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Last week, I noted in a WHYY op/ed that the amendment to Senate Bill 565 we’ve been advocating against (which would give Philly registered community organizations veto power over bike lanes) isn’t just bad for safety and public health — it could also drown RCOs in liability and eviscerate local representation.

How? The amendment would give RCOs veto power over bike lanes via a letter of opposition (or support), but it’s a little more complicated than that. As noted in WHYY:

[N]ot only would requiring a letter, by law, slow down the already slow process, but the amendment could create a slippery slope. Imagine a city where legal letters are required for all sorts of safe infrastructure projects and speed controls, like stop signs, speed humps, and crosswalks. And with legal authority over traffic controls comes legal liability.

 

Writing community organization veto power into the state vehicle code could actually open up RCOs to more litigation than which they currently have to deal. The amendment could destroy many registered community organizations around the city.

 

Let’s say a bicyclist or pedestrian gets into a crash on a road that was slated for a complete streets project, but was blocked by the RCO. It follows that the RCO could be sued by the injured person for intentionally putting them in danger.

 

Currently, the councilmember is responsible for these projects, not the RCO. Serious lawsuits are not filed against the RCO when a bicyclist gets into a crash in that neighborhood, and councilmembers are definitively immune from such lawsuits.

After that op/ed was published, RCOs around the city began publicly opposing the amendment. At the time of this writing, 16 RCOs have come out against Sen. John Sabatina’s amendment to SB 565; most argued the amendment was ill-conceived and would put increased pressure and liability on registered community organizations — pressure and liability they do not want or need.

In an apparent attempt to thwart Complete Streets projects and safer streets, Sabatina’s amendment would literally redefine registered community organizations’ powers — and it would do all of this without so much as consulting them first, or defining which of the multiple community organizations overseeing a specific area or project would have a say.

As noted by the Fishtown Neighborhood Association, the amendment doesn’t specify what kind of RCO Sen. Sabatina wants for oversight over bike lanes.

“[T]he amendment does not specify how said “recognized community organization” would be selected,” noted FNA president Joseph Kain in his letter to Sen. Sabatina. “This creates a situation where multiple community organizations, ranging from the official neighborhood RCO to various “Friends of…” groups, could issue competing and conflicting opinions on a proposed bike lane.”

The bill is on today’s schedule in the state Senate — though the senate is currently on recess. It’s not clear when, or if, the bill is going to be voted upon, or if the amendment will come up for a vote, as well.

Here are the RCOs that have opposed the amendment, so far:

  • Crosstown Coalition
  • East Kensington Neighborhood Association
  • South of South Neighborhood Association
  • Bella Vista Neighbors
  • Logan Square Neighborhood Association
  • Fishtown Neighbors Association
  • Impact Services
  • Holmesburg Civic Association
  • Central Roxborough Civic Association
  • Northern Liberties Neighbors Association
  • Center City Residents Association
  • Garden Court Community Association
  • Passyunk Square Civic Association
  • Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations
  • Lower Moyamensing Civic Association

Thanks to these civic associations for opposing this poison pill. We are currently reaching out to more civics across the city to answer any questions and help them understand how destructive Sen. Sabatina’s amendment would be. There are only a few Senate and House sessions left this year, and no matter how things go, we intend to take this legislation to the very end.

If you are in a civic association in your neighborhood, and have questions, please feel free to contact me directly, so we can talk about it: randy@bicyclecoalition.org.

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