Bringing Neighborhood Bikeways to 13th & 15th Streets in South Philly

by | July 8, 2014 | Biking in Philly, Featured, research | 6 comments

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. Our retired blog contains recaps of these meetings.]

Community Design Collaborative image1

An image from the CDC’s report depicting the current state of things.

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. Those streets are identified as part of Philadelphia’s master Pedestrian/Bicycle plan which we want to see implemented harder, better, faster, and sooner.]

Final.SouthPhilaReport.CDC_ 31

The short-term recommendations from the CDC’s report (click for bigger version).

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. See our previous blog post about the source of the funding.] 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.)


A rendering of the signs and paint the streets will receive through this $250,000 grant.

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):

example transit project chart

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.

Community Design Collaborative image2

Rendering of the CDC’s long-term recommendations.

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.

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  1. Bicycle

    Why this instead of promoting bicycling on Broad street by installing bike lanes there? How will the success of this pilot be determined? Anecdotally?

    • Jake

      Broad Street is a major automobile thoroughfare and is a very dangerous route for cyclists. Vehicle speeds are too high, and there’s a lot of double parking on Broad that would make bike lanes ineffective and dangerous. 13th and 15th experience much slower vehicle speeds at a pace closer to that of a bicycle, making it easier to share the road. The fact that there is only one travel lane also makes double parking on those streets not an option.

      Anecdotally I can say that 13th and 15th are much more comfortable and safe streets for biking than Broad, and I eagerly look forward to these improvements. However, the success of these pilots can be determined quite easily by collecting data: car and bicycle counts, travel speeds, and accident rates. If bicycle counts go up, cars move at more reasonable speeds, and accidents go down, it can be considered a success.

  2. Thomas Griffing

    Great, more paint for drivers to ignore.

    The reason cyclists ride on Broad Street is the same reason cars use it: it’s the major thoroughfare and that’s where everything is! Telling cyclists to go somewhere else is not the answer. What’s next, tell cyclists to stay off Market and to use Wharton instead?

    Paint does absolutely, positively NOTHING to make streets safer, easier, or more welcoming for bicyclists. I foresee a cyclist getting hit by a car on Broad Street, and the driver will claim “She isn’t allowed to be on Broad Street… Their street is over on 15th!”

    This is a waste of money that could be better spent encouraging more cyclists to join us, rather than segregating cyclists.

  3. Phil B

    Kudos, however can’t help wondering why not make use of Broad St’s width for dedicated bikelanes. Sharrows and signs only calm traffic slightly.

  4. jaime kaplan

    go green lanes.

  5. Phil

    Agree with the comments on Broad St, although 13th and 15th are only a block away. Would like to see accommodations on corridors between Columbus and 13th also.

    And when is there going to be some kind of bicyclist/motorist communication about those sharrows?


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