this one is a bargain. To illustrate, here are estimated costs of a selection of local transportation projects (source: DVRPC TIP website):
Long term, we need north/south bike lanes through South Philadelphia. We need to create streets where bicyclists of all abilities feel safe taking the lane, where the culture does not encourage or tolerate drivers intimidating bicyclists onto the shoulder or the sidewalk. Getting there involves sincere neighborhood engagement, City Council backing, and more funding for the Streets Department. Those are three of the Bicycle Coalition’s biggest priorities for Philadelphia over the upcoming several years.
In the meantime, we will see how these treatments work. No matter the results, we will have learned something valuable. If 13th & 15th see a marked increase in bicycling rates, fewer pedestrians struck by vehicles, and fewer bicyclists using sidewalks (on 13th/15th but also on Broad Street), then Philadelphia will have discovered a cost-effective way to improve narrow streets. If this treatment does not meet those goals, we will know that more significant measures must be taken to make our streets safer for all users.