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Bicycle Coalition in the 90s: There Will Be Bike Lanes

When the City of Philadelphia began constructing the Walnut Street Bridge, connecting Center City to West Philadelphia, members of the Bicycle Coalition had advocated for a bike lane as part of the construction.

When it was completed in 1990, there was no bike lane.

This was unacceptable. So the Bicycle Coalition began a series of protests, including a staged “die-in” on the Walnut Street Bridge.

After this protest, and other successes throughout the decade, the Bicycle Coalition began gaining popularity in the city, and membership soared. With that growth and some successes, we were able to move our office out of Sue Prant’s apartment and into our first office at 11th and Locust Streets.

We no longer had to hold meetings at Reading Terminal Market (where heated meetings and at least one physical fight between members made the public location less than ideal), and city agencies began listening to the Bicycle Coalition as an alternative transportation leader. Philadelphia would soon see its first bike lanes, and cycling would become a regular part of city life in Philadelphia in the 90s. Building on our work in the 70s and 80s, the 90s were the Coalition’s most successful decade to-date.

And as our tribute to the 90s, this week we’re offering our very popular “I Bike PHL” t-shirt when you give a gift!

Click to get one of these sweet shirts!

The Bicycle Coalition had been advocating for a long time to allow bicycles on trains—to complete that “last mile” of multi-modal trips. This took a while, according to a 1991 Cyclegram, because “the fear was that bikers were going to be riding on platforms, jumping on rails, etc.”

And when they legalized putting bikes on SEPTA trains in 1991, those fears did not come to fruition. (They usually don’t.)

SEPTA at first just allowed two bikes on weekend and off-peak commuter trains.

A year later, SEPTA began allowing bikes on the subway on weekday evenings and all day on weekends. New York and Chicago, at that time, still prohibited bikes on their subways. Permits were required to bring your bike on a train.

PATCO would also begin allowing bikes on their trains in 1993.

In 1994, Councilwoman Happy Fernandez introduced a bill requiring parking garages and lots to provide adequate, safe, and secure bike parking facilities. With the bill’s mere existence providing pressure, the PPA and SEPTA voluntarily installed 400 racks throughout the city.

This was good, but as the Coalition noted at the time, there were “fears that meager ‘voluntary’ compliance with the … legislation will, in the long run, be used as an excuse to kill the legislation.”

By 1995, funding is finally awarded for serious bike projects in Southeastern Pennsylvania. In fact, $11.5 million in CMAQ funding was awarded for southeastern Pennsylvania bicycle facilities, including $3.7 million for the Philadelphia Citywide Bicycle Network, which was originally proposed by the Bicycle Coalition in 1991.

That money would fund, in part, the Cobbs Creek Bikeway, the Chester Valley Trail Extension in Montgomery County, the Plymouth Trail in Montgomery County, the Betzwood Bridge Bike and Pedestrian Trail, and the Westbank Greenway in West Philadelphia.

Two government officials who supported our work would also move into their offices: Tom Branigan became the first Bicycle Coordinator for the Philadelphia Streets Department, and Governor Tom Ridge, a strong proponent of bicycling, would begin his reign in Pennsylvania.

But our biggest year-to-date victory would come in 1996 from our biggest elected supporter to-date. Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell set aside $3 million to create a bicycle network in the city. That Network Plan would be implemented in 1997. It included 1,000 bike racks and 2,000 “Share the Road” signs throughout the city. The plan also created a phased-in installation of bike lanes. The bike ban on Chestnut Street—still technically in effect—would be lifted in June 1997.

As with any swift progressive change, a backlash against cyclists began in Philadelphia. Both citizens and representatives would participate in this so-called “Bike-lash.” And in 1998, the City Planning Commission attempted to pull the city’s 20 percent match on Rendell’s $3.7 million project.

At this point, the Coalition had an extensive base of support, and mobilized to save the project. When SEPTA went on strike in 1998, we saw a huge jump in bicycle ridership, as well, and a year later, Philadelphia made Bicycling Magazine’s Top 10 Biking Cities.

And by the way, we’d eventually get those bike lanes on the Walnut Street Bridge, by the way.

Next week, we’re going to be telling you all about the Bicycle Coalition in the 2000s. But remember: If you want one of the above t-shirts, make your donation this week! We’ll be offering a different premium (still awesome, by the way) when this week comes to an end.

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