Tell me if this sounds familiar: You strap on your jacket, hat, gloves, balaclava, fleece-lined pants, second pair of gloves, heavy-duty socks, and boots. You get on your bike. You ride to the bike lane that usually takes you to work, and lo and behold: The bike lane is gone.
— Matt G. (@MGG215) January 29, 2016
OK, not gone, per se, but covered. In snow. If you’ve been biking this week in Philadelphia, we bet this has happened to you. (It’s certainly happened to us!) That’s why we put a call out on Twitter for some images of snowy-blocked bike lanes and sidewalks. And that’s why we wrote this blog, noting things you, and your government, can do to make the winter better for cyclists, pedestrians and, well, just about everyone.
1. Take the Lane
Taking the lane is your right as a cyclist. You are a vehicle, just like those with motors, and cars are required by Pennsylvania law to give you four feet if they want to go around you. If the bike lane is covered in snow, don’t use it. Don’t ride on the edge of the road, where ice and snow is more likely to have condensed, and don’t ride on the sidewalk. Take the lane. It’s yours.
2. Be Visible
Have lights permanently mounted to your bike? Keep them on. A 2013 Danish study found that lights can help reduce bike accidents by 19 percent—and lights are especially important in the winter, when our daylight hours are limited. A rear light may help signal to the driver that you’re being careful on the road, because it’s icy, and bike lanes are nil.
3. Call 311
There are over 200 miles of bike lanes in Philadelphia, and it’s unlikely the city can plow all of them. But not reporting those bike lanes that need plowing does literally nothing for the cause. You can call, tweet, or use the 311 app and let them know the intersection. You will get a reference number. And we’re told they will look into it. Which leads us to this:
4. The City & SEPTA Need To Work Together For Better Snow Removal Policies for Bike Lanes, Bus Stops and Crosswalk Corners
While most main thoroughfares are passable for cars and buses, people on bicycles, pedestrians and bus riders are left to navigate around snowbanks, carve out paths to the crosswalk, or in some cases clear snow themselves on public streets. This is not OK. It makes getting around very difficult for the elderly or people with disabilities. Crossing Broad Street at Spring Garden is scary enough as is. Having to jump a snow bank into the street is downright dangerous.
5. The PPA needs to ticket cars parked in bike lanes—even if there are no parking spots
Anyone whose ridden in Philly is aware of being aggressively told to follow the rules when they safely roll through a stop sign, or make a right on red when there are no cars coming. People in cars need to adhere to the same standards. Just because you can’t get in an official parking spot doesn’t mean you get to park illegally.
No one has the right to a public parking space, and people certainly shouldn’t obstruct a travel lane just because they want to get a space half a block closer to their house or apartment. That’s why the Philadelphia Parking Authority should place tickets, and deliver fines, on those cars whose users have failed to follow the law, even in the snow.
6. The city needs new equipment
We have seen the future. And the future is loader mounted industrial snow blowers. In Canada, where it snows a wee bit more than it does in Philadelphia, many cities are utilizing snow loaders, which can not just plow snow out of the way on a given street, but pick up snow from a sidewalk or bike lane, put it in a truck, and haul it away!
Additionally, in Chicago, they’ve begun using five-foot wide Kubota tractor to get snow out of narrow bike lanes. The city should begin looking into these machines for bike lane prioritization, and encourage local participation. And speaking of which…
7. Prioritize all neighborhoods
Some of the main thoroughfares in Center City have been plowed pretty well. The rest of the city cannot say the same. There needs to be a priority in the city to clear streets (including bike lanes) in all neighborhoods. An American Community Survey from 2008 to 2012 found that people in lower income and working class households are more likely to commute via bicycle than those in higher-income homes. I have already had conversations with cyclists well outside Center City who’ve been stuck calling cabs to get to work all week. Cabs are expensive. It’s time to clear the lanes for everyone.